Celebrating a year of impressive accomplishments

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Student award winners

Students, faculty and staff gathered at the annual awards luncheon, designed to highlight students’ leadership and dedication to academic excellence and community building

The UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) draws together exceptional scholars and professionals who aspire to make the world a better place. 

And those aspirations — and the achievements driven by those aspirations — were on full display on Friday, May 17, during the school’s annual awards ceremony, which honored students for a breadth of academic, research and community contributions. 

“I am so proud of GPS students’ commitment to making a difference at the university and in the world,” said Dean Caroline Freund, who emceed the event. “I have no doubts you will carry this strength of spirit into your careers after graduation.”

To learn more about the winners, including seeing the top papers for the corresponding research awards, visit our Student Awards page.

Community contributions

Ayal Margalith Memorial Award

This year’s Ayal Margalith Memorial Award winner, which honors a student for their leadership, excellence and devotion, was Taysia Leung.

In a special presentation, Ayal Margalith’s parents, Eli and Michal, were in attendance to help present the award, named in honor of their son. Eli Margalith said a few words about Ayal’s extraordinary life, commenting on the positive impact GPS had on him before his passing from cancer at age 35. 

“In the past two years of getting to know Tay, I have not met anyone as courageous, dedicated and authentic as her,” said Gabby Quintanilla, a fellow student who helped to present the award. “Your commitment to this community is a testament to your strength and dedication in creating a welcoming environment for everyone in the GPS community, regardless of background.”

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award

Associate professor Liz Lyons presented the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Award to Joy Werner, who has served as the school’s EDI intern for the past two years, providing a number of insights contributing toward student access and success. 

“Joy’s recognition that all students deserve an equal opportunity to succeed at GPS and the profound tolerance and openness with which she approaches service to the school are an inspiration and a legacy that will long outlast her tenure at GPS,” Lyons said. 

Joseph Grunwald Award

Another student lauded for their contributions was Paula Jaramillo, who won the Joseph Grunwald Award. The award honors students for their contributions to promoting understanding of the Americas. 

“By actively reflecting on her experience growing up in Colombia and generously sharing those reflections with her peers, Paula brought to life many common features of Latin America, such as its high level of income inequality, problems of violence and corruption, and hyper-presidentialism,” said associate professor Francisco Garfias. “She also demonstrated an admirable capacity to revise her own assumptions about the country and region in which she grew up, modeling the kind of critical thinking that helps promote better understanding across people, nations and cultures.”

Doming Liu Award

Okilbek Abdumavlanov was named as the winner of this year’s Doming Liu Award, awarded annually to a first-year student who has shown leadership and significant contributions to student life, as voted by the Class of 2025. 

2025 GO GPS President Lani Cabus acknowledged Abdumavlanov’s selflessness and hospitality. 

“We enjoyed the many barbecues you took time to organize, fund, and cook for the entire cohort — you granted us the opportunity to enjoy the food and culture of Uzbekistan,” Cabus said. “You have continued to make long-lasting connections with this diverse community and made yourself a true pillar in our class.”

MAS-IA Peer Award

The award, as voted by the MAS-IA Class of 2024, went to Devin McCormick. Grace Osborne, director of the Global Leadership Institute, presented the award and said that McCormick, who spent his career so far in finance, will transition to the public sector upon graduation. 

“His classmates have said that his blend of approachability and professionalism has made a significant impact and that he embodies the values of GPS and the MAS-IA program,” Osborne said. 

Dean’s Teaching Award

Anne Charles received the Dean’s Teaching Award, which honors the best core curriculum teaching assistant, as voted upon by the Class of 2025. Payton Morlock, 2025 GO GPS Vice President of Academic Affairs, acknowledged Charles’ diligence in answering students’ questions, explaining complex material in TA sessions and managing office hours.

“You have shown amazing dedication to helping students succeed in their classes, and your work has not gone unnoticed,” Morlock said. 

Commencement speaker

Each year, the graduating class chooses its own commencement speaker, and 2024 GO GPS Vice President of Internal Affairs Nick Watson announced that Master of Public Policy (MPP) candidate Jordan Chu had been selected. 

“He embodies the best qualities of a GPS student and future leader that our school prides itself on helping shape,” Watson said. “It just makes sense that someone who has made such a large, positive impact on the members of our cohort would cap off their selfless journey here by being voted commencement speaker.”

Faculty Recognition Award

This year’s award went to two professors: Jesse Driscoll and Gordon McCord

2024 GO GPS President Taysia Leung said Driscoll was chosen because many students admire his ability to lead classes on current events. 

“His expertise on Central Asia, the Caucasus and Russian-speaking world comes at a time for policy students, like me and my colleagues, to refocus and look at the wider effects of peacebuilding and politics as we enter our careers,” Leung said. 

Leung continued by saying McCord was chosen for his ability to build relationships with students with both a kindness and sternness that encourages them to think critically — both about their careers and how to utilize their time here at GPS to the best of their abilities. 

“I can say we are all extremely grateful for the time and energy you have given to each of us,” Leung added.

Achievements in research

Policy Memo Award

The winner of this year’s award, which goes to a first-year student who wrote the best policy memo paper for a course, was Daniel Hershfield. In the memo, Hershfield assumed the role of a Chinese foreign economic policymaker in the late 1990s as the country was planning to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

“He lays out a sensible plan to build durable internal support for WTO membership inside China — as a vital element of effective foreign economic policy,” said professor David G. Victor, who presented the award. “The memo shows a deft use of political science theory — about domestic politics — to address politically vexing foreign policy challenges that all countries face in different ways.”

Econometrics Award

This year’s Econometrics Award, given to the student with the best empirical paper, was awarded to Akshay Yeddanapudi. Yeddanapudi’s work used dyadic data for every county in the U.S. to study the extent to which climate shocks drive migration within the U.S. 

“Akshay was a teaching assistant for the entire first-year econometrics sequence and has been a major contributor to quantitative training at GPS,” added professor Craig McIntosh.

Richard Covington Award

Jonathan Elkobi was this year’s winner of the Richard Covington Award, which recognizes a technically excellent program evaluation and design paper, with the aim of moving it toward publication. The winner not only receives a monetary prize but also receives feedback and support from faculty to bring the work into a publishable format. 

Elkobi’s paper combined information on the yields on Chinese local government bonds with information about the political connectedness of local officials.

“Using an event study structure to look at the impact of the turnover of local leaders, the paper arrives at the surprising conclusion that bond markets perceive leaders more closely associated with Xi to impose greater risks on local finances,” said professor Craig McIntosh, who presented the award. “The paper represents an impressive mix of research methods and a very creative way of using economic markets as a window into political behavior.”

Ruth Adams Award

This year’s Ruth Adams Award winner, honoring the best qualitative paper, was Fernanda Padilla. Padilla’s winning paper focused on an important but often overlooked topic — organized crime — in the study of authoritarian states, especially those that appear to be strong and well-organized.

“The topic is also highly relevant in light of the Ukraine War and Russia’s willingness to enlist the help of prisoners, private armies and even organized criminal gangs in support of its war effort,” said Freund, who presented the award on behalf of the faculty committee. “The paper is well written and does a good job of comparing the Soviet, post-Soviet and present-day Russian regimes and how organized crime adapts to the evolving political context.”

Academic accolades

Academic Achievement Awards

Five students were honored this year for earning the top marks in their respective academic programs: MAS-IA candidate Anajli Bhatt; MIA candidate Minh Nam Pham; and MPP candidate Faiaz Muhtadi. Two MCEPA candidates tied for highest GPA in their program this year: Dinah Shi and Jonathan Elkobi. 

Language Achievement Award

Danielle Groper was honored with this year’s Language Achievement Award. Lecturer Sandra Pedregal wrote in a prepared statement that Groper, whose native language is French, had applied herself fully to learning Spanish: undertaking an in-depth review of Spanish on her own time, asking questions and doing extra credit work. 

“In eight months, Danielle has gone from being afraid to participate in class to volunteering to answer questions and writing on the board; while others have stagnated, she has slowly and consistently improved her language proficiency,” Pedregal wrote. “I hope that receiving this award shows how much her effort and dedication has been appreciated.”

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Virginia S. Watson is the Assistant Director of Communications for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism from Troy University.
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