Each year since 2010, two graduate students from each UC campus have headed to Sacramento to educate lawmakers about the importance of graduate research and its contribution to California’s economy and progress. This year, on March 21, Fiona Doyle, Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division; Michelle Moskowitz, Director of Government and Community Relations; and UC Berkeley graduate students Vicky Gomez in Public Health and Joan Dudney in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management participated in the 9th Annual University of California Graduate Research and Education Advocacy Day.

The UC Berkeley group with representatives of the Latino Caucus
The UC Berkeley group with representatives of the Latino Caucus

Vicky Gomez’s research uses digital storytelling as a health promotion tool to encourage screening for colorectal cancer in the Latino church community. Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in California and the United States, yet they are the least likely to have health insurance. Limited access to health coverage leaves them at risk for a multitude of health issues, including colorectal cancer (CRC). Most existing interventions are based in primary health care settings, targeting only a small fraction of the Latino population. Vicky’s introduction of a digital storytelling intervention within a community-based church setting is a novel strategy that has the potential to influence more members of the Latino community in California and the US to complete colorectal cancer screening.

As for her experience with the UC Advocacy Day, Vicky says, “I was truly honored to be selected along with Joan Dudney to represent UC Berkeley. As a California native, I had never been to the Capitol. It was a humbling experience to share my research with Senators, Assemblymen and -women, and their staff in Sacramento. I walked away feeling like my research can make a difference and impact the health outcomes of Californians. It is an experience I will never forget and I will treasure for a lifetime.”

Vicky recently accepted an offer for a tenure-track assistant professor position at San Jose State University and is thrilled that she will be able to give back — even more — to her home state.

The UC Berkeley group with Senator Nancy Skinner
From left: Joan Dudney, Senator Nancy Skinner, Vicky Gomez, and Fiona Doyle

Joan Dudney’s research tracks climate change and invasive pathogen impacts on white pines. Rising temperatures and invasive pathogens are increasingly threatening white pine forests in the Sierra Nevada. These forests provide critical ecosystem services, including water and carbon cycling, for California residents and the agricultural industry. Using long-term surveys and laboratory tests, Dudney assessed the current status of white pines in the southern Sierra. Her research provides the first comprehensive evidence for sugar pine decline and is being used to help list whitebark pine as an endangered species.

Joan adds, “It was an incredible honor to represent the Graduate Division of UC Berkeley. Speaking with various lawmakers throughout the day provided great practice in science communication. It also highlighted for me the importance of outreach. Unless researchers, like myself, spend time communicating our findings beyond academia, few lawmakers will have the time to learn about it or incorporate it into their policies. I left feeling inspired to participate more actively in California-focused policymaking as a scientist.”

In a packed schedule, the UC Berkeley contingent discussed the importance of investing in graduate research with Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley; ’77, MA ’89), Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont, ’77), Assemblyman Tim Grayson (D-Concord), Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), the Latino Caucus, and the Assembly Natural Resources Committee consultants, and UC Berkeley alum and former State Senator and Attorney General Bill Lockyer (’65).

The UC Berkeley group with UC President Janet Napolitano
The UC Berkeley group with UC President Janet Napolitano

Graduate Dean Fiona Doyle was proud to be a member of the delegation, “Joan and Vicky were incredibly effective in pitching their work to different government leaders and responding to their questions. I know that everyone with whom we met was wowed by their enthusiasm, professionalism, and engagement.”

Her thoughts were echoed by director Michelle Moskowitz, “This annual event is all about showcasing the inspiring work of UC graduate students to benefit the great state of California. It is gratifying to facilitate conversations between Sacramento policymakers and UC graduate students who have committed to helping California be the best place to live, lead, and thrive.”