The Jessie Alpaugh Senior Prize in Disability Studies, awarded annually, was established to recognize graduating seniors who are enrolled in the UCLA Disability Studies minor and have developed an outstanding capstone project that contributes to emerging scholarship in the field and also captures their intellectual passion.

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Jessie AlpaughThe prize is named in honor of Jessie Charlotte Blackmar Alpaugh, an art history major at UC Berkeley who, during the last summer before her sudden death in 2002, worked at UCLA on an independent studies project that contributed to the foundation of UCLA’s Disability Studies minor.

At the age of 16, Jessie had suffered a catastrophic series of neurological illnesses that left her a quadriplegic with severe speech, hearing, and visual impairments. Despite these challenges, Jessie thrived intellectually and was admitted to UC Berkeley in 1999 as a Chancellor’s Scholar. There she found a vibrant group of scholars who were engaged in developing the interdisciplinary field of disability studies. The disability world was never a “club” that Jessie wished to join – the illness that had threatened her life and left her severely disabled deeply saddened her. However, through disability studies she discovered an amazing academic community that simultaneously challenged her mind, respected her experience, and sparked in her a sustaining passion and purpose.

Jessie would be extraordinarily proud of the UCLA Disability Studies program and would be humbled to learn about the senior prize awarded in her name.



Please review the Jessie Alpaugh Senior Prize 2021 Announcement to ensure eligibility BEFORE starting your application.

In a single pdf document, include the following three items:

  1. Cover page with the following information:
  • Full Name
  • Student ID Number
  • Enrolled in DIS STD 191, DIS STD 199B
  • For Students enrolled in DIS STD 199B, list your Faculty Mentor
  • Internship Site
  1. A 1-page Capstone project proposal covering the following:
  • Working title
  • Brief explanation of the project
  • Impact your project will have on the field of Disability Studies
  1. A 1-page response to the following prompt:
  • Disability Studies scholars understand ‘disability’ as a social construction and a dominant lens through which we can understand difference in the world. Please relate your capstone project and aspirations to this idea and articulate how you would address perceived challenges to ability justice.

Save the PDF in the following format:

  • LastName_FirstName_Application.pdf
  • Ex: Block_Gene_Application.pdf

Obtain a copy of your unofficial transcript and save it in the following format:

  • LastName_FirstName_Transcript.pdf
  • Ex: Block_Gene_Transcript.pdf

Email both files to the Jessie Alpaugh Senior Prize Committee

Confirmation email:

  • You will receive a confirmation email when your application has been received**

Applications are due Friday, May 7, 2021 at 11:59 PM

*Your application materials should be sent directly to the committee via the following email address: 2021.i5qya1t0sftn07wt@u.box.com

**If you do not receive a confirmation email or if you are having issues uploading your application materials, please contact Charlotte Vo.

If you have questions about the application requirements, please contact Pia Palomo.


Brown haired Latina woman standing in front of a brick staircase in a pink dress with a UCLA sash and smiling.


Major: History
Project Title: Investigating the Experiences of Autistic Women of Color: Does the Spectrum Include Women of Color?

Kristal Orta Martinez graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and a minor in Disability Studies in June 2021. Her coursework, research experience, internship, and personal experiences gained through the Disability Studies Minor fostered her passion for Autism research, and influenced her career trajectory. She hopes to pursue a PhD to achieve her ultimate goal of continuing to conduct research and improve equity within Autism research, care, education, and services for all communities but especially BIPOC communities. Kristal focused her Disability Studies capstone research on the intersection of Autism and females of color, reporting on the disparities faced by this population within the Autism field. Specifically, she examined the school experiences and effects that they have on Autistic females of color into adulthood. Kristal plans to submit her work for publishing to several Disability Studies journals as her work provides a certain glimpse to the gap in the academic literature regarding Autistic females of color. She hopes this will increase awareness of and advocacy for the population at this intersection. Kristal is headed to Vanderbilt to pursue a Master’s of Education in Special Education and Applied Behavioral Analysis at Peabody College. In the future, she hopes to pursue a PhD in Public Health, Special Education, or Clinical Psychology to continue supporting the Autistic community through her research that she hopes will be translational in school and clinical settings.

Kathleen is shown smiling while wearing a white dress with her UCLA graduation sash draped around her neck. The sash is blue with gold accents and reads ” Class of 2021. UCLA” Kathleen has long brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. She is set in front of a blurred backdrop of various trees.


Major: Dance
Project Title: Dancing Beyond the Eye – Using Audio Descriptions to Make Dance Accessible to the Blind and Visually Impaired Community

Kathleen De Nicola is completing a major in Dance with minors in Applied Developmental Psychology and Disability Studies. Kathleen, guided by her faculty mentor, Professor Victoria Marks, developed audio descriptions to accompany the dance film Outside In by Victoria Marks and Margaret Williams to make dance accessible to the blind and visually impaired communities. Knowing that adaptations created to accommodate disability often have widespread, functional benefits for everyone, Kathleen’s work on audio description advocates for greater inclusion and participation in dance as well as offering dance artists a new perspective on how their art is received, translated, and created.  By bringing her own understanding of dance into the interpretation of the choreography – one that offered a subjective point of view through her interpretations of movement qualities, filming techniques, artistic choices, and repetitive themes, Kathleen is adding to the relatively small and developing audio description field by showcasing a version of a holistic audio description.  Kathleen hopes that her research will also contribute to transforming the field of dance to be more inclusive and accessible. In the future, Kathleen aspires to work at the intersection of art, education, and advocacy and to participate in movements that are increasing inclusion in the world of dance.

Veeksha Balasa – 2020
Major: Psychobiology
Project Title: More Than a “Public Charge”: An Investigation of the Targeting of Migrants with Disabilities by the U.S. Immigration Regime
Amy Bugwadia – 2020
Political Science
Project Title: Integration of Disability Studies Frameworks into the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling Program at UCLA
Isita Tripathi – 2020
Major: Neuroscience
Project Title: Embracing Neurodiversity: Impacts of an Early Social Skills Intervention on Acceptance and Advocacy among Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Social Challenges
Avery Horne – 2019
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Legalized Ableism: A Look Into the Criminality of Conservatorship Hearings in the U.S.
Bethanie Atinuke Sonola – 2019
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Mind the Gap: The Role of Special Education in Higher Education Outcomes
Juliana Kotz – 2018
Major: Cognitive Science
Project Title: Human Rights, Dignity, and Disability Studies: An Investigation of Jail Conditions for People with Psychiatric Disabilities
Justin Kawakami – 2017 
Major: English
Project Title: “Merely more than de minimis”: Establishing Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the United States under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA)
Miso Kwak – 2017
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Relationship Between Accessibility of Music Education and Self-Esteem of Blind/Visually Impaired Students in Grades 6-12
Jaemmie Cañas – 2016
Major: Anthropology
Project Title:What Futures Await Foster Youth and Psychiatric Disabilities?
Rebecca Snyder – 2016
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Examination of Voting Restrictions for Individuals with Mental Disabilities
Dianna Padilla – 2015
Major: Anthropology
Project Title: Latino Border Town Communities and Autism: An Analysis on Access to Resources for Children with Autism in Nogales, Arizona
Nikki Reyes – 2015
Major: English Literature
Project Title: SISE – Sensory Integration Strategies for Early Educators (A proposal for Public Early Educators)
Brittany Steiminger – 2014
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Democratic Schooling: A viable alternative for autistic students?
Shayna Svihovec – 2014
Major: Human Biology and Society
Project Title: Straddling the Line Between the Deaf and Hearing Communities in a Hearing Dominated World
Hannah Warren – 2013
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Insurance and Intervention: An Evaluation of the Relationship between Service Access and Socioeconomic Status of Families with Children with Autism
Jessica Kianmahd – 2013
Major: Psychology
Project Title: Proposing a New Perspective of Disability: Approaching the Persian Jewish Community from a Jewish Lens
Paulina Ong – 2012 
Major: Physical Science
Project Title: Saying Something About Autism: An Evaluation of the Personhood Consciousness Model of Music Therapy
Sarah Baron – 2012
Major: Political Science
Project Title: Impact of Affordable Care Act for people with disabilities
Eunice Im – 2011
Major: English
Project Title: What Happened to the Clubhouse? An Investigative Study on a Program for Children with Autism in the UCLA Medical Center
Rhiannon Maycumber – 2011
Major: Psychology
Project Title: A Qualitative Comparison of Transition Practices for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in California and the United Kingdom
Shareen Nizami – 2010
Major: Political Science
Project Title: Working with the FMLA: Expanding Rights of the Workforce
Michelle Tang – 2010
Major: English
Project Title: Center Stage: How a Passion for the Performing Arts Help Deaf/hard of Hearing Individuals Find a Social Outlet and Overcome Their Disability
Haley Gamboa – 2019
Samantha Mallari – 2019
Claudine Ignacio – 2018
Elaine Lu – 2018
Amanda Mekhail – 2017
Hayley McAvoy – 2017
Lindsey Hoffman – 2016
Vanessa Magula – 2016
Ana Zepeda – 2016
Cindy Sayani – 2015
Kristen Lee – 2015
Brianna Mitchell- 2013
James Choi – 2012
Jenna Rodman – 2012
Laura Merchant – 2010
Lillian Kong – 2010