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Where Are They Now: Andrew Nicholls

The Spring 2013 issue of the College Report magazine featured psychology major Andrew Nicholls’ military service and his veterans advocacy work at UCLA. We recently caught up with him to learn more about his post-graduate career path and current endeavors.

Having spent more than nine years in the U.S. Army, Andrew Nicholls ’13 draws on his personal experience and UCLA education to pursue mental health advocacy for veterans and help them with the transition to civilian life.

Nicholls works as a clinical care manager at Evergreen Health in Kirkland, WA, where he conducts assessments of mental health and assault risk as well as crisis prevention. He plans to return to the Veterans Affairs office in Seattle to continue his research on veterans’ mental health.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 prompted Nicholls to enlist in the military. While on active duty in Iraq he worked mainly on rebuilding community infrastructure and vocational programs. Unfortunately, his Army experience left him with lasting effects of PTSD, a struggle that led to his interest in veterans’ mental health advocacy.

Nicholls set his sights on UCLA and enrolled as a transfer student in 2011. He was named a UCLA Regents Scholar, honoring him as one of the top applicants of his class. He credits his mentor, psychology professor Christine Dunkel Schetter, with showing him how psychology research and social work could be a way to leverage his experience to help others.

“UCLA pushed me to challenge any notions I had of the status quo,” Nicholls said.

In 2012 while at UCLA, Nicholls founded the Killed in Action, Wounded in Action (KIA WIA) Foundation, which raises awareness of the sacrifices of men and women wounded or killed in the Global War on Terror. He also initiated an undergraduate seminar titled “Fast Cars and Battle Scars: Understanding the Modern Combat Veteran and PTSD,” which explored basic training, soldier perspectives and transition to civilian life. Nicholls said he was impressed by the depth with which the students engaged with the material, and he has stayed in touch with many of them.

“Leading that seminar was my top achievement while at UCLA,” he said. “Teaching reminded me of my time in the Army. What I loved about my experience in the military was leading a team and feeling a sense of comradery.”

After graduation, Nicholls continued to work for KIA WIA and obtained a master’s degree in social work from USC. He recently co-authored an article titled “Tattoos as a Window to the Psyche: How Talking about Skin Art Can Inform Psychiatric Practice due for publication in the World Journal of Psychology.

$5 million gift from Meyer Luskin establishes research center for history and policy at UCLA

Thanks to a $5 million gift from longtime supporter Meyer Luskin, UCLA will establish the Luskin Center for History and Policy, the first academic research center on the West Coast devoted to using history to publish knowledge that promotes solutions to present-day issues.

Meyer Luskin

The new center will foster teaching, research and collaborations across campus and beyond the university that will direct historical insights to shaping policies and solving problems.

“I believe we can use history to better our lives,” said Luskin, the chairman, president and CEO of Scope Industries. “The best way to choose the path to the future is to know the roads that brought us to the present.”

The Luskin Center for History and Policy will be a pioneer in translating historical research into tangible and accessible sources of knowledge. The center will support policy-oriented projects developed by UCLA history faculty and their colleagues across campus, host visiting scholars and postdoctoral fellows and provide funding for graduate students. It will also sponsor new courses that will train students to analyze historical events and apply their knowledge to current issues.

“Meyer Luskin has given UCLA the means to build a new pathway to using historical knowledge for the greater good,” said Scott Waugh, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “Situated in a global university with a public mission, the new center is well placed to have a decisive impact, from the local level all the way to the international level.”

The history department can already cite at least one recent example of the influence of historical research on public action. In 2015, Zev Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County supervisor and now a senior fellow in history at UCLA, led a project examining the city’s bidding process for the 1984 Olympics. The resulting position paper was distilled into an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times and contributed to the decision by the Los Angeles City Council to delay a vote on the Olympic bid until all its provisions could be properly debated.

Stephen Aron, the Robert N. Burr Department Chair of the history department, said the center would be a hub for collaborative projects engaging researchers from the social sciences and the humanities as well as campus units including the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“My goal is to make history matter more to more people, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than through this center,” Aron said. “We are indebted to Meyer for his generous and visionary action.”

Initially, the center will be under the direction of history professor and former department chair David Myers, working closely with Aron.

“There is a new urgency to understand and apply our historical knowledge to today’s world,” said Myers, holder of the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History. “The new Luskin Center will be a national trend-setter in bringing many different angles of historical perspective to bear on key issues in the country — and world — today.”

Myers said the center would help develop new forms of teaching to equip students with the historical tools to make sense of the world around them and thrive in any number of careers.

Luskin, who graduated in 1949, and his wife, Renee, who graduated in 1953, are among UCLA’s most generous supporters. In 2011, they donated $100 million — the second-largest gift ever to the campus — to support academic programs and capital improvements. The gift was equally divided between the UCLA School of Public Affairs, which was renamed in their honor, and the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, which opened in 2016. Luskin co-chairs the UCLA Centennial Campaign Cabinet, serves on the campaign executive committee, and is a member of the UCLA Foundation board of directors.

Addressing graduates at the 2014 history department commencement, Luskin said, “The study of history creates important knowledge — but equally important is how you assemble and use that knowledge.”

Where Are They Now: Cailin Crockett

Cailin Crockett ’10 made history as one of UCLA’s first Astin scholars, an undergraduate scholarship program supporting hands-on experience in civic engagement. We featured the Astin scholars in the College Report in 2010 and recently caught up with Cailin to find out what she’s been up to.

Cailin Crockett is out to change the world for the better, particularly on behalf of survivors of domestic and sexual violence—and she credits UCLA with igniting her passion for activism and public service.

“UCLA encouraged me to become a compassionate, conscientious and global citizen,” she said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Crockett has carved out a niche in public service focusing on policy in support of women and girls. The political science alumna most recently served as policy advisor in the Office of Vice President Biden, where she worked to strengthen government policies that address the human rights of underserved trauma survivors in the U.S. and around the world. She has also been a special assistant for gender policy and elder rights for the Department of Health and Human Services, and a gender specialist in the Bureau for Policy and Program Support at the United Nations Development Program.

She said that her UCLA education, both inside and outside the classroom, laid the strongest possible foundation for her career.

“UCLA is where I honed the skills that I use every single day in my work, especially critical thinking and the ability to analyze a large amount of information about an issue, take in the key points, and advocate a defensible position,” she said.

Crockett said that she saw UCLA as a place to immerse herself in learning and discover her passions. She was particularly drawn to the study of political theory for its distillation of concepts such as human rights and equality into a set of logically arguable points. Her political science courses gave her an appreciation for the power of research, data and statistics to inform and persuade.

And she recalled a freshman cluster course on the environment taught by professors from all over campus, who “urged us to use our privilege in getting a top education to make the world a better place.”

During her sophomore year, Crockett was selected to represent UCLA at a forum in France at which youth from NATO-member countries interacted with youth from Afghanistan, in order to deepen understanding about what was at stake in the war against the Taliban. She later went on to earn a master’s degree in Politics from the University of Oxford.

Crockett, who minored in Spanish and studied in Spain for a semester, said that her language proficiency has benefited her international work. But it was her civic engagement experience in her senior year that ignited her passion for activism and feminism.

For her project, Crockett focused on the causes of homelessness, specifically the impact of domestic violence and veterans’ issues. She accompanied community workers providing financial literacy and life skills workshops at the VA and a women’s center in downtown L.A. There, she interviewed scores of people about their journeys in and out of homelessness.

“It was incredible to be immersed in the experiences of these vulnerable populations,” she said. “It’s even more meaningful now because of my work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, many of whom are homeless as a result.”

Crockett, an Alumni Scholar and third-generation Bruin, said that having chosen a career in public service, she is particularly proud that she graduated from a highly respected public university with a reputation for local and global leadership.

“No matter where I go in the world, people know about UCLA,” she said.

Where Are They Now: Hetty Chang

On June 1, 2016, UCLA alumna and NBC4 Southern California reporter Hetty Chang returned to campus to cover the dramatic events of the murder-suicide on campus at UCLA.

As a sociology graduate of the Class of 2000, Chang said covering the story at UCLA hit especially close to home. But the incident also gave Chang an opportunity to reconnect with the campus. She spoke with the UCLA College to discuss her trajectory since graduation and some of the defining moments of her broadcasting career to date.

As a child, Hetty Chang rarely missed the evening news, especially Asian American newscasters whom she saw as role models.

“The reporters I saw were pretty, confident, poised and smart,” Chang said. “And they were Asian, which made me believe I could someday be like them.”

Today, the UCLA alumna has her own television role as a reporter for NBC4 Southern California, where she can be seen weekdays during the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, breaking the big stories of the day. Chang covers much of Southern California and, in particular, Long Beach, the South Bay and Orange County.

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Hetty Chang ’00

She has also covered national stories such as the hunt for ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner and the O.J. Simpson robbery case. She has received an Emmy Award, and is the first recipient of the Asian American Journalist Association New Media Fellowship as part of a pilot program with NBC4.

Before she set her sights on journalism, Chang dreamed of attending UCLA; however, after graduating from Whitney High School, one of the top public high schools in the country, the Cerritos native did not get into UCLA the first time around. She was undeterred and after two years of tenacious study at UC Irvine, she was accepted to UCLA in 1998 as a transfer student majoring in sociology and Asian American Studies.

“When people hear UCLA, it’s a tremendous honor,” Chang said. “So I kept my eye on the prize.”

After graduation, she had a brief stint as an intern with Channel 35 News, L.A.’s cable station. She soon realized that she would need to move to a smaller city to get her big break.

“Journalism is a unique field in the sense that you have to move to a smaller market to gain experience,” she said. “Very few reporters actually start out in a large city.”

Chang worked at KRNV, an NBC affiliate in Reno, for nearly four years before landing a job at the NBC affiliate in Las Vegas. There, she covered one of her most memorable stories, an interview with then-Senator Barak Obama—10 days before he won the 2008 presidential election.

“That was an unforgettable experience, to have a precious few minutes with the future president,” Chang said. “It was getting a front row to history being made.”

After covering several major stories in Las Vegas, Chang earned sufficient recognition to be a competitive candidate as a reporter in Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the country. She was hired by NBC4 in 2013.

Getting to meet individuals from all walks of life is Chang’s favorite part of the job at NBC4. In addition to breaking news, she often tells inspiring stories through NBC4’s Life Connected series that airs every Sunday during the NBC4 News at 11 p.m., where she reports on the many unique ways people and communities come together.

Chang recently covered a 94-year-old Torrance, California resident who holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for most Olympics attended, with the Rio Olympics being his 19th.

“I get to meet all these interesting and inspiring people I would never cross paths with in any other industry,” Chang said. “I also feel a great responsibility for telling their stories.”

Chang said her studies at UCLA prepared her to approach every story with sensitivity and authenticity.

“I cover a very large swath of Southern California, which is so tremendously diverse, as is UCLA,” she said. “UCLA really gave me a great foundation from which to approach the news stories that I come across every day.”

She said UCLA’s competitive academic environment also helped her learn to face every challenge head-on and never to take ‘no’ for an answer.

“There were a lot of people who told me, ‘This is a very competitive field; you’ll never make it back to L.A.,’” Chang said. “But if I’d listened to them I wouldn’t be here. You have to be persistent.”

Even in the most challenging moments, Chang said she always remembers where she came from to keep her moving forward.

“I want to make my alma mater proud, much like I want to make my hometown proud and my family proud,” Chang said. “I think it really comes down to that great sense of pride.”

Gift establishes endowed chair in history

Nickoll Family Chair to be awarded to renowned history scholar and UCLA faculty member

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Ben Nickoll

History alumnus Ben Nickoll ’86 was brought up in a family in which helping others and giving back were the norm. Now, he has given back to his alma mater by establishing the Nickoll Family Endowed Chair in History, which will have a focus on women’s history. The inaugural holder will be renowned scholar and writer Brenda Stevenson, who will be formally installed on October 24.

“I am proud to have known Ben Nickoll since my days as Dean of Social Sciences,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh. “His professional career, values and character are testaments to the importance of a liberal arts education.”

He said that the gift would help to ensure the quality and relevance of UCLA’s history department for decades to come.

“As a historian myself, I am deeply touched.” He said.

History chair Stephen Aron said that the gift would bolster the department’s efforts to attract and retain world-class faculty like Stevenson, whose research focuses on the history of slavery in the U.S. and Atlantic World, particularly of enslaved women.

“With this wonderful gift, Ben Nickoll has signaled his belief in the enduring value of a history degree, of excellent teaching, and of studying the past to shape a better future,” Aron said.

Nickoll grew up near UCLA, so it was a familiar fixture in his childhood. He recalled skateboarding through the campus, hanging out in Westwood with friends and attending basketball games with his dad at Pauley Pavilion. His parents were actively involved in the local community and in politics.

“They stood up for what they believed and gave to causes where they could have an impact,” he said.

When he first enrolled at UCLA, he had no idea what he wanted to study.

“Then I took a class taught by Prof. Roger McGrath, a gifted storyteller who brought historical characters and events to life in the classroom,” Nickoll said. “I was hooked and became a history major soon after that.”

After graduation, despite a lack of investment experience, Nickoll moved across country and talked his way into a job on Wall Street. He held high-level positions at top investment banks before co-founding investment firm Ore Hill in 2002. After that firm was sold in 2011, he founded El Faro Partners, an investment firm focused on real estate, private equity, credit and agriculture.

Nickoll is a member of the history department’s Board of Advisors and gave the commencement address at the department’s graduation ceremony in 2008. He is also a founding member of the board of the Fink Center for Finance and Investments at the Anderson School of Business.

“My wife, Chrissy, and I acknowledge that there are many worthy causes and organizations,” Nickoll said. “We believe in focusing the majority of our energy in our local communities, not just financially but also with action when possible.”

And he said he felt the time was right to make a major gift to his home department at UCLA.

If the liberal arts and subjects like history continue to be overlooked in favor of the sciences and engineering, he said, students might not develop a sufficiently broad, informed world view.

“I believe that the study of history is relevant to all aspects of life,” he said. “Take the investment world—an investor needs to understand context and how elements affecting past performance can affect a company today and in the future.”

For her part, Stevenson said that the Nickoll chair would allow her to take her work to a different level.

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Brenda Stevenson

“Thanks to the Nickoll chair, I will now have the resources to undertake larger projects more efficiently and expediently,” Stevenson said. “I’m also going to be hiring some undergraduates to do a long-term project that deals with the history of racial violence in America. Private funding is so important for research initiatives that really do make positive contributions to our lives and to the world and to educating students.”

A professor of history and of African American studies at UCLA, she is the author of several books, including Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South.

Although most of Stevenson’s work focuses on the 19th century, and particularly the Southern U.S., she received the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism award for her 2013 book about more recent events in Los Angeles, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender and the Origins of the L.A. Riots. Stevenson has been awarded several fellowships, including a Guggenheim in 2015.

Stevenson is at work on two new books: a history of the slave family from the colonial through the antebellum eras and a history of slave women. Her work continues to shed light—on the page and in the classroom—on important parts of human history with a view to creating a more just society.

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.

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.