Challenge accepted: Graduate students answer the call to help boost health equity

Finalists in the UCLA Health Equity Challenge proposed innovative measures to help those often underserved

Health Equity Challenge

Empowering people living in Watts to become their own environmental justice advocates by training them as citizen scientists who can gather data and map hazards and assets.

Making sure that Black expectant parents know their rights when it comes to obtaining adequate medical care and resources, and they are treated with integrity and listened to without judgment.

Offering culturally sensitive mental health and well-being lessons for Asian youth in the San Gabriel Valley that combine teachings about nutrition, sleep and regular physical activity with traditional Chinese medicine practices.

These ambitious and practical ideas to narrow or eliminate longstanding disparities in health care are among those proposed by the 15 finalists in the third annual Health Equity Challenge. Launched in 2022, the challenge invites graduate students from any UCLA department or school to propose a project that would help address a health disparity in Los Angeles, San Bernardino or Riverside counties. The Health Equity Challenge is sponsored by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR), The MolinaCares Accord and the California Health Care Foundation.

“I continue to be inspired and impressed by the innovators and solutions coming out of the Health Equity Challenge. I can’t wait to see what the latest group of finalists accomplish with their current proposals and in the years to come.

“Since we started this in 2022, we’ve seen a wide array of innovative ideas — from direct interventions, to developing new programs, to advocating for policy changes,” said Kathryn Kietzman, PhD, director of UCLA CHPR’s Health Equity Program. “The students who enter inspire us every year with their intelligence and passion.”

Each of the selected students will receive a $2,500 stipend and 15 weeks of mentorship with a UCLA faculty member or community leader who can help them further develop and refine their proposals into projects that a community organization could implement.

An independent review committee will review their final proposals and up to four students will be awarded an additional $2,500 stipend and the community organization will receive up to $50,000 to implement the project.

“By partnering with community organizations, we help ensure that the challenge’s benefits extend beyond campus to where the needs are most acute,” Kietzman said.

Monika Shankar, a PhD student in environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said she was thrilled to be named a finalist in the Health Equity Challenge.

“It gives me the opportunity to innovatively apply my research in collaboration with expert community organizers and skilled residents,” said Shankar, who proposed the citizen scientists training program in Watts. “I hope to build the capacity of Watts residents to identify and address stationary sources of pollutants in their community, with the long-term goal of moving the needle on health inequities.”

Samantha Garcia’s project would help pregnant women by creating a virtual prenatal care program in partnership with UCLA resident physician Dr. Maria Paula Arias. Garcia, who is studying at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the UCLA Anderson School of Management, is the daughter of an immigrant mother from Mexico and father from Puerto Rico. As a premedical student interning and then working at St. John’s Community Health, or SJCH, in South L.A. she found herself identifying with the Latinx patients.

“I quickly learned that there is power in my ability to understand cultural nuances and communicate effectively in Spanish with monolingual Spanish-speaking patients, especially in communities like Los Angeles where many of the individuals impacted by health inequities are Latinx,” she said. “I am confident that my experiences at SJCH along with my current business and medical education at UCLA are allowing me to develop the tools to address health disparities through innovative solutions as a future Latina OBGYN physician.”

Finalist Angela Rose David is a first-generation Filipino American, born and raised in Los Angeles. David is working toward her master’s in public health in the Fielding School’s program for health professionals, while working full time as the project manager for a lab that explores health disparities affecting the Filipino immigrant population.

“Through the Health Equity Challenge, I hope to develop a culturally tailored bereavement curriculum emphasizing mental health care and advanced care planning, thereby equipping the Filipino/Filipino American community with the social support and knowledge needed to protect and support themselves and each other in the face of future traumas,” said David, who graduated from UCLA in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a double minor in Spanish and public health.

Several of the projects include creating shareable resources like curricula and toolkits that can be used by others.

“MolinaCares is dedicated to promoting health equity for all individuals, regardless of their circumstances in life,” said Abbie Totten, plan president of Molina Healthcare of California. “That’s why we’re proud to continue supporting this important work at a world-class university like UCLA.”

Added Kara Carter, senior vice president of strategy and programs for the California Health Care Foundation: “I continue to be inspired and impressed by the innovators and solutions coming out of the Health Equity Challenge. I can’t wait to see what the latest group of finalists accomplish with their current proposals and in the years to come.”

Photo of Angela Rose David


Angela Rose David
MPH for Health Professionals student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A culturally tailored bereavement curriculum emphasizing mental health care and advanced care planning for the Filipino American community.

Samantha Deveaux

Samantha Deveaux
MPH in Health Policy and Management student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A training program for health care providers and community health workers working with unhoused pregnant women.

Emily Dickey


Emily Dickey

MD student, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Project: A pilot program that incorporates point-of-care ultrasound into street-side services for people experiencing homelessness.

Katie Fruin headshot

Katie Fruin
MS in Health Policy and Management student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A nutrition and culinary education training program for formerly incarcerated and/or gang-involved youth, ages 16–24.

Samantha Garcia headshot

Samantha Garcia
MD and MBA student, Charles R. Drew/PRIME-Leadership & Advocacy Program, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Anderson School of Management

Project: A sustainable virtual group prenatal care program for pregnant patients at the West Medical Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic (West-Med), providing educational classes accessible to patients in either English or Spanish.

Zurisadai Inzunza

Zurisadai Inzunza
MPH in Community Health Sciences student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A toolkit used in medical education settings to increase LGBTQIA+ youth and adults’ access to sexual and mental health services and gender-affirming care.

Salmaan Kamal

Salmaan Kamal
MS in Health Policy and Management student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and UCLA National Clinician Scholars Program fellow

Project: A peer specialist program that would complement existing jail diversion programs and improve care for people experiencing homelessness and criminal justice system involvement.

Mohammad Khorgamphar headshot

Mohammad Khorgamphar
MPH in Health Policy and Management student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: An educational resource for Black and African American parents called the “Birthing Medical Rights Booklet,” so that Black expectant parents would have the knowledge to access adequate care and resources.

Michelle Ko


Michelle Ko
MD and MPH student, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: IA culturally-sensitive and culturally-relevant mental health education curriculum that combines a focus on nutrition, sleep, and regular physical activity with traditional Chinese medicine doctors for youth in the San Gabriel Valley.

Monica Le

Monica Le
MD and MPH in Health Policy and Management student, Program in Medical Education for Leadership and Advocacy (PRIME-LA), David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A multi-faceted program that encompasses educational outreach, community engagement, and increased access to automated external defibrillators to address CPR disparities for people who live in public housing.

Bethlehem Michael


Bethlehem Michael

MD and MPH in Health Policy and Management student, Program in Medical Education for Leadership and Advocacy (PRIME-LA), David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A nutrition and food gardening curriculum program for low-income older adults in the South Los Angeles area.

Supraja Saravanakumar


Supraja Saravanakumar

MPH in Community Health Sciences student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: Spill the Chai Ma, a program for pregnant and new South Asian mothers (six months postpartum) in Los Angeles County, focused on dismantling the intergenerational stigma surrounding mental health within South Asian communities.

Jose Segura-Bermudez

Jose Segura-Bermudez
MD student, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Project: An STD self-testing kit tailored to the Latinx and Hispanic community that includes educational and follow-up information in Spanish/Portuguese and connects positive-testing individuals with HIV care.

Monika Shankar

Monika Shankar
PhD in Environmental Health Sciences, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A citizen scientist training program in Watts to transform members of the community into “environmental agents of change.”

Apurv Sibal

Apurv Sibal
MBA student, UCLA Anderson School of Management

Project: A multi-tiered Braille system for vision care education for aging immigrants in multiple languages and tailored to different levels of vision impairment.