News Release

Jacobs School faculty, student, staff honored with Inclusive Excellence Awards

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Ariana Mirian, Veronica Abreu, and Daniela Valdez-Jasso.

San Diego, Calif., Feb. 4, 2020 -- Three members of the Jacobs School of Engineering community were awarded 2020 Inclusive Excellence Awards for their outstanding contributions toward increasing diversity at all levels at UC San Diego. The 25th annual UC San Diego Inclusive Excellence Awards recognizes faculty, staff, students, departments and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in support of UC San Diego’s commitment to inclusive excellence and diversity. A review committee comprised of representatives from the Executive Vice Chancellor and all Vice Chancellor Areas evaluated nominations and recommended award recipients.

“I wish to extend my sincerest congratulations to the recipients of the 2019 Inclusive Excellence Award,” said Becky Petit, Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. “Their individual and collective contributions help create a welcoming environment for living, learning, and working—an environment where all faculty, staff, and students can make their best contributions.”

Daniela Valdez-Jasso, a professor of bioengineering, is the 2020 faculty recipient of the Inclusive Excellence Award; Ariana Mirian, a computer science graduate student, is the student recipient; Veronica Abreau, a computer science and engineering undergraduate affairs manager, was selected from within academic affairs.

Learn more about the Jacobs School recipients and their work for a more inclusive campus below.

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Daniela Valdez-Jasso, professor of bioengineering and the faculty recipient of the 2020 Inclusive Excellence Award.  

Daniela Valdez-Jasso, Professor of Bioengineering

Daniela Valdez-Jasso, who uses math and physics to computationally model the effect of heart and lung diseases on various tissues, was honored for her commitment to creating and sustaining a more diverse student body. Valdez-Jasso serves as the faculty advisor for the UC San Diego chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and worked with the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment & Teaching Excellence (CREATE) to support the restarted chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). She will also serve as faculty advisor to this group of students.

In addition, Valdez-Jasso is an avid supporter of students in the Society of Women Engineers, and is involved in the Fleet Science Center’s BeWise program for high school girls, bringing a group of students to campus each year to tour her lab and learn more about bioengineering.

“I feel responsible, in some sense,” she said. “Bioengineering is still a new field and I think it’s really hard to know what it entails, unless you’re already in the field and know what it is all about. I feel like it’s part of my duty to really teach and show people what we do as bioengineers.”

While Valdez-Jasso views this outreach as a responsibility, connecting with and encouraging current and prospective students is one of the perks of the job.

“For me this is one of the fun things—it’s rewarding,” she said. “I love interacting with students and seeing them get all excited, partly because I really like what I do, and I really want others to get involved in the field and have fun with us.”

She focuses her efforts, in particular, on girls and Hispanic students, because she didn’t see enough people like her during her journey to becoming a professor, and wants to not only encourage these students to choose paths in STEM, but to not lose any parts of their identity in the process.

“I was really discouraged, a lot, for being in science and being bubbly and very social,” Valdez-Jasso said. “I want to make sure we don’t keep having scientists with the same type of personalities, because I think we need people who also have other interests and are different. I like to be a little bit of an ambassador in that sense. The other thing is it saddens me to see that UC San Diego is a university in San Diego yet the population of students is not really representative of the city’s population. I really like to reach out to a lot of the Hispanic communities and make sure they know that we’re here, this is their school and they should apply to UC San Diego.”

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Ariana Mirian, center, is a computer science Ph.D, student and the student recipient of the 2020 Inclusive Excellence Award.

Ariana Mirian, Ph.D. Student (Computer Science and Engineering)

In January 2018, Ph.D. student Ariana Mirian and two peers launched the CSE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee, a grassroots organization that provides a platform for students, faculty and staff interested in enacting change. From a team of three, the committee has grown to include between 30 and 40 regular members. Mirian counts its formation as one of her proudest achievements.

Mirian is being honored with an Inclusive Excellence Award for actively working to make her community welcoming to people from all backgrounds.

“I’ve experienced first-hand how it feels when you don't belong — when you double guess every action, and truly don’t feel like you can be yourself,” said Mirian. “I’ve also experienced what a difference it can make to be in an environment where you feel like you truly belong. I’ve been able to grow and flourish in ways I never imagined before, and much of that is because I can be me.”

The CSE DEI committee fosters initiatives like the CSE Celebration of Diversity, a day-long event that had its inaugural year in 2019. The free event features a keynote speaker and workshops on resources for the LGBTQ+ community, more inclusive designs and tactics for handling microaggressions. Mirian is also active in Graduate Women in Computing (GradWIC), which offers resources for women in her field of study.

Within both organizations, Mirian considers herself part of a team that works hard to create an environment where others can succeed and pursue their own projects. She says she was “absolutely shocked” to hear that she’d received the award.

“To me, receiving this award is truly a testament to the amazing work my colleagues do in the department,” she said.

This year, Mirian looks forward to watching both the CSE DEI committee and GradWIC grow as they tackle the 2020 CSE Celebration of Diversity and a series of collaborative wellness workshops, respectively.

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Veronica Abreu, undergraduate affairs manager at the Computer Science and Engineering Department, and the academic affairs recipient of the 2020 Inclusive Excellence Award.

Veronica Abreu, Undergraduate Affairs Manager at CSE

Within the CSE DEI committee, Veronica Abreu acts as a culture subcommittee co-lead, focusing on the committee’s forward momentum and devoting time to learning about social justice issues. She describes realizing that she felt “very frustrated” with perceived imbalances of power in society, and decided to channel it into action.

With the help of a colleague, Abreu established a training workshop for advisors in her department. The training prepared staff to identify microaggressions, a term defined by Merriam-Webster as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group."

The reaction to the workshop was overwhelmingly positive among Abreu’s peers, especially for members of more underrepresented communities.

“I am proud to have worked on creating a workshop… it helps bring awareness to issues and situations that some people do not even realize still happen today or maybe do not realize how they hurt members of our community,” said Abreu.

Abreu discovered that she was a recipient of an Inclusive Excellence Award via email. Like Mirian, she’d had no idea that she’d been nominated.

“I was very shocked but honored that my work would be recognized by people outside of my immediate circle,” said Abreu. “Those close to me are quick to support me and validate my work, but it was an entirely different feeling to have the larger community essentially say ‘we see you’ and ‘you have earned this.’”

The award and an outpouring of support and congratulations has inspired Abreu to keep moving forward. In the future, she looks forward to continuing to push herself to create space for difficult and complex dialogues, and raise awareness about causes in social justice.

Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering

Xochitl A. Rojas-Rocha