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‘A Catalyst for Change’

2024 Inclusive Excellence Awards honors changemakers for commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Group of awardees pose together
Award recipients pose for a photo at the awards ceremony.

For Suhana Singh, a second-year student studying global health in the School of Social Sciences, her efforts to promote disability justice stem from an experience close to her heart: her father, who is disabled. Though the second-year student hasn’t been on campus for long, she’s made quite the splash; over the last 12 months, Singh has served as the Campaign Coordinator for the ACQUIRE Disability Justice Now! Campaign through the UC Student Association (UCSA).

Singh’s passionate outreach and research enabled her to mobilize community-wide support for ACQUIRE’s multi-million dollar budget request. Those skills served her well in the UC San Diego Senate, where she drafted and unanimously passed a legislative resolution calling for increased disability services on campus. Singh later presented the resolution to the UC Board of Regents and the California state legislature.

Coupled with a keen eye for strategy and an ardor for advocacy, Singh made her way to the UCSA Hill Day in Washington D.C., where she spoke with Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA 50th District) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) about disability funding.

Singh poses with leadership
Suhana Singh, second from right

Her appeal was successful — Singh secured $17.5 million in funding from the state, the UC Office of the President and UC campuses to help provide disabled students throughout the UC system with an equitable and inclusive education.

“The most impactful part for me has been being able to meet so many amazing people and know that I am making a real difference in their lives,” said Singh, who hopes to become a physician.

Singh was one of 16 individuals, departments and campus organizations who were recently recognized at the 29th Annual Inclusive Excellence Awards ceremony for their leadership and commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. Recipients were honored for their exceptional dedication to the UC San Diego Principles of Community: affirming diversity, individuality and uniqueness, standing up to discrimination and building community based on mutual understanding, acceptance and tolerance.

“For nearly 30 years, the Inclusive Excellence Awards have recognized Tritons who go above and beyond in making our university community a better place to work and learn,” said Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth Simmons at the ceremony. “Given how challenging and long-term EDI work is, it’s essential to celebrate and appreciate and make visible the champions who have committed themselves to making us a more inclusive university.”

Raising representation in pediatric residents

Also recognized for her efforts was Atim Ekpenyong, MD, the associate program director for diversity, equity and inclusion in the UC San Diego School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics who aims to increase the number of underrepresented in medicine (URIM) individuals within the department’s residency program.

During her time with the department, Ekpenyong has integrated a more comprehensive, holistic approach to the residency recruitment process that has led to a 2.5x increase in URIM residents, who now make up 25% of pediatric residents at the school. The scalable, adaptable approach has already been adapted by many other programs around campus.

Ekpenyong poses with leadership
Atim Ekpenyong, MD, third from left

Still, Ekpenyong’s work to build inclusion and equity doesn’t stop once residents join the program. Between dedicated EDI lectures and talks on health equity to a pediatric anti-racism curriculum and faculty workshops, Ekpenyong has guaranteed that inclusive excellence permeates every corner of the department.

“In today's rapidly evolving world, the ability to innovate and solve complex problems requires multiple perspectives. By integrating diverse perspectives in our campus, inclusive excellence enhances the quality of education, research and patient care,” explained Ekpenyong. “In an inclusive campus, diversity is seen as a source of strength and can become a catalyst for change.”

Ekpenyong’s “Melting Pot Celebrations” bring the rich diversity of the pediatric medical community to the forefront and allow faculty, residents and students alike to build comradery and understanding as well as share and appreciate each other's cultures. In addition to her work at the school, Ekpenyong also serves as the chair of the Association of Pediatric Program Directors URIM community recruitment committee, a national organization.

Deepening diversity in business education

Wendy Hunter Barker, the assistant dean of strategy and operations at the Rady School of Management is also deeply committed to valuing and institutionalizing diversity. Barker frequently coordinates events and workshops focused on highlighting the variety of identities found in the Rady community.

Barker developed and chairs the new “Skill Building for the Inclusive Professional” certificate,. A partnership between Rady and GPS, the 8-month program provides insights into the value of inclusivity and helps participants — master’s students and staff at either school — acquire practical skills for boosting EDI efforts in the workplace.

Hunter Barker poses with leadership
Wendy Hunter Barker, second from right

In addition to the certificate program, Barker, who is a first-generation college graduate, also developed and leads the California Leadership Institute (CaLI), an initiative to connect the six University of California business schools with their local communities. CaLI, which is directed at first-generation, minority, women and LGBTQ students, provides undergrads with an all-expenses-paid business and career leadership experience that can help them get their foot in the door for graduate-level study. The second CaLI workshop will be held March 22-24 at the Rady School with students from across the UC in attendance.

“Growing up, school was always my happy place,” Barker said, adding that she always felt comfortable in the classroom despite her family moving around when she was a child. “I've spent my career in the UC system to try and ensure that a diverse group of students have access to the quality education offered here, and even more, that their experience builds in them strength, intellect and confidence.”

With the Women’s Center, she helped present the Bye Bye Binary interactive workshop that focused on gender diversity and expression. With the School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS), Barker hosted national EDI expert Damon Williams for a day of bystander training sessions and allyship workshops. Barker also spearheaded the initiative that culminated in all Rady graduate program applications asking applicants to discuss their commitment to EDI.

“A student can only find both intellectual and emotional growth if they feel included, and that's a wish I have for all our students.”

A student can only find both intellectual and emotional growth if they feel included...I've spent my career in the UC system to try and ensure that a diverse group of students have access to the quality education offered here, and even more, that their experience builds in them strength, intellect and confidence.
Wendy Hunter Barker

2023 UC San Diego Inclusive Excellence Award Recipients

Executive Vice Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Area Recipients

Academic Affairs: Carolyn Sandoval

Advancement: Alyssa Brambila

Chancellor’s Office: Chancellor’s Access to Career Paths: Carl Welliver, Aileen Serrano 

Chief Financial Officer: Housing and Dining – Ventanas

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Korie Houston

Health Sciences: Atim Ekpenyong

Marine Sciences: Scripps Ad Hoc Task Force on Space Allocation

Research and Innovation: Kent Osborn

Resource Management and Planning: Eliud Escobedo

Student Affairs: National Pan-Hellenic Council Plaza Team – Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; Resource Management & Planning, Capital Programs and Student Affairs

UC San Diego Health: Rai Khamisa

University-wide Recipients

Faculty Recipient: Lauren Brookman-Frazee

Staff Recipient: Wendy Hunter Barker

Student Recipient: Suhana Singh

Department/Organizational Unit Recipient: University Communications Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee Co-Chairs: Erika R. Johnson and Kalia Dieson

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