Young woman in front of art display

Honors Project Takes a Deep Dive Into Pandemic Anxieties

Members of UCLA’s class of 2023 will be the first to graduate having spent most, if not all, of their academic years living through a pandemic — and all the uncertainties, anxieties, and physical and mental health challenges that has entailed. Among those graduates will be psychology major and public affairs minor Leah Likin, who mined these experiences for her highly original and deeply personal honors capstone project, which won a Dean’s Prize for Excellence in Research and Creativity as part of UCLA’s 10th annual Undergraduate Research Week. Likin’s struggles with mental health during the pandemic — which at their worst necessitated inpatient psychiatric treatment — served as a springboard for the ambitious project. In addition to more traditional research and data collection, Likin incorporated poetry, personal writing and an art installation created at UCLA’s high-tech MakerSpace workshop. Her project included interviews with 15 people, ranging in age from 20 to 86, about a number of topics, including COVID-19, mental health, climate change, perception of time and the use of smartphones. Likin said these conversations helped her unpack her own mental health burdens. “It was interesting to explore my sense of loss and my sense of belonging during that time, and also my growth and sense of identity,” she said. Her advisor was Ron Avi Astor, UCLA Luskin professor of social welfare. Likin said she was inspired by how Astor would often read his poetry about his family’s mental health struggles during the multidisciplinary undergraduate course “Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools.” — Madeline Adamo

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