Published On: June 02, 2023

Four UCLA students’ projects awarded $200,000 to combat health inequities 

Winning projects address impacts of climate change, vision care for day laborers, and healing for victims of sexual and interpersonal violence 

Media Contact:
UCLA CHPR Communications Team

Following several months of turning their ideas to solve health inequities into full project proposals with community partners, four UCLA students will see their projects come to life as winners of the 2023 Health Equity Challenge, a competition presented by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, The MolinaCares Accord, and the California Health Care Foundation. 

The four 2023 Health Equity Challenge grand prize winners and their community partners are: 

Karla Murillo
Murillo’s project will increase access to ophthalmic care in under-resourced communities of color through the development of a mobile health screening protocol for vision-threatening conditions and eye safety training to prevent occupational eye injuries for jornaleros (day laborers) who often encounter hazardous working conditions. The UCLA Mobile Eye Clinic and her community partner, the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California, will work together to implement the project. 

Cameron Salehi
Salehi’s project will address climate-related health risks among American Indian and Alaska Native communities in Southern California through a continuing education and deployment training program for community health workers (CHW). His community partner, United American Indian Involvement, Inc., will implement the project.

Nikolas Wianecki
Wianecki’s project aims to alleviate the impact of extreme heat events on older adults through a comprehensive heat preparedness and response training for informal — or family — caregivers. His community partner, The Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center, will implement the project. 

Nadeeka Karunaratne
Karunaratne’s project will provide trauma-informed yoga services, mental health services, and educational workshops to promote healing and wellness for South Asian survivors of interpersonal violence, including sexual, physical, and emotional violence. Her community partner, the South Asian Network (SAN), will implement the project.

The community partners will receive $50,000 each.

“We are inspired by these student leaders and their passion and commitment to health equity,” said Kathryn Kietzman, PhD, Director of the Health Equity Program at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “Our 14 Health Equity Challenge finalists developed outstanding proposals to make an impact on some of the greatest challenges of our time — from the health effects of climate change to water quality to poverty. If we listen to and support these students and their ideas, our future will be in good hands.”

“We won’t get to health equity if health care does what it’s always done,” Kara Carter, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Programs with the California Health Care Foundation said. “These winners are modeling exactly the kind of inventive, people-centered problem solving that’s needed throughout our health systems.”

For Murillo, whose mother has been a farmworker in the Central Valley of California for more than 18 years, the Health Equity Challenge intervention was personal. “Helping my mother navigate the downstream consequences of her occupational exposures were the first lived experiences I had with the world of public health,” said Murillo, a first-generation medical student at the UCLA Program in Medical Education – Leadership and Advocacy (PRIME-LA). “My mother, like many other Mexican immigrants, has endured unsafe, labor-intensive occupations to provide for my siblings and me.” 

Fourteen UCLA graduate students were named finalists in the Health Equity Challenge in January 2023, with the final awards presented on June 1, 2023. The remaining 10 finalists and their proposals were:

Purnima S. Bharath: An education-based social supports public health intervention aimed at helping overweight/obese neurotypical children and children with autism in Riverside County, California.

Katie Fruin: A hydroponic farm that will provide nutritious food for the community, job training opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals, and a hands-on classroom to engage youth and adults in learning about farming and nutrition. 

Chenglin Hong: A model that encompasses prevention, early detection, intervention, and post-intervention support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people who experience or are at risk of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Mariam Khan: A peer-led employment support program to improve employment outcomes among individuals who have been systems-involved and formerly incarcerated in South Los Angeles.

Mohammad Khorgamphar: A water quality improvement program that would provide educational, water testing, and water filtration resources to people from disadvantaged socioeconomic and minority communities. 

Cassandra Lautredou: A program that uses systematic reinforcements (such as money or vouchers) with the administration of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people experiencing homelessness.

Patrick Liu: An app that provides low-income families with digestible information and digital applications for anti-poverty programs at the federal, state, and local levels.

McKayla Poppens: The implementation of sunscreen dispensers, shade structures, and educational programs to improve knowledge about skin cancer and provide access to sun-protection measures in low-resourced areas, including public housing communities. 

Virginia Reyes: 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.

Cecile Yama: Implementation of “Let’s Get Set,” a mobile tax filing and financial health app that is designed to help low-income parents with young children maximize their receipt of tax credits, with the goal of yielding thousands of unclaimed dollars in financial relief for families.

“MolinaCares congratulates the winners of this year’s UCLA Health Equity Challenge! We are thrilled to have partnered with the California Health Care Foundation and UCLA in selecting this talented set of future health care leaders as they design and implement innovative solutions to reducing health disparities in communities throughout the Greater Los Angeles area,” said Abbie Totten, Plan President of Molina Healthcare of California.

To learn more about the 14 projects, visit the UCLA Health Equity Challenge website.​

About the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research
The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR) is one of the nation’s leading health policy research centers and the premier source of health policy information for California. UCLA CHPR improves the public’s health through high quality, objective, and evidence-based research and data that informs effective policymaking. UCLA CHPR is the home of the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) and is part of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health​.