6 Awards Recieved from Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program

The Sociology Department is pleased to announce that we received six awards from the UC San Diego Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program. “The Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program builds the interdisciplinary expertise we will need to address national and global challenges,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Like the ongoing Frontiers of Innovation seed funding for new research centers on campus, this program is an investment in the university’s leadership role in interdisciplinary research.”

UC San Diego’s Strategic Plan identifies four research themes:

  • Understanding and Protecting the Planet
  • Enriching Human Life and Society
  • Exploring the Basis of Human Knowledge, Learning and Creativity
  • Understanding Cultures and Addressing Disparities in Society


Awardees are:

Lauren Olsen received the FISP award for her dissertation project, “Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Medical Curricular Change: Humanistic and Social Scientific Knowledge in Medical Education,” under supervision by John H. Evans, PhD and with additional mentorship from Charles Goldberg, MD in the School of Medicine.

This project is poised to explain how the medical profession undertakes the inclusion of humanistic and social scientific knowledge into its instruction of new medical students, ultimately addressing how different disciplines come together to improve future patient care.


Erica Bender received the FISP award for her dissertation project tentatively entitled, “The Military-Civilian Transition of Post-9/11 Veterans: Organizational and Individual Perspectives”

Abstract: This dissertation explores the post-military transition process of today’s veterans by addressing how veterans’ support services are coordinated and delivered in a complex organizational environment. In the last decade, the field of veterans’ services has grown tremendously, with over 45,000 nonprofit organizations in the United States identifying veterans as their target population. Consequently, post-9/11 veterans are transitioning toward civilian life in close proximity to a plethora of organizations and a vast array of services. While exciting, this organizational growth has also led to a heightened complexity in service provision. My study addresses this organizational shift and its consequences for veterans in transition. I utilize two cross-disciplinary fields, sociology and history, to examine the organizational landscape of veterans’ services and its effect on the transition experiences of individual veterans. I focus my research on organizations and veterans in San Diego, one of the largest military/veteran cities in the country with an exceptionally dense veteran-oriented organizational environment. My research approaches this organizational environment as the object of analysis in an effort to understand the broad social forces that act upon veterans as they re-engage in civilian society and build their futures.


Rawan Arar received the FISP award for her dissertation project, “Shouldering the “Refugee Burden:” Jordan and the Global Refugee Crisis”

Abstract: The refugee crisis has garnered unprecedented attention after the tragic drowning of three-year-old Alan Kurdi who died at sea en route from Syria to Europe. His lifeless body on the Turkish shore sparked a conversation about the global responsibility to accept refugees (and ways to keep them out). While some European states have closed their borders to refugees, the United States is engaging in national debates about refugee reception.

As the global refugee crisis becomes more consequential for the West, host countries like Jordan have become central to understanding refugee migration. For 70 years, Jordan has accommodated generations of refugees from Palestine, Iraq, and now Syria. With Jordan’s population increasing more than 10% in five years, social institutions that provide education, healthcare, and basic services are increasingly strained. Jordanians criticize a perceived decline in their standard of living citing overcrowded schools and streets. Governmental ministries are faced with the challenge of balancing competing interests as they address refugees’ needs, Western requests to stymie migration flows, and Jordanians’ worsening conditions.

This refugee dilemma yields the following questions: How do Jordanian ministries navigate the difficulties of changing demographics and overwhelmed social institutions? What happens to Jordanian citizens when a significant proportion of the population is comprised of refugees? And how do refugees navigate the difficulties of displacement?



Natalie Aviles received the FISP award for her dissertation project, “International Tech Entrepreneurs Abroad: The ‘Pull’ of Networks from “Silicon Allee” to “Chilecon Valley””

Abstract: Precis: Governments increasingly aim to attract foreign entrepreneurs to contribute to domestic economic innovation and prosperity. They have successfully used immigration policies and financial incentives to bring entrepreneurs far from home, despite high risks to “startup” abroad. This project examines how today’s increasingly mobile technology entrepreneurs develop and build their networks abroad, and how such networks influence decisions on where to locate. The investigator team will compare how international tech entrepreneurs make their choices, and identify the mechanisms through which they develop their networks and navigate new entrepreneurial cultures. This mixed methods project utilizes a original survey research of international tech expatriates, and also interview data collected from several startup destinations, including Berlin and Santiago. The survey data is analyzed statistically to identify how networks are developed and geographical destinations are chosen. The interview data will be used to further explain the micro-level social processes and patterns that emerge from the quantitative analysis. The project aims to uncover how these tech entrepreneurs navigate an increasingly borderless world, and how they utilize ties from existing networks in foreign environments. The findings speak to a wider literature in economic sociology and immigration studies– and also can inform public policy.


Professor Mary Blair-Loy received a FISP award to support the work of a research assistant to engage in a cluster of projects analyzing gender inequality in professional fields.

This research is important, because these are fields that provide innovation and economic growth and need more skilled professionals.  Leaders in these fields generally believe in meritocracy and objectivity, and are often unaware that they hold gender, learned from the broader culture.  These biases distort fair evaluation, exclude many women, waste talent, and impede innovation.


Professors Akos Rona-Tas , Thad Kousser, Edward Hunter and Zhuowen Tu jointly received a Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program Award to build a virtual lab for computational social science, with applied focus on political tweets during the 2016 presidential contest.

The project will analyze the tweets of presidential candidates as well as those by their affiliated political action committees. They will investigate three types of communication: topic diffusion, political vs. personal speech and negative campaigning.  This project builds on the momentum created by their recent multidisciplinary graduate courses on big data.


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