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Granada Hills Charter Wins 8th Academic Decathlon Championship



Granada Hills Charter Decathlon
Photo Courtesy of Granada Hills Charter

Granada Hills Charter High School captured its eighth United States Academic Decathlon championship on Saturday.

The team scored 52,656.7 points out of a possible 60,0000 to claim the title, according to the school.

“Like last year, this competition was a big shift for everyone involved,” said team coach Alina Lee. “It was important to focus on maintaining our momentum without our normal face-to-face interactions. Our program is built on teamwork and accountability so keeping the sense of connection among our students was a top priority. I am really impressed how well everyone responded, and I’m very excited for our team.”

This year’s winning team of students is Dwaipayan Chanda, Eunice Choi, Joshua Choi, Rachel Heo (alternate), Chloe Hyun, Aroa Kim (alternate), Justin Kim, Hirusha Liyanage, Anthony Mercado (alternate), Jasdeep Sidhu, and Zorex Villadelgado, Jr. The coaches are Alina Lee, Linda Kang and Amy Contreras.

The theme of this year’s Academic Decathlon season was “The Cold War,” requiring students to study subjects within that context. Students compete in seven subject areas including science, literature, art, music, social science, economics and mathematics. 

Topics included the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, music from the era and a focus on Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. The competition includes multiple-choice exams in each subject, as well as essays, interviews and speeches.

As part of the competition, each school enters a field of students from the following GPA categories, – “A” students (honors), – “B” students (scholastic), and – “C or below” (varsity). GHC decathletes placed within the top three in the highest individual scores in all categories: Jasdeep Sidhu (1st overall honors) and Dwaipayan Chanda (3rd overall honors); Zorex Villadelgado, Jr. (1st overall scholastic) and Hirusha Liyanage (2nd overall scholastic); and Joshua Choi (1st overall varsity) and Justin Kim (2nd overall varsity).

“I know everyone on the team worked very hard under extremely trying conditions to prepare for the competitions, so we all are excited for their success,” said Brian Bauer, executive director of Granada Hills Charter. “In a normal year, the unexpected challenges of Academic Decathlon go beyond learning about the topics and honing skills for the 10 different events. There are challenges of making time for all the preparations, of staying focused and determined and facing odds that can feel daunting. This year’s team again demonstrated the perseverance needed to compete at such a high level, and they deserve this victory.”

Next year’s competition will focus on a topic very familiar to Californians: water. The science subject will focus on marine biology and the art area will look into watercolor painting and water as a subject of art.

“I’m always amazed by how much the students learn and how dedicated our coaches are,” Bauer said. “I’m sure all the students will take what they’ve learned with them as they go on to college or enter the workforce – or come back to finish their high school experience with us next year.”

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$196 Million In Funding Secured For San Fernando Valley Colleges



CSUN Cal State Northridge
Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Pierce College

More than $196 million in emergency funding has been allocated for colleges and universities in the San Fernando Valley under the American Rescue Plan. 

The funding will help local institutions cope with the severe financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and continue serving their students safely, according to Congressmen Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and Brad Sherman (CA-30).

At least half of the funding each institution receives will be distributed in emergency cash assistance grants to students facing hunger, homelessness and other hardship.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the many challenges students in the San Fernando Valley are facing,” said Cárdenas in a statement. “With so many institutions and students suffering, the need for direct relief has never been more important. These funds will provide struggling students with the urgent assistance needed to help them achieve their goals and complete their education. This is a prime example of how our American Rescue Plan is making a real difference in the San Fernando Valley.” 

The American Rescue Plan provides $36 billion for nearly 3,500 public and private, nonprofit colleges and universities nationwide. 

“These funds will provide direct relief to students in the San Fernando Valley, helping them to continue their education and to graduate on time,” said Sherman in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact among Valley students and this emergency relief is rightly directed to those students who need it most.” 

The colleges and universities in the San Fernando Valley receiving funding under the American Rescue Plan are:

  • California State University, Northridge (CSUN): $129,280,593
  • Los Angeles Pierce College: $29,643,969
  • Los Angeles Valley College: $24,876,025
  • Los Angeles Mission College: $12,315,025

Students should contact their institutions for more information about how they can apply for an emergency grant.

The American Rescue Plan also includes nearly $3 billion in additional funding – which will be distributed at a later date – for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), other Minority-Serving Institutions and other under-resourced institutions.

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CSUN Receives Grant To Digitize Farmworker Movement Collection



CSUN Cal State Northridge

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” according to the old adage. A picture can tell a story, evoke emotion and document history.

The Tom & Ethel Bradley Center at California State University, Northridge CSUN) has received a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize some of the approximately 22,000 images in its Farmworker Movement Collection that tell the story and document efforts to unionize farmworkers in the 1960s and early 1970s.

In addition to preserving the images digitally, the center is collecting the oral histories of some of the people in the photographs taken by John Kouns and Emmon Clarke, to create a digital database that can be accessed by educators and others who are interested in learning more about the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW), and the people who made it happen.

“The farmworker movement forged a broad coalition of workers, students, activists and religious allies that won most of its early battles by leveraging its diversity, pushing the country toward a pluralistic, multicultural form of democracy — a more perfect union,” said journalism professor José Luis Benavides, director of the Tom & Ethel Bradley Center. “The diversity of this coalition is reflected in the images taken by these two photographers, Kouns and Clarke, who joined the farmworker movement as participant visual workers and used their talent to document the movement.”

The NEH grant will support the creation of a digital archive — accessible through CSUN’s University Library Digital Collections website — that will include 6,600 images, as well as 20 oral histories of people featured in images and other publicly available digital resources to tell the stories of those involved in the movement.

The project will focus on regular community organizers, especially women, who spent countless hours picketing, demonstrating and lobbying consumers, local businesses and elected officials on behalf of the movement, oftentimes sacrificing their own home lives for their cause.

Benavides said the center plans to use the oral histories and images to create a Do-It-Yourself educational exhibition for schools, community centers and others, which can be tailored to a specific space and printed on demand for public display.

John Kouns’ images of the farmworker movement and march from Selma to Birmingham have been seen in many books and films as part of the archives of the American labor movement at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. Kouns rarely focused his attention on the leaders. Rather, he was motivated by a sense of a people’s movement and turned his attention to the people for inspiration. He documented the National Farm Workers Association at its infancy.

Emmon Clarke served as the photo editor of the UFW’s newspaper, El Malcriado, from 1966-67. He documented the union’s activities on the picket line, in meetings and at rallies across the country, and in the labor camps of the San Joaquin Valley. His photos captured both those known and unknown involved in the movement’s efforts.

Both men use their unique status to move away from taking multiple photos of the union’s main leader, César Chávez and focused instead on its organizers, activists, volunteers and farmworkers and their families.

The Tom & Ethel Bradley Center’s archives contain over one million images from Los Angeles-based freelance and independent photographers between the 1930s to the present. The core of the center’s archive is a large collection of photographs produced by African-American photojournalists. Oral histories, manuscripts and other ephemeral materials support the photographic collection.

The archives contain more than 70 oral histories from African American photographers, civil rights leaders and organizers, individuals involved with the history of Los Angeles, journalism, the group Mexicans in Exile and the United Farm Workers, as well as the personal papers of many individuals and organizations. The center’s Border Studies Collection examines the issues surrounding the border between the United States and Mexico.

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CSUN Receives Nearly $3 Million Grant To Support Biomedical Science Students



CSUN Cal State Northridge
Photo Courtesy of CSUN

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) has been awarded nearly $3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support students studying biomedical sciences with an eye on eventually earning a Ph.D.

The $2,882,538, five-year grant will support a new program, Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE), designed to equip undergraduate students with skills that will make them more competitive for entry into graduate programs, according to the university.

Targeting students from traditionally underrepresented communities, the grant includes money to cover 60 percent of the students’ tuition to CSUN, as well as stipends and support for their research projects and attending scientific conferences.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students, who are often the first ones in their families to go to college,” said biology professor MariaElena Zavala, lead director of the U-RISE program at CSUN in a statement. “In addition to the tuition help, the grant allows us to provide the students with stipends to research and attend conferences — all of which can cement a student’s decision to pursue a career in science.

The U-RISE program is administered by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, with the goals of increasing the number of capable, underrepresented scientists engaged in biomedical research and strengthening science curricula and research opportunities at institutions with substantial minority enrollment to prepare students for careers in biomedical research.

“When you’re the first in your family to go to college, getting a Ph.D. can seem like a long way off, and the obstacles can seem insurmountable,” Zavala said, who was the first Mexican American woman in the country to earn a Ph.D. in botany. “A program like this demonstrates that there are people out there who believe in you and are willing to support you as you pursue your dream and that achieving that dream is possible.”

The year-round program replaces CSUN’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC – undergraduates) and Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE – undergraduates and post-graduates) programs, which for more than two decades successfully helped increase the number and capabilities of underrepresented scientists engaged in basic biomedical research.

CSUN’s U-RISE program, led by Zavala and biology professors Cheryl Courtney-Hogue and Ray Hong, starts this summer with an anticipated inaugural cohort of 10 students. In subsequent years, that cohort is expected to increase to 20 students.

In addition to the financial support, the students will receive training on how to be principal investigators (lead researchers) on research projects, be paired with faculty mentors, and work on a long-term research project. They also will attend and present at scientific conferences and participate in professional development workshops.

“We want to make sure they have everything they need so that they can hit the ground running when they get into graduate school,” Zavala said.

Zavala also is a co-author of a paper, “Broadening the impact of plant science through innovative and inclusive outreach,” that recently appeared in the journal Plant Direct. The paper provides a guide for increasing science outreach in the field of plant biology.

She and her co-authors are hoping to renew interest in the field of plant biology, which is going to become more and more important as the world grapples with the impact climate change has on global food supplies and medicine.

“When people think about science, they often don’t think about plant science,” said Zavala. “People don’t understand how absolutely important plants are to their well-being. In addition to their aesthetics, plants are at the center of our food chain, and 70-80 percent of all drugs have their origins in plants.”

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