UCLA announces Health Equity Challenge finalists

Student finalists will develop a proposal to address a health equity issue and up to four projects will be awarded $50,000 in funding

Health Equity Challenge

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Molina Cares, and California Health Care Foundation have announced 14 finalists in the 2023 Health Equity Challenge. The competition is an opportunity for UCLA graduate students to identify a health equity issue across Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties, create a proposal to address it, and work with a community-based organization to implement their project. Up to four finalists’ community-based organizations will be awarded up to $50,000 each to fund the project.

“In order to achieve health equity, the community needs more people who are committed to making a positive impact,” Kathryn Kietzman, PhD, director of the Health Equity Program at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, and lead of the Health Equity Challenge, said. “Each of our finalists have this vision. All 14 graduate students have innovative ideas to bridge gaps that often go unaddressed by our health care system.”

“In order to achieve health equity, the community needs more people who are committed to making a positive impact. Each of our finalists have this vision. All 14 graduate students have innovative ideas to bridge gaps that often go unaddressed by our health care system.”

2023 marks the second year of the Health Equity Challenge. Last year’s winners were Angelica Johnsen and Alma Lopez, whose respective projects were a de-escalation toolkit for medical providers working with patients experiencing a mental health crisis, and an intervention program to improve the quality of maternal mental health care for mothers of color in South Los Angeles. Each of their community partners were awarded $50,000 to fund and implement their proposals.

The 2023 Health Equity Challenge finalists’ projects will tackle health inequities among communities facing significant barriers to care such as immigrants who are undocumented, low-income communities, people experiencing homelessness, and Indigenous communities. Proposed solutions include trauma-informed yoga services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, extreme heat trainings and toolkits for caregivers of older adults and people with chronic conditions, and expanding access to sun protective measures for people experiencing homelessness.

“I believe that in order to achieve health equity, we must reshape our systems to actively invest in — and not just intervene on — the health and financial well-being of our communities,” said Patrick Liu, Health Equity Challenge finalist and MD and PhD dual candidate at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “My hope is that through the Health Equity Challenge, we can begin to build stronger bridges to evidence-based approaches that directly address poverty as a cause of health inequity for families in Los Angeles.”

“The proposals from finalists are all creative and practical solutions to serious inequities in health care and public health,” said Kara Carter, senior vice president of strategy and programs for the California Health Care Foundation. “Beyond the projects themselves, it is incredibly exciting to imagine what these students will accomplish over the course of their careers.”

Each student finalist will be awarded $2,500 and will be paired with a mentor to develop a project proposal over 15 weeks. Each student’s goal is to identify a community partner that will implement their proposal idea to address a specific health equity issue. At the end of the project, an independent review committee will review the proposals: Up to four student winners will be selected and their community partners will receive $50,000 each to implement the project. The winning students will receive an additional $2,500 to continue to document the progress and impact of their project’s implementation.

The 14 graduate student finalists are:


Kaitlyn Fruin 

Medical Resident, UCLA Geffen School of Medicine

Project: A multilingual financial health toolkit in the form of a cookbook that combines recipes with a basic financial health curriculum for immigrant families who are undocumented. 


Chenglin Hong
PhD in Social Welfare, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

Project: Technology-based interventions to facilitate Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) prevention, predict IPV victimization using social media data, and inform IPV help-seeking strategies that are specifically tailored for gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.


Nadeeka Karunaratne

PhD in Higher Education and Organizational Change, UCLA School of Education & Information Studies

Project: Integrates trauma-informed yoga services into domestic and sexual violence agencies in Los Angeles County, providing Asian and Pacific Islander survivors access to healing modalities that support their trauma recovery and overall health and wellness.

Mariam Khan
Doctor of Medicine and Master of Public Health, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A pilot program that offers financial services and education, including tailored employment, credit, debt, and budget counseling, for low-income communities in South Los Angeles, in a trusted community-based setting.

Mohammad Khorgamphar
Master of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences and Policy, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A water quality improvement program to prevent and reduce the rate of related disease among people from lower socioeconomic statuses who are more at risk.

Cassandra Lautredou
Master of Health Policy and Management, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and second-year fellow in a combined Infectious Diseases and Preventive Medicine program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Project: Combines a behavioral approach that uses systemic reinforcement (either money or vouchers) with the administration of oral PrEP to decrease the risk of HIV acquisition in people experiencing homelessness and at risk of HIV infection.

Patrick Liu
Doctor of Medicine and PhD, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Medical and Imaging Informatics (MII)

Project: Transforms safety net health care clinics into anti-poverty gateways through the development of a web app that provides low-income families with easy-to-understand information and digital applications for anti-poverty programs at the federal, state, and local levels.


Purnima Mudnal-Bharath

PhD in Health Policy and Management, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A social support public health intervention for overweight/obese children and children with special health care needs in Riverside County, California.

Karla Murillo
Doctor of Medicine Program in Medical Education – Leadership and Advocacy (PRIME-LA), David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Project: A comprehensive mobile health screening protocol for chronic eye diseases designed for use in low-resource settings, titled Integrated Screening Eye Exams – Los Angeles (iSEE-LA).


McKayla Poppens


Doctor of Medicine, Charles R. Drew and UCLA Medical Education Program

Project: Expands access to sun protective measures for people experiencing homelessness and reduces skin cancer by providing sunscreen dispensers in community parks and nearby highly-trafficked areas.


Virginia Reyes

Master of Public Health, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A hybrid health education and peer support program to address low rates of exclusive long-term breastfeeding practices among low-income Latina women in Los Angeles County.

Cameron Salehi

Executive Master of Public Health, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: A continuing education program to provide Community Health Workers (CHWs) with the knowledge and skills necessary to build capacity for risk mitigation and resilience against the health effects of climate change in indigenous communities.

Nikolas Wianecki
Master of Public Health in Community Health Sciences, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: Extreme heat survival trainings and toolkits for caregivers of older adults and people with chronic conditions to prepare them to respond to increasingly devastating natural disasters and protect vulnerable communities.

Cecile Yama

Master of Science in Health Policy and Management, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Project: Implementation of a novel tax filing app, Let’s Get Set, to increase receipt of direct cash payments via tax credits for low-income families in community and health care settings.

“The Molina Cares Accord is a commitment to building stronger communities through improving people’s health and lives,” said Carolyn Ingram, executive director of The Molina Healthcare Charitable Foundation. “The MolinaCares partnership with UCLA and CHCF supports the next generation of changemakers in designing innovative solutions to reduce health and wellness disparities in our more vulnerable communities throughout the Los Angeles area and Inland Empire. Congratulations to our winners!”