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2014 Bouchet Scholars


Sharifa Sheryl Steinberg Abukar, Ed.D. Candidate in Educational Leadership

Sharifa S. Abukar obtained a M.A. in Psychology from Wayne State University and an Administrative Services Credential from the University of San Diego's Educational Leadership Development Academy. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the Joint Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at the University of California, San Diego and California State University, San Marcos. She was the founding principal of the only private Islamic school in San Diego, California and was also the founding principal of a charter school for underserved children of refugees and immigrants living in San Diego. Her research focuses on how school environments, peer pressure, and attitudes in the dominant society impact Muslim American students’ educational experiences, identity, and sense of self worth. Her study contributes to the corpus of literature that focuses on ethnic, racial, gender, or religious identity in adolescents. In her dissertation, she explores all of these factors as they interact in complex ways and pertain to the educational experiences of Muslim American students. Sharifa strives to building bridges of understanding between Muslim Americans and the general population in the wake of 9/11. She has been a guest lecturer and has given presentations in public school classes, at police officer trainings, in university teacher preparation courses, at administrators' meetings and conferences such as AERA and ACSA, and through life-long learning opportunities such as Elderhostel. In the future, she would like to be involved with action research to promote cultural competency in school environments.


Mayra Avitia, Ph.D. Candidate in History

Mayra Avitia grew up in South Gate, California, a predominantly Latino working class community located in Los Angeles County. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she is the youngest of three daughters. Mayra obtained her BA in History and Chicana/o Studies from UCLA in 2003. Mayra continued her studies earning an MA in U.S. History at Cal State Northridge in 2008. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in UCSD' Department of History writing her dissertation, “Political Comadrazgo: Chicana Networks, Gender Politics and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth Century Los Angeles.” Her work examines the complex process in which aspiring Chicana activists in 1970s Los Angeles drew on traditional cultural forms and practices to create new networks that challenged traditional racial and gendered power relationships and, eventually, contributed to the production of new forms of political identity as well as gender and racial consciousness. Beyond her scholarship, Mayra is invested in the importance of creating networks at multiple levels as spaces to develop mutual relationships of resource, strength, and support. Through her involvement with UCSD' Dimensions of Culture (undergraduate writing program), UCSD' Raza Graduate Student Association, UCSD' Raza Resource Center, and UCSD' middle school pen pal program, Mayra is committed to empowering students from diverse backgrounds to pursue their own academic aspirations. Through her affiliations, Mayra supports and helps students demystify the academic process through workshops, outreach events and mentoring to provide students with the vital tools for surviving and succeeding in academia.




Noelle Bowlin, Ph.D. Candidate in Biological Oceanography

Noelle Bowlin is a doctoral candidate in the Biological Oceanography program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She studies the relationships between ontogeny and habitat use by marine fishes. As fishes develop they typically undergo a series of morphological changes that enable or require them to change the habitats they live in. Her dissertation work focuses on mesopelagic fishes that inhabit the zone of their namesake – the mesopelagic zone, which is the region of the water column that spans 200-1000 meters below the surface of the ocean. The implications of her work on the ecology of these fishes have direct impacts on fisheries management as this group of fishes is an important prey or forage source for a variety of commercially and ecologically important predators including dolphins, whales, seals, sea lions, swordfishes, tunas, mackerels, and sea birds. Her long-term goals are to apply her work on forage fishes to research involving marine community ecology and the holistic impacts of fisheries management decisions.



Ian Schanning, Ph.D. Candidate in Physics

Ian Schanning is a doctoral candidate in physics at the University of California, San Diego. He works on teaching algebra-based physics via worksheets, laboratory activities, and other active learning tools. His dissertation focuses on skill-building and sense-making using measurement uncertainty in introductory physics laboratory work. His research constitutes a part of a broader effort to help lab students build a practitioner’s knowledge of the scientific method by focusing on honest data recording and estimation, in addition to conceptual physics knowledge. His goals are to further develop a lab environment that encourages both teaching assistants and students to use metacognition and expert-level thinking during experiments.


Lila Sharif, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology and Ethnic Studies

Lila Sharif is a doctoral candidate in the departments of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego. She will be the first Palestinian-American to obtain a Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies. Ms. Sharif's research examines the points of convergence between food tastes, cultural identity, land struggles, indigenous sovereignty, and ecological integrity. Using the olive as an optic, Ms. Sharif's dissertation project explores the transnational network of fair trade industries that bring olive oils, aromatic soaps, and savory tapenades from the West Bank into U.S. pantries. She traces the circulation of olive products from Palestine beginning and ending with narratives around the olive harvest. Her long term research goals are to challenge the familiar representations of the Middle East as a site riddled with conflict and chaos, through a more nuanced and intimate look at the lives of people living there.



Hermes Taylor-Weiner, Ph.D. Candidate in Bioengineering

Hermes Taylor-Weiner is a doctoral candidate in the department of Bioengineering at UCSD. He studies how extracellular matrix properties can be engineered to direct embryonic stem cell differentiation toward definitive endoderm, the embryonic precursor to the adult pancreas. His published work has demonstrated that two extracellular matrix proteins, fibronectin and laminin, are necessary for definitive endoderm induction and can be engineered into the cell extracellular matrix to improve differentiation efficiency. Hermes'; graduate studies at UCSD have been supported by the UCSD Competitive Edge Fellowship Program and by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). While a graduate student at UCSD, Hermes has co-led the Department of Bioengineering';s NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. A major goal of the REU program is to provide research opportunities to students from backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented in engineering and to encourage these students to pursue an advanced degree. As a graduate student coordinator for the program, Hermes has helped participants win competitive research fellowships and gain admission to top graduate programs. Hermes' long-term career goals include broadening the participation of students in STEM related fields through mentoring and by creating additional research opportunity programs.



Katherine Walsh, Ph.D. Candidate in Mathematics

Katherine Walsh is a doctoral candidate in the Mathematics Department at the University of California, San Diego. She studies topology, an area of math that looks at different shaped spaces that can be deformed by stretching and shrinking but not by cutting. One of the main aspects in the study of topology is using mathematical tools to determine which spaces are distinct. Her thesis work looks at patterns and the stability of the coefficients of the Colored Jones Polynomial. This polynomial can be used to distinguish different knots, even if the knots have a highly complicated structure. It is a topic in the area of knot theory - the mathematical study of knots in strings. On the side, she has also worked on a project looking at different wound measuring and surgical techniques from a mathematical perspective with another member of the Mathematics Department and researchers from the UCSD Plastic Reconstructive Surgery Department. She is an active member of the UCSD chapter of AWM (Association for Women in Math) and organizes and participates in many service activities with this group.



Brigitte Zimmerman, Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science

Brigitte Zimmerman is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. Her research focuses on the relationship between citizens and political officials, with a particular emphasis on accountability mechanisms in consolidating democracies. Her dissertation examines the strategic responses of political officials to anti-corruption interventions that increase transparency and accountability. Other current research addresses incumbency advantage under diverse institutional contexts, the political economy of FDI and foreign aid, and the ethics and methods of field research. She typically works in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on Malawi and Zambia. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG), and the Center for Effective Global Action at the University of California, Berkeley. Before her studies at UCSD, Brigitte worked in for-profit and non-profit consulting in the US, Europe and Africa. She contributes as an ongoing volunteer and board member to several non-profit organizations in the US and Africa.