Students honored for academic achievements, contributions to GPS community

In lieu of the annual GPS student awards luncheon, honorees were celebrated virtually with a video aired during commencement

June 22, 2020 | By Virginia Watson | GPS News

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UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) students often go above and beyond in their studies of policy questions and real-world implications – students like Gala Ledezma ’20, who was recognized for the best quantitative research paper that examined the effectiveness of Hispanic-Serving Institutions on Latinx outcomes. 

Ledezma was one of several outstanding students to be honored by GPS faculty and administrators for their accomplishments over the 2019-2020 academic year. The students were recognized in a special awards video, which was aired during the UC San Diego virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 13.

The awards honored students for their academic and professional achievements, such as outstanding leadership and best academic papers, as well as honors voted upon by fellow students and faculty. Academic achievement awards were given to the students with the highest grade point average in each program.

GPS Dean Peter Cowhey acknowledged the extraordinary tenacity of students, faculty and staff who overcame the sudden disruption to the spring quarter due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

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“It was a journey into a strange new realm for both faculty and students,” Cowhey said. “I wasn’t surprised that the GPS community pulled together to make the change as smoothly as possible; I was especially not surprised to see that our students accepted the challenge with good grace and have excelled in an online environment.” 

Ledezma’s received the Econometric Award for her paper entitled, “The Effective HSI [Hispanic-Serving Institution] Status on Latinx Student Outcomes.” Ledezma used the threshold of 25 percent Latinx enrollment – the level at which colleges and universities are formally declared Hispanic-serving institutions – to understand the extent to which the designation improves outcomes for Latinx students. 

Though Ledezma found an increase in enrollment and overall graduation numbers, her study did not find a commensurate improvement in graduation rates for Latinx students.

“Gala was awarded the econometrics prize because of the well-executed statistical analysis, lucid writing and great policy question that she was able to address,” said Professor Craig McIntosh, who virtually presented Ledezma’s award. 

In addition, Aimee Barnes ‘20 won an impressive two awards: the MIA Academic Achievement Award as well as the Dean’s Teaching Award, which is awarded to the best core curriculum teaching assistant or tutor as voted on by the first-year class. 

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The Dean’s Teaching Award was presented by GO GPS President Caroline Novit, a 2021 Master of Public Policy candidate, who noted that while all teaching assistants are imperative in the GPS community, Barnes was consistently a standout. 

“[Teaching assistants] must exhibit a mastery of very dense material and guide students with empathy and patience while maintaining their own rigorous schedules as second-year students themselves,” Novit said. “Aimee is the perfect embodiment of these qualifications. Her dedication to student development is incomparable, and our cohort constantly sings her praises without any provocation.” 

For Barnes, the awards were unexpected.

I didn't expect to win an award, and especially not two, but I'm grateful to the first-year class that voted for me,” Barnes said. “And I appreciate that GPS still arranged a virtual acknowledgment for students this year.”

During the presentation of awards for best academic papers, professors remarked upon the difficult policy issues, comprehensive research methodology and well-executed analysis in students’ submissions. 

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Liuya Zhang ‘20 was awarded the Ruth Adams Award, which honors the best analytics paper, by professor Barbara Walter for her research in measuring North Korea’s seriousness about reaching a nuclear deal.

“Zhang shows that the timing of North Korean interests and such peace proposals was not sincere; instead, they made peace overtures oftentimes to disguise arms buildups, seek sanctions relief or they were used to de-escalate tensions that North Korea itself had created,” Walter said. “The paper shows a nuanced research design and is a great example of strong, multi-method research.”

Graduating student Nick Rhodes ’20 presented the Faculty Award to professor and Associate Dean of Student Affairs Gordon McCord. Voted upon by the second-year class, the Faculty Award is given annually to a professor who is dedicated to going above and beyond for his or her students.  

“Whether he is participating in events, aiding students interested in studying Latin America or extending his office hours to squeeze in just a few more questions from his students, it is obvious that Professor McCord is passionate about teaching and is invested in seeing his students succeed and grow during their time at GPS,” Rhodes said. 

2020 GPS Award Winners:


  • MIA Academic Achievement Award: Aimee Barnes, BA/MIA ‘20
  • MAS-IA Academic Achievement Award: Alessandro Licopoli, MAS-iA ‘20
  • MPP Academic Achievement Award: Cesar Perez, MPP ‘20
  • MCEPA Academic Achievement Award: Jingwen Liu, MCEPA ‘20 
  • Ayal Margalith Memorial Award : Nicholas “Nick” Rhodes, MIA ‘20
  • MAS-IA Peer Award: Jacob Glashoff, MAS-IA ‘20
  • Doming Liu Award: Caroline Novit, MPP ‘21
  • Dean’s Teaching Award: Aimee Barnes, BA/MIA ‘20
  • Language Achievement Award: Marc-Olivier “Marc” Caron, MIA ‘20
  • Ruth Adams Award: Liuya Zhang, MIA ‘20 
  • Econometric Award: Gala Ledezma, MPP ‘20
  • Richard Covington Award: Mingpu “Alex” Xiao, MIA ‘20
  • Joseph Grunwald Memorial Award: Joaquín Gana Aravena, MPP ‘20
  • Faculty Award: Gordon McCord


Additional student award stories:

Awarding the best and brightest student ambassadors

Celebrating academic excellence

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