IdeaLabs Fostering Collaboration at Cal

IdeaLabs Fostering Collaboration at Cal

By Sarah Bernardo 

UC Berkeley has over 38,000 students  and more than 100 different majors spread across 170 academic departments. This rich diversity produces incredible ideas and a variety of perspectives that continue to make Cal the number one public university in the world. However, at a research university as large as Cal, it can be challenging for students to get the opportunity to work with students outside their major or department. But solving the grand challenges facing society — energy, water, climate, food, health — requires the expertise of many different disciplines — and thus the IdeaLabs program was launched.

The Blum Center’s IdeaLabs program  provides the space and funding for graduate and undergraduate students from all across campus to come together in interdisciplinary collaborations. IdeaLabs are completely student-driven — meaning that an IdeaLab’s themes and issues, and indeed its very existence, is determined by  the students themselves. To launch, an IdeaLab needs a minimum of 5 team members from at least 3 different departments or majors. The labs provide a forum for students to explore specific issue areas across disciplines. Students work together to learn about the issue, collaborate with campus and community partners, and develop innovative solutions or services. This year, three amazing IdeaLabs are tackling the areas of human trafficking, water issues, and remote diagnostics.

The Anti-Human Trafficking IdeaLab engages in scholar-activism to combat human trafficking and slavery in the Bay Area and beyond. Participants in the lab work with academic researchers and local community partners to educate the Cal campus about all forms of trafficking while discussing best practices for combating the issue. Members also deconstruct intersecting social issues such as gender inequality and poverty.

Hannah Ousterman, Co-President of the Anti-Trafficking Coalition at Berkeley and co-facilitator of the Anti-Human Trafficking IdeaLab, says, “the most unique aspect of our IdeaLab is our ability to connect with so many amazing local organizations and activists. Rather than focusing solely on raising awareness about trafficking, we are able to invite community members for conversations about how race and socioeconomic status influence the issue and how we can be conscientious advocates in the field.”

The Anti-Human Trafficking IdeaLab has a lot of great events planned for this year. On September 22, they will be hosting a film screening at the Blum Center of The Long Night, a documentary feature film directed by award-winning photojournalist Tim Matsui. The film explores the harrowing reality of domestic child sex trafficking. A discussion with Holly Joshi will follow the screening. Ousterman adds, “We are also working on a much larger project to create a directory of anti-trafficking organizations in the Bay Area so that students can more easily find opportunities for volunteering, internships, and jobs in the field that apply to their studies and interests.”

The Berkeley Water Group IdeaLab focuses on the issues of water, sanitation, and hygiene both domestically and internationally. Through the lab, participants can find support for their projects and work directly with faculty members. The Berkeley Water Group also sends out a weekly digital newsletter. Future projects  include launching a Water Science, Sustainability, and Policy minor and producing a student academic journal on water-related subjects.

Sruthi Davuluri, co-director of the Berkeley Water Group IdeaLab, says, “My favorite part about the Berkeley Water Group is the interdisciplinary approach we take on discussing water issues. Our membership is made up of an eclectic group of students who come from different backgrounds such as engineering, economics, public policy, and many more different areas which always leads to interesting discussions because everybody has a different perspective.”

Davuluri explains that in the upcoming year, the Berkeley Water Group plans to make a “stronger partnership with the Save the Bay organization in order to have more volunteer opportunities for [their] members” while expanding their presence beyond Berkeley into more areas in the Bay. Davuluri adds, “We would also like to work on a long-term water conservation project here on campus.” Their meetings involve a variety of activities such as debates, guest speakers, and field trips.

The Point of Care Diagnostics (PoCDx) IdeaLab works to develop solutions to address the challenges of remote diagnostics by gathering members from across diverse fields such as public policy, medicine, and engineering. Members participate in a forum to share ideas and technology. They also are given the chance to attend talks by guest speakers who are experts in the field.

Bochao Lu, facilitator of the Point of Care Diagnostics IdeaLab, explains, “We organize multidisciplinary seminars where experts in different fields present their work and more importantly share their experience, which we believe will invoke more brilliant ideas from the audience.”

The PoCDx Idea Lab is planning an exciting speaker series for this year. Lu says. “We will invite speakers in the field of point of care, from faculty in academia to product managers in industry and entrepreneurs in diagnosis.”


All three IdeaLabs are currently accepting new members for the year or you can contact the Blum Center to launch your own IdeaLab!

Here’s how to get involved:

Anti-Human Trafficking IdeaLab: Meetings are every Tuesday 8:00-9:00 pm, Location TBD

(The room number will be posted on the Anti-Trafficking Coalition at Berkeley Facebook page.)

There are no requirements to join. All are welcome to join, even STEM majors and those who do not have a background in anti-trafficking work.

Berkeley Water Group IdeaLab: Meetings are every other Monday 6:00 pm in Blum Hall B100.

Everyone is welcome at meetings. For more information, email Weekly newsletters are sent out with information about ways anybody can get involved in the water community in Berkeley and in the greater Bay Area.

Point of Care Diagnostics (PoCDx) IdeaLab: Meetings are every other Thursday in Blum Hall.

Anyone interested in joining, should email Bochao Lu at to be added to PoCDx’s email list. Information about seminars are usually sent out one week before the event.


In addition to joining the existing IdeaLabs, any student on campus can propose a new IdeaLab to the Blum Center. IdeaLabs generally focus on a broad issue area of global significance with the purpose of advancing human well-being, environmental sustainability, and social justice.

The proposal process only involves two steps:

  1. Fill out an application form here.
  2. Email as soon as you submit the form to ensure that your application is reviewed in a timely manner.

Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, and any questions should be directed to


5 Questions with Anh-Thu Ho

By Sarah Bernardo

UC Berkeley student Anh-Thu Ho received a prestigious invitation to attend the Clinton Global Initiative’s (CGI) Annual Meeting in New York City this September. As one of only 10 students invited to this gathering, she will be sharing ideas and discussing pressing global issues with hundreds of recognized leaders from the non-profit sector, government, and industry. Together, the meeting participants will propose commitments to change the world.

Ho is a Bioengineering major from Singapore with a long history of public service including a medical outreach mission to Indonesia and founding Paint It On, a community art project at Danang Cancer Hospital in Vietnam. Paint It On won the Big Ideas @ Berkeley Video Contest.  At Cal, Ho was an active member of the Volunteer Health Interpreter Organization where she worked with patients as an English-Vietnamese interpreter.

Ho was recognized and invited to CGI for Ladon, the program she founded in early 2016.  Ladon is a platform to crowdsource bilingual college students who are passionate about bridging language barriers for immigrant communities. A wide variety of clients such as  social workers, medical service providers, teachers, and property managers of affordable housing estates can call Ladon’s number and be directly connected with Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Arabic language assistants. Ladon’s aim is to make social services more accessible for immigrants and other individuals with limited English proficiency.

The project won first place in the 2016 Social Challenge Lab at UC Berkeley. At the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University, a gathering of more than 1100 students hosted at UC Berkeley earlier this year, Ladon also won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge.

Ho is currently taking a gap year continuing work on Ladon while seeking an internship in the Bay Area’s entrepreneurship scene.

The Blum Center sat down with Ho to talk about Ladon and the upcoming CGI Annual Meeting.

Q: You have volunteered and served in different places around the world. What inspires you about public service?

My first motivation is to go out and meet people who come from different backgrounds. I talk to them to understand how the environment shapes their beliefs and actions. Another reason is that at all the events I have to gone to so far, I always get to meet very passionate people and each of them always has a story to tell. They are inspirations. Just meeting them builds my character and shapes me into who I want to become.

Q: Why is it so important to break down language barriers in social services?

I am Vietnamese, and I left Vietnam for Singapore when I was just 15. At the time my English was not good, so I experienced first-hand how it was like not being able to speak a language, not being able to understand what is going on around you, and not being able to express your thoughts and your emotions with the people in your new society. That experience helped me understand how language barriers can increase the risk of isolation and make people shy away from social services. From my experience working with a lot of organization and schools, I see for myself how vulnerable these communities are, and it motivates me to bring my project to the next level.

Q: What challenges did you experience when developing and launching Ladon?

First is the status quo and inertia. Language barriers have been here for a long time and to a certain extent people are content with it, so inertia is a really big barrier. Lots of people just accept the fact that they will not be understood by others [who do not speak their language.] They are not actively looking for a solution, but instead just accept the situation.

Q: What are your future plans or hopes for Ladon?

Our plan is to improve the language capacity of Ladon and have more members abroad. We also want to improve the quality of our services by continuing to work alongside our current partners while also reaching out to more organizations and communities. Right now, we have 25 language assistants at Ladon, but we have a recruitment drive coming up.

Ladon has language assistants for Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Arabic.

If you are bilingual and are passionate about serving immigrant communities, join us! Feel free to contact me at about getting involved with Ladon.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at the CGI Annual Meeting?

I am excited to meet awesome people. It’s always the people that inspire me and intrigue me. I met a lot of great commitment makers at CGI U, so I expect to meet even more inspirational and committed changemakers at CGI.

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Host Organizations

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