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UCLA Campus Report: Diversity in the Dental School, More

This week’s post includes ways in which UCLA’s dental school is promoting diversity, unraveling translation issues in Chinese medicine, how sign language students are helping the deaf understand the Holocaust and how UCLA students created a website that lets you know if the factory near you is spewing toxins.


An occasional report from around campus that recognizes that UCLA is a school with a world-class reputation for research and innovation and whose people make real impact on the real world:

This week’s post includes ways in which UCLA’s dental school is promoting diversity, unraveling translation issues in Chinese medicine, how sign language students are helping the deaf understand the Holocaust and how UCLA students created a website that lets you know if the factory near you is spewing toxins.

Dental school's diversity pipeline a success

Raquel Ulma's accomplishments are what was envisioned when the UCLA School of Dentistry started its outreach program for underrepresented students

When Raquel Ulma moved to Los Angeles with her husband, Greg, in 2002, he knew that it was time for her to start making her lifelong dream of becoming a dentist a reality, even though she had no idea how.

So Greg encouraged her to attend the annual California Dental Association session with a friend. "I actually crashed the dentistry event," confessed Ulma, who goes by "Rocky." "I approached the Hispanic Dental Association booth and struck up a conversation with a female dentist who was approachable and welcoming."

Soon Ulma was telling Dr. Lilia Larin about her goal of becoming a dentist. The two exchanged contact information and Larin told her to expect a call from a faculty member from UCLA School of Dentistry who was starting a program designed to help people apply to dental school.

The next day, Drs. Marvin Marcus and Bruce Sanders contacted Ulma. Marcus told Ulma that she was the perfect candidate for his new program aimed at recruiting disadvantaged and underrepresented students into dentistry. She was from a poor neighborhood in Puerto Rico and had the basic science foundation, having majored in chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico and had completed master’s level coursework in organic chemistry.

"To be honest," Ulma said, "I was a little star-struck that a school such as UCLA would have an interest in me."

Shortly after her first contact with Marcus, Ulma became one of the first students to participate in UCLA School of Dentistry’s then-fledgling recruitment initiatives and helped paved the way for the current Post-Baccalaureate program, which guides students step-by-step, through the daunting dental school application process. Since 2003, the program has mentored 40 post-baccalaureate students, 30 of whom have gone on to attend dental school. The program, which is funded in part by UCLA School of Dentistry Dean No-Hee Park's office, is the first of its kind in Southern California.

"Our educational pipeline initiatives are something I am very proud of and are an important element of our outreach and diversity goals," said Dr. Park. "Our Post-Baccalaureate Program has helped young people reach their full potential and has enriched the dental field with professionals from all backgrounds."

For Ulma, the coaching began with a meeting at the School of Dentistry’s Office of Student Affairs where Marcus and Sanders reviewed her undergraduate transcripts, looked at her dental admission test (DAT) scores and went over a draft of her application essay. Ulma had strong grades from her undergraduate work, but needed to work on her DAT scores and wasn’t as strong in the interview portion. Knowing this, Marcus and Sanders helped set-up a mock-interview panel that resemble an actual interview she would eventually face.

"The mock interview panel was a lot harder than I expected," she said. "They asked a lot of questions, such as why I would be a good fit for that particular school and what makes me a good candidate for dental school."

They also advised her to do some volunteer work in dentistry, so Ulma immediately began volunteering at the Wilson-Jennings-Bloomfield UCLA Venice Dental Center – a community clinic in West Los Angeles that provides dental care to low-income adults and children.

The entire process took about a year and a half, from reviewing her pre-requisites and re-taking the DAT to applying to numerous schools and interviewing. After that though, Ulma was accepted to her top choice, UCLA, and began dental school in 2004.

"Looking back at how far I’ve come is sometimes unbelievable," Ulma said.

Originally from Levittown, Puerto Rico, a rough, urban neighborhood outside of the country’s capital, Ulma recalls the area where she grew up as, "a very bad neighborhood with high pregnancy rates, drug dealers and teenagers getting shot."

Ulma’s police officer father also owned a woodworking shop where he made furniture to supplement his salary, and he would regularly bring her to the shop to keep her out of trouble.

"It was the experience of working with my father in his shop where I fell in love with using my hands to make something beautiful, yet functional," she said.

Rather than follow her father exactly, though Ulma chose to pursue dentistry to combine her love of working with her hands along with helping people.

With the support of her husband and faculty at UCLA, Ulma achieved her long-held dream of becoming a dentist when she graduated with the D.D.S. class of 2008.

"During dental school, I would often meet with Dr. Marcus for breakfast and he would remind me to take it day-by-day," she recalled. The support she received from Marcus and Sanders has inspired Ulma to volunteer her time to assist other students with their dental school applications.

UCLA addresses 'lost in translation' issues in Chinese medicine

Millions of people in the West today utilize traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, herbs, massage and nutritional therapies. Yet only a few U.S. schools that teach Chinese medicine require Chinese-language training and only a handful of Chinese medical texts have so far been translated into English.

Given the complexity of the language and concepts in these texts, there is a need for accurate, high-quality translations, say researchers at UCLA’s Center for East–West Medicine. To that end, the center has published a document that includes a detailed discussion of the issues involved in Chinese medical translation, which is designed to help students, educators, practitioners, researchers, publishers and translators evaluate and digest Chinese medical texts with greater sensitivity and comprehension.

"This publication aims to raise awareness among the many stakeholders involved with the translation of Chinese medicine," said principal investigator and study author Dr. Ka-Kit Hui, founder and director of the UCLA center.

The 15-page document, "Considerations in the Translation of Chinese Medicine," was developed and written by a UCLA team that included a doctor, an anthropologist, a China scholar and a translator. Itappears in the current online issue of the Journal of Integrative Medicine.

Authors Sonya Pritzker, a licensed Chinese medicine practitioner and anthropologist, and Hanmo Zhang, a China scholar, hope the publication will promote communication in the field and play a role in the development of thorough, accurate translations.

The document highlights several important topics in the translation of Chinese medical texts, including the history of Chinese medical translations, which individuals make ideal translators, and other translation-specific issues, such as the delicate balance of focusing translations on the source-document language while considering the language it will be translated into.

UCLA sign language students fill emotional void on Holocaust for deaf

When Benjamin Lewis, UCLA’s only deaf faculty member, toured the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance last year, he couldn’t help but notice that the visitors all around him seemed mesmerized as they listened intently to self-guided audio recordings describing the horror of the Holocaust.

He saw visitors’ shocked expressions and, in some cases, tears. But because all he was given as a deaf visitor was a thick textbook-like guide to read, Lewis felt that he wasn’t experiencing everything the exhibits had to offer.

"All these emotions that others were feeling were not part of my experience," wrote Lewis in an email.

That will soon change, thanks to a partnership that Lewis forged with the museum.

For the last three months, Lewis, who teaches six American Sign Language (ASL) classes at UCLA, and six of his intermediate and advanced ASL students have worked furiously to create 18 videos of the students signing content to help guide the deaf through one of the main exhibits on the tragic timeline that led to the Holocaust.

"Even though some of our exhibits are close-captioned and have very powerful visuals," said Elana Samuels, the director for museum volunteer services who worked closely with Lewis and the students, "auditory is an important way of teaching the history and experiencing the exhibits. So for visitors who are deaf or have hearing impediments, they are missing out on some very important information and emotion. So when professor Lewis called, we were immediately enthusiastic about exploring a partnership."

The videos, which will be made available to deaf visitors on iPads possibly by the end of the summer, will lead them through the exhibit in a way that most have never experienced fully on this subject in their native language, Lewis said.

"When it comes to accessibility," Lewis explained, "it’s important to always focus on the fullest experience in order to understand this tragic history."

Making these videos for the deaf, a project that became part of students’ final grade, turned out to be a moving experience in itself.

"This project was the most worthwhile thing I’ve done at UCLA," said student Mariam Janvelyan, a fourth-year linguistics and psychology major. "It was such an amazing experience. And, yes, it was stressful and terrifying, but it was honestly the most fun I’ve had for a final, and the most accomplished and fulfilled I felt afterwards.

"I learned so much," said Janvelyan, who not only signed, but participated in the filming and editing process. "My segment, in particular, was one that made me cry when we actually walked through the exhibit. So my toughest challenge was making sure that deaf people got the same feelings and reactions that I did from hearing about the exhibit."

Is that factory near you spewing toxins? UCLA students create website to tell you

A team of seven UCLA environmental science students has created a website that shows how emissions from local factories are impacting air quality in Los Angeles County.

Cal EcoMaps, launched this month, features an interactive map with detailed information about 172 facilities representing the top four emitting industries — petroleum, primary metals, fabricated metals and chemical production.

The website, created as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory University Challenge, will help residents of the Los Angeles Basin access information related to factory-produced toxic emissions. It will also benefit industrial facility operators, giving them a better sense of their environmental impact, how their sites compare to others and how they might improve their records.

"We wanted to target these four industries because they account for 89 percent of the total toxic releases in L.A. County," said student Leanna Huynh. Primary metals, she said, account for 38 percent of emissions, while petroleum accounts for 31 percent, fabricated metals make up 15 percent, and chemical producers are responsible for 5 percent.

Each of the facilities included in the report was individually graded on a number of variables, including the total amount of toxic releases, releases per $1,000 of revenue, the percentage of waste treated through preferred management practices, and the cancer risks.

Students assigned each facility a score out of 100, with a lower score representing lower environmental impact. For example, in primary metals processing (iron, steel, copper, aluminum and other metals), Quemetco Inc. and Exide Technologies had some of the highest environmental impact scores in Los Angeles County — 89 and 78, respectively. On the other end of the scale, Sapa Extruder Inc. scored 3 and Cast-Rite Corp scored 6, making them the lowest-impact facilities in the primary metals industry.

"Cal EcoMaps is expected to be a valuable resource for both L.A. residents and industry because it brings together disparate information in one easy-to-use interface to tell a clear story about relative environmental impact and performance," said Steve Knizner, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxics release inventory program. "The methodology and metrics developed by this team of students are entirely new and provide an example that other researchers can emulate when analyzing pollution data for their own areas of interest."

The students hope the website will be used by members of the local community to gain better insight into the effects nearby industries are having on air quality and public health. They also say it will help industry operators see how their site records compare to others in their sectors and will hopefully encourage best practices and an overall reduction in toxic release levels.

"If the public doesn’t care, then the facilities won’t care," said student Ha Hyun Chung. "And how would they care without access to this information in the first place?"

Cal EcoMaps was created as part of a nine-month UCLA senior practicum course and was one of 11 group projects developed by students. These project reports, along with reports from all projects undertaken since the course began eight years ago, are available online.

The goal of the senior practicum, which is administered though the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) at UCLA, is to provide students with an opportunity to work on practical issues and gain real-world experience in problem-solving, research and presenting data.

"One of the additional benefits is that students work for a client," said Magali Delmas, a professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and IoES, and director of UCLA’s Center for Corporate Environmental Performance, who served as faculty adviser. "They have to work together and produce professional-level results. It’s an entry into the professional world building on some of the skills they’ve gained as UCLA students."