Jan 4, 2022 · 6 min read

2021 Look Back: Our 10 Favorite Stories From Last Year

From new projects and initiatives to extraordinary scientific discoveries and studies — 2021 was a momentous year for CZI and our partners. Revisit some of our favorite blogs, videos and photo stories from last year.

A series of colorful photo thumbnails on a bright yellow background.

The Stories team is gearing up for a new year filled with inspiring content about the people and organizations making our world better. But we can’t do that without looking back at 2021 and all the unique individuals we met along the way.

The last year hasn’t been easy, but learning about the scientists, educators, researchers, community members, servant leaders, and movement organizers tackling our society’s most formidable challenge gives us hope that better is possible — and it’s coming.

Join us in celebrating our favorite moments and stories from last year.

1. The Past, Present and Future of Medical Imaging

An illustrated timeline of milestones in the field of scientific imaging

We often think that the scientific technology we see in movies are advances we’ll never see in our lifetime. But perhaps we’re headed in that direction faster than we think. This in-depth explainer looks at the last 400 years of medical imaging and suggests that remarkable new imaging technologies aren’t that far off. Then, meet some of the CZI grantees advancing state-of-the-art imaging technology.

2. Why These Two Scientists Are Teaming Up to Study, Treat & Prevent Rare Pediatric Diseases

An illustration of two women smiling, and illustrations of children behind them.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and Huntington’s Disease are on the rise worldwide. And there are still no effective therapies to cure, treat or prevent most of these disorders. But, our Neurodegeneration Challenge Network (NDCN) is on a mission to change that. Bringing together scientists, biologists, and physicians from diverse disciplines, NDCN was created to solve neurodegeneration. Through colorful illustrations, get to know Rebecca and Elizabeth, a pair of NDCN researchers working together to treat and prevent rare neurodegenerative diseases that impact children.

3. This California Nonprofit is Fighting for Equity in North Fair Oaks

A woman in a colorful blouse, wears a yellow face mask bearing the NFOCA logo in her garden.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that ordinary people can come together and accomplish extraordinary things to better their communities. What the North Fair Oaks Community Alliance (NFOCA), a 2021 CZI Community Fund grant partner, did to protect its neighbors is no exception. This profile demonstrates the power of community-led solutions and tells how Ana Juarez, Gabriela Valencia and Ever Rodriguez teamed up to make and distribute masks to the North Fair Oaks, California, community.

4. How 3 East Palo Alto Youth Found a Forever Family in Their Community

A young man smiles and wears a while collared shirt. A young woman wears a red blazer and smiles. And a young woman smiles with her arms cross and wears a green hoodie.

Family is more than who we are related to and can instead extend to the people we meet who have impacted our lives. For Beto Gonzalez Cabrera, Caprice Powell and Daisy Tuulaupua, the East Palo Alto, California, organization they joined has become and remained a part of their families to this day. Live in Peace is on a mission to provide wrap-around support to youth so they can reimagine their futures. And it provided a space for this group of talented individuals to feel safe and supported as they navigated young adulthood.

5. How Anamatangi Polynesian Voices Meets the Needs of Its Community

A man and a women pose together. Both are wearing black shirts with red hearts printed on them.

Mama Dee Uhila and Papa Senita founded Anamatangi Polynesian Voices (APV) — a grassroots nonprofit serving the East Palo Alto, Belle Haven, and North Fair Oaks, California, communities — in the early 90s. Since then, APV has advocated for Pacific Islanders through cultural enrichment and influencing local policies promoting equity. Then, when the pandemic began, the group partnered with other local organizations to support the health and wellbeing of the community, including providing vaccine access and testing. Watch the video to see how and why they did it.

6. A CZI Product Designer on Creating Tools To Help Educators Strengthen Relationships With Their Students

A women with black and pink hair smiles with greenery behind her.

Last year, we launched Stay Close to the Work. The series features the stories of CZI employees who reflect on their journeys to the organization and how they stay close to our mission to build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. In this Q&A with Rebecca Garza-Bortman, better known as RGB, the experienced product designer reflects on the importance of visually dynamic, research-backed design. RGB is part of the team of CZIers working on Along, a digital reflection tool designed to help teachers build strong relationships with their students. Get to know RGB, her love for her team and her passion for improving education with technology.

7. A Day in the Life of an Early-Career Researcher: Abbas Rizvi

A man rides a bike wearing a helmet. Green trees are in the background.

Ever wonder what a scientist does during the workday? We did. So, we sat down with Abbas Rizvi, an associate research scientist at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute, to explore what a day in the life of an early-career researcher looks like. As a co-principal investigator on a $1.5-million CZI grant, Abbas is training his team and building out his lab space to create a cellular atlas of the spinal cord. His days are challenging and often long, but Abbas approaches his research with patience and passion.

8. How To Change Your Career Trajectory With Online Education

Two men's portraits on a yellow and green background.

Online education is fast becoming the best choice for adults to complete or continue their education, thanks to its flexibility and affordability. To further their careers, Branden Doyle and Muhammad Raza leveraged the power of two CZI-backed ventures, Emeritus and OpenClassrooms. One of Emeritus’ programs gave Branden the skills needed to form and run his startup. And for Raza, OpenClassrooms taught him to code. Read the joint profile to meet the Navy engineer turned start-up founder and a warehouse worker turned web developer.

9. The Powerful Experience of 2 Community Fund Review Panelists

A colorful illustration of two hands shaking. Green fields and city buildings are in the background.

The CZI Community Fund partners with organizations supporting civic engagement and increasing access to the building blocks of social and economic well-being. And while community feedback has helped inform the Community Fund’s focus since its launch, last year was the first time CZI enlisted 11 community members to help allocate the funds. Kalimah Salahuddin and Pam D Jones were two panelists who shared their stories of community advocacy with us. Learn about their experience being a part of the process and how their opinions weren’t just welcome, but invaluable.

10. How a New DEI Program Associate Plans To Make an Impact in His Role

A man wearing a yellow shirt reaches for a bright green lime on a table with other colorful treats.

In another installment of our Stay Close to the Work series, we talked to Tyrone Fleurizard, a program and operations associate for diversity, equity and inclusion, about making space for different perspectives and putting racial equity at the forefront of grant-making. Tyrone has served as a Fulbright English teaching assistant in Malaysia — one of its region’s most ethnically and racially diverse countries. There, he was able to interrogate race and racism in the United States and globally and would eventually bring his learnings back to the U.S. and his position at CZI.

We have a lot of great content planned for our readers in 2022. Stay up to date with our collective work and partnerships in science, education, technology and housing affordability and community by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.

For a more in-depth look at our 2021 milestones, check out our annual letter.

CZI Head of Community Ruby Bolaria Shifrin Wants Everyone To ‘Begin Life at the Same Starting Line’
CZI’s Director of Education Policy and Partnerships Reflects on Reimagining the Education System