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IDS seniors honored for their achievementsFrom left: International development studies seniors Alban Martinez, Zibaa Adil, Brennan McConnell-Griner, Melodie Ahn and Avanthika Panchapakesan. (Photos provided by students; Alban Martinez photo by Willa Cutolo.)

IDS seniors honored for their achievements

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By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

The research, internships and volunteer work of five seniors graduating from the international development studies program reveal the diverse ways in which Bruins make an impact on our world.

UCLA International Institute, June 14, 2024  — Two outstanding seniors have won International Development Studies (IDS) Program awards, and three additional students received honorable mentions in the 2024 competition.

IDS Activist Award

“It was not just the lectures from my professors that inspired me to want to make a change in my community; it was the intense passion they spoke with,” said Alban Martinez, winner of the IDS 2024 Activist Award.

“My experience with the international relations community began when I first interned for the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs,” he related. “There, I focused on localizing the Sustainable Development Goals in Los Angeles and worked on reporting data [to] the Los Angeles SDG website and data platform.”

“Later, I represented the U.S. Department of State as a Youth Ambassador at the First World’s Fair held in the Middle East, EXPO 2020 Dubai, where I lived for six months,” he continued.

A month ago, Martinez was awarded a 2024 Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund grant for a public service project. “Growing Global Citizenship Education in the Garden” will use the building of a community garden as an opportunity, he explained, “to teach [refugee] students living in areas of environmental racism about environmentalism, nutrition, global citizenship and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

The soon-to-be Bruin alumnus will develop lesson plans for the project, which he will implement in partnership with the Refugee Children Center, a nonprofit organization that provides holistic support to Indigenous migrant children and their families in the San Fernando Valley.

In addition to his activism, Martinez is also a motivated student. Like many of his peers, he chose to write a senior honors thesis for the IDS program on a crucial aspect of immigrant life after migration: “Comparative Educational Attainment amongst Immigrant Students in Australia, Canada, Singapore and Switzerland: Implications for U.S. Case Study.”

“Being a part of such an interdisciplinary major as international development studies comes with the enormous privilege of learning about people, communities and lifestyles worldwide,” he said.
“The combination of living in Los Angeles and being a part of the international development studies program has allowed me to reflect on my community and, indeed, be grateful and appreciative of the individual faces that make this city so great.”


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Brennan McConnel-Griner, a double major in IDS and political science with a minor in Spanish, was an honorable mention in the IDS Activist Award competition. During her years at UCLA, Griner was a member of the Global Development Lab, worked as a peer advisor at the UCLA Study Abroad Office and did two internships.

“I interned in London for a nonprofit called The Conservation Volunteers. My role involved a combination of grant research, hands-on conservation work and leadership of ecological education programs,” she recounted. “Our team hosted field trips for local second grade classes as well as weekly ‘green gyms’ for adults on the autism spectrum.

“I also completed a quarter-long internship with the Center for the Study of Political Graphics,” she said, where she helped archive thousands of political posters. “Specializing in works from Latin America, I helped digitize content created about NAFTA, the Zapatista movement and the political disappearances in Argentina, among [other topics].”

Looking back at her UCLA years, McConnell-Griner reflected, “The international development studies program connected me with a wonderful group of peers and faculty. It allowed me to dive deeper into some of my deepest interests and envision a career where I can make a positive impact.”


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IDS Academic Award

“I didn’t even know that international development studies (IDS) was a field until I was applying to schools and saw it was an undergrad option at UCLA,” said Zibaa Adil, winner of the IDS 2024 Academic Award. An IDS major and French minor, Adil made the Dean’s Honor List every quarter of her four years at UCLA and also won the Best French Minor Award from the department of European languages and transcultural studies.

In her junior year, Adil attended a four-month intensive French-language program at the Institute for Field Education in Paris. The program placed her with Utopia 56, a Paris-based NGO that provides emergency housing to undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, for an internship.

As part of her studies there, she wrote a lengthy research paper in French that grew out of her work at Utopia 56 with undocumented migrant families from Côte d’Ivoire: “La Précarité au-delà des frontières : Le Carrefour entre la migration familiale précaire et le développement (Precarity across Borders: The Intersection between Familial Precarious Migration and Development).”

The Bruin has spent her senior year building on and refining her migration research for her senior honors thesis, which “centers around Ivorian migration in particular and how it is impacted by French, Italian and European policies of migration management,” she said.

Apart from research and coursework, Adil has been busy with extracurricular activities. “I’ve been part of the Writer’s Den, a creative writing club at UCLA since my freshman year,” she said. “I love the community there and being part of it was integral to my college experience,” she shared.

The first-generation American also regularly volunteered as a teacher of the Uyghur language and Uyghur culture for both the Uyghur Cultural Advancement Association in Northern California (three summers) and for Uyghur LA (throughout her senior year). “Teaching and sharing my cultural background has been a really rewarding, reassuring and hope-affirming experience,” she shared.

“The IDS major,” she reflected, “the classes I’ve taken, my time abroad and all of the conversations along the way have all contributed to expanding my worldview while encouraging me to constantly look deeper; ponder the realities of social, political and economic life; consider how things could be different; and fearlessly pursue my passions.”

“I especially want to thank professors Margaret Peters (who is advising me on my senior thesis), Jennifer J. Chun, Michael Lofchie and Laurence Denié-Higney; my International Institute advisors Sandy Valdivieso and Elizabeth Alvarez; and Peggy McInerny [of the institute] for their support and encouragement throughout my time here.”


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Melodie Ahn, who won honorable mention in the IDS Academic Award competition, also made the Dean’s Honor List throughout her four years at UCLA. The recipient of a Junamici Full Ride Scholarship, Ahn wrote a senior honors thesis for the IDS program under the guidance of faculty advisor Jennifer Chun: “The Eritrean Refugee Crisis: Mobility by Means of Dehumanization.”

“[The] paper hones in on the intersection between mobility and violence that lies in the transit of an Eritrean refugee,” explained Ahn. “Whether it be arbitrary arrests, deportation, kidnappings, torture or various other methods, violence is hurtled along their path towards refuge.”

Using a concept she calls “mobility by means of dehumanization,” Ahn’s paper examines the Eritrean refugee crisis to uncover the reason why violence arises in the context of their migration and considers its policy implications. “[The paper] contemplates how existing initiatives created to tackle irregular modes of migration in Africa, namely the Khartoum Process, address or fail to address the intersection between mobility and violence that is pertinent in the target regions,” she explained.

Ahn’s extracurricular activities are those of a prototypical IDS major: three internships with diverse nonprofits (one in Vietnam), participant in the UCLA Global Development Lab Project Incubator, and president of the United Nations Association at UCLA (2022–23).

“International development studies encouraged me to reckon with the reality that we live in a world where some walk paths contoured by privilege, others by oppression and perhaps all by the nuanced gray area that lies in between,” said the senior.


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Avanthika Panchapakesan, the second honorable mention in the IDS Academic Award competition, will graduate with a double major in IDS and statistics and data science. She wrote a senior honors thesis under the supervision of faculty advisor Akhil Gupta.

“In the thesis (‘Diversifying Away from the Dollar: Implications for India's Development Trajectory’),” she explained, “I propose five hypothetical scenarios, all of which encompass differing relationships that India may have in the future with the U.S. dollar and what, in the long-term, India’s socioeconomic development trajectory may look like under each scenario.”

In addition to gaining diverse work experience through three separate internships, Panchapakesan spent three years as a writer/editor at The Daily Bruin, three years as a member (and ultimately, external vice president) of UCLA Clean Consulting, and did volunteer work with two education nonprofits.

“What I really value about [the IDS program] is how it made me care about everything that’s going on in the world,” said Panchapakesan. “Right now, you can’t afford not to care about what’s going on around you, whether that’s happening in Ukraine, in Gaza or in Latin America. We see the impacts of all these global issues manifest themselves through different social and economic problems.”