Where Are They Now: Jonathan Dotan

Jonathan Dotan appeared in the inaugural edition of the College Report magazine in 2004 in an article highlighting his internship in war-torn Bosnia. The College recently caught up with Dotan to find out about his post-graduation endeavors and career. jd_sv2

Jonathan Dotan ’03 has three great passions: technology, film and international affairs. By connecting the dots between the three fields, Dotan has found a way to build an exciting career.

Dotan is currently a co-producer and lead technical advisor for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” which wrapped its third season in June. His work helps to ensure that the show, whose storyline revolves around modern compression technology and computer science, is accurate in its dialogue and representation of the tech industry.

“I’m drawing from my own experience working in tech and film to make sure that the show, which is really dependent on accuracy, remains authentic,” Dotan said.

Dotan credits UCLA with laying the foundation for his future career. He created his own major, Information Policy, through the UCLA honors program, integrating coursework from the College, UCLA Law School, Theatre, Film & Television, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and UCLA Anderson School of Management. He said having the freedom to take a wide spectrum of courses across disciplines allowed him to graduate with a degree that prepared him perfectly for the future.

However, Dotan said even more vital than the classes he took at UCLA were the people he met there and the valuable friendships that emerged. He teamed up with classmate Robert Davari to enter the Anderson WWW Challenge in 2000, a campus-wide competition challenging students to create solutions to real consulting and technology problems. The two won first place and took their partnership into the real world. Today, Dotan serves as a consultant for Davari’s live event ticket app, Tixr.

He has particularly fond memories of his close mentor Jennifer Wilson, former assistant vice provost for honors in the UCLA College. He said her wisdom and approach to learning have stayed with him.

“She taught me to go the more unconventional path, which is an interdisciplinary path,” Dotan said. “The honors program prides itself on working across departments and disciplines, and I can tell you that my career is almost entirely related to the intersection between the arts and sciences.”

Another piece of advice she gave him, he said, was to pursue work that would bring about social change.

During their fourth year, Dotan and another student traveled to Bosnia as interns on a year-long war crimes project through the United Nations, thanks to funding from the honors program and UCLA’s Burkle International Institute. There, he drafted indictment recommendations to the State Court to charge three Bosnian government officials, ultimately achieving a 100% conviction rate.

“It was the largest corruption case in the Balkans and we helped crack it while we were just students at UCLA,” Dotan said. “It was some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.”

After graduating with a master’s in International Relations from Oxford University, Dotan travelled to 30 countries as an envoy for the Motion Picture Association of America. He worked on behalf of the major U.S. studios to engage with foreign film industries and governments to develop local markets and ensure fair market access. On a trip to India, he formed a relationship with India’s maverick retail mogul, Kishore Biyani, who ended up appointing Dotan to run his investments in film and technology.

Transplanted to India for the next five years, Dotan worked on dozens of ventures and notably one of the most-watched TV shows in the country’s history, “Satyamev Jayate” (Truth Alone Prevails), which reached an audience of more than 500 million people. Starring one of India’s most popular actors, Aamir Khan, the talk show brought to light Indian social issues such as inter-caste marriage and domestic violence. Dotan developed a social media platform to allow viewers to submit their own stories to the show.

“In two hours every Sunday morning, we brought people together to put a face on the most taboo issues in India society,” Dotan said. “We explained through stories of hope how people can overcome social ills.”

According to Dotan, the show, combined with the digital platform’s 15 million user stories and 1 billion impressions, became a powerful means to lobby Indian government, and 12 new laws—including the first child abuse law in the country—were enacted.

When he returned to the U.S. in 2013, he was invited to work with producers Mike Judge (“King of the Hill”) and Alec Berg (“Seinfeld”).

“When we sat down to talk about ‘Silicon Valley,’ I realized this was a really special opportunity to develop a show in a different way,” Dotan said. “While it’s primarily a half-hour comedy, the show is also a unique platform to use satire to discuss contemporary issues tech startups face in this golden age.”

Dotan enlists the brainpower of over 200 tech specialists to advise every episode of the show. His TV think-tank includes a team of Stanford researchers who specialize in compression technology and even an intrepid team of UCLA law students who build out pivotal legal plot lines.

Now at work on season four, Dotan said he never could have imagined working on a hit TV show – domestically or internationally – while he was a student more than a decade ago. But what he did discover at UCLA, he said, was the importance of being curious and willing to collaborate.

“The key is simply to ask good questions. People in the world are passionate about solving problems, and if you can bring innovation and dedication to your career, that type of talent will take you farther than you could ever dream,” he said.

Taylor Guitars donates $400,000 toward ebony conservation and restoration in Cameroon

World-renowned guitar maker Bob Taylor, of Taylor Guitars, has donated $400,000 to support ebony conservation research and restoration efforts in Cameroon.

Work will be coordinated by UCLA professor Thomas B. Smith, co-director of Congo Basin Institute, UCLA’s first foreign affiliate in its 97-year history. The gift was announced at th star-studded fundraising gala in March hosted by UCLA’s Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IoES).

Ebony is an exotic but endangered species coveted for the beauty and tonal qualities of its wood, making it a sought-after material for guitars and other stringed instruments.

“Making a difference in central Africa is very hard. Bob is making a difference at the nexus of poverty alleviation and conservation, and along the way he is creating jobs, supporting cutting edge science, and being a terrific partner for IoES and UCLA,” said Peter Kareiva, director of the IoES.

Bob Taylor made his first guitar at the age of 16. A few years later, in 1974, he founded Taylor Guitars with business partner Kurt Listug. Now a world-leading builder of premium acoustic guitars, the company produces hundreds of guitars a day and has an artist roster that includes stars like Taylor Swift, Prince, Jason Mraz and Zac Brown.

Taylor Guitars had long been committed to eco-conscious practices. About five years ago, Taylor began visiting Cameroon and saw firsthand not only the depleted state of the ebony forests but also the impoverished conditions of its people. In 2011, the company partnered with Madrid firm Madinter, which sells tone woods for musical instruments, to buy CRELICAM, Cameroon’s leading ebony sawmill, in a move to transform the ebony trade for the better and engage the community in the process. The mill now employs more than 70 people and continues to invest in the community’s future through employee training and the exploration of ebony propagation, including an onsite seedling nursery.

“We’ve accomplished much over the five years we’ve been in Cameroon, first by elevating the income of our employees, then training suppliers, adding equipment for greater yield, leaving more money in the country, all the while increasing legality and transparency in the forest,” Taylor said. “Now it’s time to plant trees in a meaningful way, but little is known about how to do it.”

It was on one of his trips to Cameroon that Taylor met Smith, director of the Center for Tropical Research at IoES and professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the UCLA College. Smith has been conducting biodiversity and conservation research in the Congo basin for 35 years.

According to Smith, the ecology of West African ebony remains poorly understood despite its economic importance.

“Thanks to Bob Taylor, the Congo Basin Institute is thrilled to help bring the best possible science to promote the sustainable harvest of ebony,” Smith said. “Bob cares deeply about the future of ebony and African hardwoods generally. The project is a true ‘win-win’ for people and for biodiversity.”

Taylor’s gift will fund a multi-pronged effort that includes engaging local farmers to propagate and steward ebony seedlings in rural areas; creating predictive models of West African ebony distribution and identifying suitable harvesting and planting areas; research on the basic ecology of ebony; and lab testing to identify optimal conditions for ebony cultivation.

“We must expand the range of ebony in the Congo Basin,” Taylor said. “It’s the right thing to do, and Congo Basin Institute is able to develop the science to assure the work is successful. With viable regrowth and conservative use, we can help to achieve sustainability.”

 

Confirming Einstein: Q&A with LIGO Scientist and EE Alum Richard Savage

Earlier this month, researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) announced they had detected gravitational waves, confirming a prediction by Albert Einstein in his theory of general relativity. Massive objects accelerating at extremely high speeds, such as two colliding black holes, can radiate enough energy during their collision as to ripple the very fabric of space-time, causing the force of gravity itself to oscillate.

Anthropology alumna’s gift makes research travel a reality for the department’s graduate students

A UCLA alumna who has spent much of her life galloping around the globe has given $100,000 to establish an endowment in support of graduate student travel in the UCLA College’s Department of Anthropology.

Dorothy Jewell, who graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, said that she hopes the Dorothy H. Jewell Graduate Student Travel Award Endowment will help students experience cultures outside their own.

“The experience of immersing oneself in various cultures is what anthropology is all about,” Jewell said. “We can’t be ethnocentric.”

Specifically, graduate students in biological, linguistic and sociocultural anthropology will be given access to the travel stipends, allowing them to deepen their research beyond campus.

“UCLA is a highly rated institution that through its concentration on research makes our world better equipped to meet the future,” Jewell said. “I’m proud to help students prepare for that future.”

Jewell, who as a non-traditional student enrolled at UCLA when she was 55, had already travelled to around 80 countries before deciding to pursue her undergraduate degree.

After living in parts of Europe and Africa for months on end, including the time she slept under a eucalyptus tree on a Moroccan beach for seven months, two UCLA professors advised her to move beyond her community college courses and pursue a degree in anthropology at the university.

“I had already been living this anthropological experience,” she recalls them telling her. “They recommended I make the anthropology direction more official.”

Jewell always had an adventurous spirit. Following high school, she left her native Canada for what she thought would be a brief tour of Europe then never looked back. She met her late husband – also a UCLA graduate – in Norway when he was working on location for Disney, and they eventually settled in Los Angeles for his work in the film industry and hers in the travel business. Having discovered the riches that come with experiencing other cultures, Jewell continues to explore the world. Her next destination is Tanzania.

“Travel is an important part of my life, partly due to this nomad aspect of my personality that seemed to manifest itself when I left Canada,” Jewell said. “I originally went to Europe and Africa for six months and it turned into five years.  And ever since, I’ve had to have my travel fix.”

Jewell’s gift will now make those experiences possible to emerging anthropology scholars at UCLA.

“Seeing firsthand how other cultures and societies function is a vital part of being a successful anthropologist,” said Nancy Levine, professor and chair in the Department of Anthropology. “Ms. Jewell’s gift ensures that a new generation of anthropologists will emerge with the experiences needed to develop impactful and meaningful research.”