Rachelle Crosbie-Watson in her lab at UCLA.

Curing a deadly childhood disease, sharing her love of science, and a sleek ’68 Corvette drive this biochemist

Rachelle Crosbie-Watson in her lab at UCLA.

Rachelle Crosbie-Watson in her lab at UCLA.

 

Spend a brief amount of time with biochemist Rachelle Crosbie-Watson and you’ll quickly realize that “drive” is one of her favorite words.

With equal enthusiasm, she’ll describe studying “the small molecules that drive life,” and her 1968 convertible Corvette being “a blast to drive.”

The symmetry is hard to miss: Crosbie-Watson drives a classic muscle car to UCLA, where she studies the biochemical reactions that drive muscle cell functions. Her lab is hotly pursuing new drugs that one day may halt the progression of a deadly childhood muscle-wasting disease, allowing kids with the disorder to lead normal lives.

The popular digital network, Mashable, recently profiled Crosbie-Watson for its “How She Works” series, which shadows a day in the life of women professionals working in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

With her fiery pink hair, charismatic personality and affinity for high-speed cars, Crosbie-Watson doesn’t resemble most people’s vision of a biochemist. But her talent for crafting fresh approaches to solving thorny scientific puzzles is exactly what makes her such an ingenious scientist.

“What I love most about my job is the opportunity to be creative,” Crosbie-Watson said. “To solve the biggest problems in the world, we need individuals with different viewpoints to chime in. Working with people who are learning science for the first time — coupled with the thrill of discovery — makes for a really exciting recipe.”

Crosbie-Watson wears a lot of hats. Starting July 1, she will chair the integrative biology and physiology department in the UCLA College. She is also a professor of neurology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and the education liaison for the Center for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at UCLA.

In a sunny space in the Terasaki Life Sciences Building, Crosbie-Watson oversees a window-lined laboratory staffed by young researchers. Reflecting her appeal as a mentor and role model, 14 of the 17 are female.

Her team is intent on finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a deadly genetic disease that slowly weakens every muscle of the body. Striking 1 in 5,000 boys, the disorder typically reveals itself in frequent falls near age 4, reliance on a wheelchair by age 12, and teenage loss of the ability to move the upper arms. Young men with Duchenne frequently die in their 20s, when their heart and lung muscles stop pumping, leading to organ failure.

“Duchenne is a horrible disease that steals young boys’ childhoods and takes young men in the primes of their lives,” Crosbie-Watson said.

The disorder is caused by a genetic error that blocks the production of dystrophin, a protein that normally protects the membrane around muscle cells as they contract and relax. Left susceptible to damage from daily wear and tear, the unprotected cells eventually begin leaking their contents into the surrounding tissue, progressively weakening the muscle until it stops working.

Her lab’s earlier studies in mice gave Crosbie-Watson an insight into how to halt that process.

“We found that boosting levels of a molecule called sarcospan restored the membrane’s ability to protect muscle cells,” she said. “Sarcospan strengthens the muscle’s capacity to withstand the forces of daily use, diminishing the harm caused by Duchenne.”

Led by graduate student Cynthia Shu, the lab began scanning thousands of potential drugs to identify ones able to elevate cellular levels of sarcospan. Three years and 200,000 candidates later, the team has identified a handful of promising contenders for preclinical testing.

Crosbie-Watson applies the same imaginative approach she follows in research to her teaching. To educate the next generation of scientists about Duchenne, she created a virtual-learning course that invites Duchenne patients to describe what it’s like to live with the condition.

Open to undergraduate students enrolled at any University of California campus, the online course vividly illustrates the human toll and financial cost of the disease on patients and their families. Crosbie-Watson is currently developing a graduate program that explores muscle cell biology with an emphasis on translational research.

In recognition of her contributions to campus-wide education, Crosbie-Watson earned the 2013 UCLA Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. This year she received the UCLA Life Sciences Faculty Excellence Award for education innovation.

“Getting other people excited about science energizes me,” Crosbie-Watson said. “I love teaching young researchers how to put things in context and keep their eyes on the big prize.

“Science is something you can do for a really long time,” she added. “Asking the next question never ends, it drives you forward. The chase is the motivation; that’s what makes research so addictive.”

UCLA receives $25 million gift to support humanities division and philosophy department

Students studying in Powell library

The gift will help the humanities division and philosophy department recruit and retain top faculty, and attract the most outstanding graduate students.

 

The UCLA College humanities division has received its largest ever gift — and one of the largest ever to any university philosophy department: $25 million in honor of two longtime UCLA faculty members.

Of the total, $20 million will support the philosophy department; the other $5 million will provide seed funding to create a planned $15 million endowment to provide financial support for graduate students in the humanities division.

Jordan Kaplan, his wife, Christine, and Jordan’s longtime business partner, Ken Panzer, made the gift in honor of Jordan’s parents, Renée and David Kaplan — each of whom has been a member of the UCLA faculty for almost 60 years — and to recognize his father’s contributions to the study of philosophy.

In recognition of the gift, UCLA’s Humanities Building will be renamed Renée and David Kaplan Hall.

“This extraordinary gift signals a new era for the humanities at UCLA and, in particular, for philosophy,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “It’s more important than ever to instill in our students the philosophical perspective that helps make sense of today’s complex societal challenges.”

Jordan Kaplan is the CEO and president of Douglas Emmett Inc., a real estate investment trust. David Kaplan is a renowned scholar of philosophical logic and the philosophy of language, and Renée Kaplan was a clinical professor of psychology and the director of training at UCLA Student Psychological Services. Both Renée and David earned doctorates at UCLA.

“We are proud to participate in UCLA’s Centennial Campaign and be able to meaningfully support Humanities and Philosophy, areas of study that we feel are particularly important now to the health of our modern society,” Jordan Kaplan said. “Our hope is that this gift will encourage others to recognize the importance of these departments and join us in providing them with very much needed support.”

The gift, the second largest made to the UCLA College during the ongoing Centennial Campaign for UCLA, comes two years after Renée, David, Jordan and Christine Kaplan donated funds to establish the Presidential Professor of Philosophy endowed chair.

The new gift will help the humanities division and philosophy department recruit and retain top faculty, and attract the most outstanding graduate students.

“We are deeply grateful for this inspirational gift from Christine and Jordan Kaplan and Ken Panzer,” said Scott Waugh, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “It demonstrates not only their commitment to advancing the excellence of the humanities and our study of philosophy, but also their confidence in UCLA’s academic mission as we enter our second century.”

The study of philosophy has been a cornerstone of the humanities at UCLA since the campus’ founding in 1919; an endowed chair in philosophy that was established in 1928 was the first in UCLA’s history. Among the department’s current faculty are recipients of Mellon and Guggenheim fellowships and National Science Foundation grants, and members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Council of Learned Societies. UCLA doctoral graduates in philosophy have gone on to teach at the most preeminent universities around the world.

“This gift will help make our department of philosophy the bellwether for departments of its kind around the world,” said David Schaberg, dean of the humanities division. “Especially valuable is the opportunity to build a $15 million endowment for graduate students in the humanities on the basis of the generous matching fund the gift creates.”

Professor Seana Shiffrin, chair of the philosophy department, said the gift will be transformative for the future of the department.

“Philosophical issues touch on every aspect of life — including issues about what sort of creatures we are and could become, what we can know of ourselves and others, how we should treat one another, whether we are capable of forming a better society and what that would look like, and the significance of our mortality,” she said. “A philosophy education introduces students to captivating ideas and perennial questions while imparting crucial skills of analysis, argumentation, clarity, and precision.

“In its capacity both to stimulate and to discipline the imagination, training in philosophy empowers students to enter any career, while enriching their entire lives by opening up new avenues of thought and fresh possibilities for living.”

The gift is part of the UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019, during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.

UCLA’s Bunche Center Launches New Arthur Ashe Legacy Website

Hundreds of videos, interviews, photos, articles and other resources related to the life of tennis legend and UCLA alumnus Arthur Ashe are now accessible via the Ralph J. Bunche Center at UCLA on its new Arthur Ashe Legacy website.

The website was migrated from the site of the former Arthur Ashe Learning Center (AALC), which transferred its activities to UCLA in October 2017.

Ashe’s widow, Jeanne Moutousammy-Ashe, founded the AALC in 2008 to promote her late husband’s legacy and values.

Arthur Ashe at UCLA, 1965 (Hoover Photographic Collection, UCLA Library)

Visitors to the new website can read a brief biography of Ashe’s life and an excerpt from his book, A Hard Road to Glory, and watch archival video clips featuring Ashe and Moutousammy-Ashe. Educators can download activity books about Ashe for elementary and middle school students.

The website also retains hundreds of blog posts written by former AALC staff and other guests about topics such as civil rights, African-American leaders in sports, arts and the military, and historic events.

Along with the website, UCLA will acquire exhibit materials including photographsby Moutousammy-Ashe and artworks, and endow an Arthur Ashe scholarship to be awarded to students who exemplify the ideals Ashe displayed as a UCLA student.

Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Patricia A. Turner said it is an honor for UCLA to become the guardian of Ashe’s legacy and that the new website ensures that Ashe’s life and achievements will live on, accessible to anyone around the world, at the alma mater he loved so much.

“This is a truly special moment for UCLA, and we are grateful to have been entrusted with Arthur Ashe’s towering legacy,” Turner said. “The scholarship and exhibit materials are tangible reminders of his transformative impact on the world.”

UCLA College has nation’s top graduate program in clinical psychology, according to U.S. News and World Report

This story was adapted from its original version.

Students walking past Powell Library, with green lawns and blooming flowers in the foreground

In its annual ranking of the top graduate schools, U.S News and World Report has listed 12 UCLA College and graduate programs among the top 20 in the country. Among them is the College’s clinical psychology program, which was named No. 1. Another 11 College graduate schools and programs are listed among the top 20, demonstrating the quality, reputation and breadth of graduate-level education at the UCLA College.

The U.S. News graduate program rankings are based on experts’ opinions about program excellence and on statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research and students. The data for the rankings come from statistical surveys of more than 2,000 programs and from reputation surveys sent to more than 20,500 academics and professionals, conducted in fall 2017 and early 2018.

The full list of programs include:

Clinical psychology (No. 1)
Psychology (No. 3, tied)
English (No. 6, tied)
Math (No. 7, tied)
Sociology (No. 8, tied)
History (No. 9, tied)
Economics (No. 12, tied)
Political science (No. 12, tied)
Earth sciences (No. 13, tied)
Chemistry (No. 15, tied)
Physics (No. 17, tied)
Biological sciences (No. 18, tied)

UCLA faculty voice: What thin people don’t understand about dieting

A. Janet Tomiyama is an associate professor of psychology at UCLA. Traci Mann is a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. This column appeared on the Conversation.

A woman shopping in the produce department of a grocery store.

A woman shopping in the produce department of a grocery store. People who are overweight often must learn to like healthy foods.

A. Janet Tomiyama

A. Janet Tomiyama

Diets do not work.

The scientific evidence is clear as can be that cutting calories simply doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss or health gains.

We suspect most dieters have realized this by now too. And yet, here they are again, setting the same weight loss goal this year that they set last year.

The only people who don’t seem to appreciate this are people who have never dieted. It’s particularly hard for them to believe because it doesn’t square with their own eating experiences.

Take Nicky, for instance. She eats sensibly much of the time, with some junk food here and there, but it doesn’t really seem to affect her weight. She’s not a dieter. She is Naturally Thin Nicky, and it’s not surprising that she believes what she sees with her own eyes and feels in her own body. Nevertheless, Nicky has it wrong.

We are researchers who have been studying why diets fail for a long time. We have seen that diet failure is the norm. We have also studied the stigma that heavy people face, and witnessed the blame game that happens when dieters can’t keep the weight off. From a scientific perspective, we understand that dieting sets up an unfair fight. But many Nickys we’ve encountered — on the street, in the audience when we give talks, and even fellow scientists — get confused when we say dieting doesn’t work, because it doesn’t square with their own observations.

An unfair fight

Nicky thinks she’s thin because of the way she eats, but actually, genetics play a huge role in making her thin. Nicky gets all the credit though, because people see the way she eats and they can’t see her genes.

Many heavy people wouldn’t be lean like Nicky even if they ate the same foods in the same quantities. Their bodies are able to run on fewer calories than Nicky’s, which sounds like a good thing (and would be great if you found yourself in a famine).

However, it actually means that after eating the same foods and using that energy to run the systems of their body, they have more calories left over to store as fat than Nicky does. So to actually lose weight, they have to eat less food than Nicky. And then, once they’ve been dieting a while, their metabolism changes so that they need to eat even less than that to keep losing weight.

It’s not just Nicky’s genetically given metabolism that makes her think dieting must work. Nicky, as a non-dieter, finds it really easy to ignore that bowl of Hershey’s Kisses on her co-worker’s desk. But for dieters, it’s like those Kisses are jumping up and down saying “Eat me!” Dieting causes neurological changes that make you more likely to notice food than before dieting, and once you notice it, these changes make it hard to stop thinking about it. Nicky might forget those chocolates are there, but dieters won’t.

In fact, dieters like them even more than before. This is because other diet-induced neurological changes make food not only taste better, but also cause food to give a bigger rush of the reward hormone dopamine. That’s the same hormone that is released when addicts use their drug of choice. Nicky doesn’t get that kind of rush from food.

And besides, Nicky is full from lunch. Here again, dieters face an uphill battle because dieting has also changed their hormones. Their levels of the so-called satiety hormone leptin go down, which means that now it takes even more food than before to make them feel full. They felt hungry on their diets all along, but now feel even hungrier than before. Even Nicky’s regular non-diet lunch wouldn’t make dieters full at this point.

Where’s your willpower?

People see Nicky and are impressed with her great self-control, or willpower. But should it really be considered self-control to avoid eating a food when you aren’t hungry? Is it self-control when you avoid eating a food because you don’t notice it, like it or receive a rush of reward from it?

Anyone could resist the food under those circumstances. And even though Nicky doesn’t really need willpower in this situation, if she did need it, it would function quite well because she’s not dieting. On top of everything else, dieting disrupts cognition, especially executive function, which is the process that helps with self-control. So dieters have less willpower right when they need more willpower. And non-dieters have plenty, even though they don’t need any.

And of course, even if Nicky were to eat those tempting foods, her metabolism would burn up more of those calories than a dieter’s metabolism.

So Nicky is mistakenly being given credit for succeeding at a job that is not only easy for her, but easier than the job dieters face.

The cruel irony is that after someone has been dieting for some time, changes happen that make it hard to succeed at dieting in the long run. It is physically possible, and a small minority of dieters do manage to keep weight off for several years. But not without a demoralizing and all-encompassing battle with their physiology the entire time.

It’s easy to see why dieters usually regain the weight they lose on their New Year’s resolution diet, and we have the following suggestions for when that happens: If you are a Nicky, remember the self-denial these dieters have subjected themselves to and how little they were eating while you treated yourself to decadent desserts. Be impressed with their efforts, and grateful that you don’t have to attempt it.

If you are a dieter, remind yourself that you aren’t weak, but that you were in an unfair fight that very few win. Change your focus to improving your health with exercise (which doesn’t require weight loss), and resolve to choose a different New Year’s resolution next year.

 

 

 

Ancient fossil microorganisms indicate that life in the universe is common

J. William Schopf

J. William Schopf and colleagues from UCLA and the University of Wisconsin analyzed the microorganisms with cutting-edge technology called secondary ion mass spectroscopy.

 

Anew analysis of the oldest known fossil microorganisms provides strong evidence to support an increasingly widespread understanding that life in the universe is common.

The microorganisms, from Western Australia, are 3.465 billion years old. Scientists from UCLA and the University of Wisconsin–Madison report today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that two of the species they studied appear to have performed a primitive form of photosynthesis, another apparently produced methane gas, and two others appear to have consumed methane and used it to build their cell walls.

The evidence that a diverse group of organisms had already evolved extremely early in the Earth’s history — combined with scientists’ knowledge of the vast number of stars in the universe and the growing understanding that planets orbit so many of them — strengthens the case for life existing elsewhere in the universe because it would be extremely unlikely that life formed quickly on Earth but did not arise anywhere else.

“By 3.465 billion years ago, life was already diverse on Earth; that’s clear — primitive photosynthesizers, methane producers, methane users,” said J. William Schopf, a professor of paleobiology in the UCLA College, and the study’s lead author. “These are the first data that show the very diverse organisms at that time in Earth’s history, and our previous research has shown that there were sulfur users 3.4 billion years ago as well.

A microorganism analyzed by the researchers

A microorganism analyzed by the researchers

“This tells us life had to have begun substantially earlier and it confirms that it was not difficult for primitive life to form and to evolve into more advanced microorganisms.”

Schopf said scientists still do not know how much earlier life might have begun.

“But, if the conditions are right, it looks like life in the universe should be widespread,” he said.

The study is the most detailed ever conducted on microorganisms preserved in such ancient fossils. Researchers led by Schopf first described the fossils in the journal Science in 1993, and then substantiated their biological origin in the journal Nature in 2002. But the new study is the first to establish what kind of biological microbial organisms they are, and how advanced or primitive they are.

For the new research, Schopf and his colleagues analyzed the microorganisms with cutting-edge technology called secondary ion mass spectroscopy, or SIMS, which reveals the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 isotopes — information scientists can use to determine how the microorganisms lived. (Photosynthetic bacteria have different carbon signatures from methane producers and consumers, for example.) In 2000, Schopf became the first scientist to use SIMS to analyze microscopic fossils preserved in rocks; he said the technology will likely be used to study samples brought back from Mars for signs of life.

The Wisconsin researchers, led by geoscience professor John Valley, used a secondary ion mass spectrometer — one of just a few in the world — to separate the carbon from each fossil into its constituent isotopes and determine their ratios.

University of Wisconsin professor John Valley

University of Wisconsin professor John Valley

“The differences in carbon isotope ratios correlate with their shapes,” Valley said. “Their C-13-to-C-12 ratios are characteristic of biology and metabolic function.”

The fossils were formed at a time when there was very little oxygen in the atmosphere, Schopf said. He thinks that advanced photosynthesis had not yet evolved, and that oxygen first appeared on Earth approximately half a billion years later before its concentration in our atmosphere increased rapidly starting about 2 billion years ago.

Oxygen would have been poisonous to these microorganisms, and would have killed them, he said.

Primitive photosynthesizers are fairly rare on Earth today because they exist only in places where there is light but no oxygen — normally there is abundant oxygen anywhere there is light. And the existence of the rocks the scientists analyzed is also rather remarkable: The average lifetime of a rock exposed on the surface of the Earth is about 200 million years, Schopf said, adding that when he began his career, there was no fossil evidence of life dating back farther than 500 million years ago.

“The rocks we studied are about as far back as rocks go.”

While the study strongly suggests the presence of primitive life forms throughout the universe, Schopf said the presence of more advanced life is very possible but less certain.

One of the paper’s co-authors is Anatoliy Kudryavtsev, a senior scientist at UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life, of which Schopf is director. The research was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

In May 2017, a paper in PNAS by Schopf, UCLA graduate student Amanda Garcia and colleagues in Japan showed the Earth’s near-surface ocean temperature has dramatically decreased over the past 3.5 billion years. The work was based on their analysis of a type of ancient enzyme present in virtually all organisms.

In, 2015 Schopf was part of an international team of scientists that described in PNAS their discovery of the greatest absence of evolution ever reported — a type of deep-sea microorganism that appears not to have evolved over more than 2 billion years.

Moving Hollywood beyond ‘Black Panther’

Gina Prince-Bythewood, left, talks with UCLA Dean Darnell Hunt and Felicia D. Henderson about representation in Hollywood.

 

Two remarkable UCLA alums working in the film and television industries hope that Hollywood is leaping toward a “movement,” not just a “moment” when it comes to celebrating and investing in diversity.

As part of the recent launch of UCLA’s fifth annual Hollywood Diversity Report, Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, welcomed to campus Gina Prince-Bythewood and Felicia D. Henderson to talk about the diversity issues in film and television.

Prince-Bythewood is writer-director of the award-winning 2000 film “Love and Basketball” as well as “Beyond the Lights” and “The Secret Life of Bees.” Her upcoming projects include a film adaptation of author Roxane Gay’s debut novel, “An Untamed State.” Prince-Bythewood is also the first African-American woman to direct a major-studio superhero film, as she takes the helm of Sony’s “Silver and Black,” set in the Spider-Man universe.

Henderson is the creator and executive producer of the BET drama “The Quad,” and co-executive producer of Netflix’s “The Punisher.” Her credits also include “Fringe,” “Gossip Girl,” and the seminal Showtime series “Soul Food.”

“We are seeing a change, but not consistent change,” Henderson said, pointing to the fact that 2013 was a banner year for filmmakers of color, but one that did not play out in the following years. “The more you see a success story like ‘Black Panther,’ while you celebrate it, it also freaks you completely out, because you don’t want it to just be a moment.”

Henderson pointed out the powerful marketing and budget around “Black Panther,” and the ways in which stars like Black-ish’s Tracee Ellis Ross got behind the film — even buying out theaters in neighborhoods so members of the black community could see it.

“How do you make it a consistent change or ‘normal’ to have such movies as opposed to a moment?” said Henderson to the audience of people from campus and the industry at the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center. “How do we do that so it’s a movement instead of a moment?”

Answering that question and others that seek to explain Hollywood’s slow progress toward gender and racial parity is what makes the Hollywood Diversity Report and its year-over-year tracking incredibly important, she said.

Pat Turner, senior dean of the UCLA College, asks a question at the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report launch event.

Pat Turner, senior dean of the UCLA College, asks a question at the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report launch event.

 

As this year’s Hollywood Diversity Report shows, white men still fill a majority of credited roles in front of and behind the camera. And their continued domination of executive suites has a major influence on what kind of projects get a green light, Prince-Bythewood said.

She shared her experience pitching “An Untamed State” to several studios. Prince-Bythewood is an award-winning writer and director, the book upon which the project is based is a critically acclaimed best-seller, and also attached to the project is a three-time Academy Award nominee Michael De Luca. The book and film is survival story about a Haitian-American woman who is abducted, tortured and raped as she is held for ransom.

Prince-Bythewood said the first three pitch meetings were to rooms of white men, who listened politely, but were clearly uninterested.

But there was a palpable difference in the tone of the meeting when she pitched to Fox Searchlight, where the decision makers were two women of color. They bought the project before the meeting was over.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Prince-Bythewood said. “They just got it. They just felt it in their souls. We’re passionate about this project, but they might even be more passionate about it. The people we are pitching to, who are sitting across from us, they are going to greenlight what they respond to.”

During her Oscar acceptance speech this weekend, Frances McDormand, star of “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri,” called for the industry to use “inclusion riders,” contracts that would require film and television projects to aim for gender and racial parity both on screen and off.

This is something Henderson committed to 15 years ago with “Soul Food,” requiring that half of all the episode directors in the series be women.

“I got a call from the Director’s Guild marveling that just by me doing that, the number of female directors in that year went up 75 percent,” she said. “That should not be. Things should not be so dismal that one showrunner’s choices can make that big of a difference.”

Another UCLA alumna, Ava DuVernay, who directed “A Wrinkle in Time,” which comes out March 9, has taken steps to increase representation behind the camera. The first African-American woman to helm a film with a budget of more than $100 million, DuVernay required all her department heads to be prepared to show proof that they had considered women and people of color for jobs. On her television show “Queen Sugar,” all the episodes have been directed by women.

People from UCLA and the entertainment industry attended the launch event and discussion for the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report.

People from UCLA and the entertainment industry attended the launch event and discussion for the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report.

 

Henderson observed that women and people of color are making more progress in television, pointing to Shonda Rhimes as an example. She said she hopes that film and television artists and producers embrace the creation of storylines and casting that specifically highlights the different cultures, behaviors and belief systems of people of color.

Henderson said that for executives the easiest way to show diversity is to hire some black people, which is one of the reasons numbers continue to improve for this section of the population in Hollywood. But if all characters are written with homogenous behavior and attitudes, that’s not really diversity, Henderson said.

Despite “Soul Food’s” critical and popular success, Henderson said doors didn’t exactly fling open for her ideas.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just going to be able pitch all kinds of stories about black folks, this is going to be amazing,’” she said. “And yet what I found literally for five years of trying to pitch things that had the black experience at the center of it was excuses for ‘Soul Food’’s success, rather than a desire to extend it. I got a lot of, ‘Well, it was cable so you could depend on language and nudity,’ as if my storytelling depended on those things, which is incredibly offensive.”

When asked what advice the women would offer students or aspiring artists, Prince-Bythewood said passion and stamina are key.

“‘Love and Basketball’ took a year and a half, every studio turned it down, and then with ‘Beyond the Lights,’ everyone turned that down twice,” she said. “You will get a thousand ‘nos’ in this business so make sure you are passionate about the story you want to tell because that’s going to get you up off the floor and keep fighting.”

Henderson pointed out that for artists of color there is a different reality at play, especially when they are the only person of color in a room.

“I always tell my students, you do not have to be the smartest person in the room, but you do need to be the one who works the hardest,” she said. “Particularly for a person of color, just being as good as everyone else is not good enough.”

A sense of humor is critical, Henderson said. As the only African-American writer for “The Punisher,” all eyes often turn to her when discussing plotlines for the show’s only African-American character.

“I just pick up my cell phone and go, ‘hold on I have to call the committee,’” she joked.

UCLA, KCET team up for environmental storytelling and public media collaboration

UCLA professor Ursula Heise, at right, interviews Karen Mabb, U.S. Navy biologist, about the Green-cheeked parrot.

UCLA professor Ursula Heise, at right, interviews Karen Mabb, U.S. Navy biologist, about the Green-cheeked parrot.

 

Hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, extinctions: with near-constant coverage of disaster scenarios, communities around the country can be forgiven for experiencing environmental news fatigue. How can we engage 21st century audiences with new kinds of environmental stories?

UCLA’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies is trying to do just that. In partnership with KCET, the nation’s largest independent public television station, LENS has launched a yearlong collaboration to develop models and media for reporting environmental stories. Allison Carruth, faculty director of LENS and associate professor of English, is spearheading the project, which brings together the fields of anthropology, documentary filmmaking, English and environmental science.

“The collaboration offers an opportunity for faculty and students to craft immersive narratives about regional environmental issues, translating research into public engagement with diverse audiences,” observed Carruth, who is also affiliated with UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Faculty participants in the project are training graduate students across disciplines in nonfiction narrative, journalistic writing, new media storytelling, interviewing, field research and video and audio production. At the same time, master’s students in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television documentary program are producing original documentary shorts under the direction of Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, assistant professor of film and an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

“My time at UCLA has taught me that how people relate to nature is not just a scientific question, it’s a cultural and political one,” said Spencer Robins, who is pursuing his doctorate in English. “It’s vital that we understand the stories people tell about their place in the natural world, and that we think about what new stories could be told. LENS and KCET have created a laboratory where we can experiment with new ways of thinking about these issues.”

Courtney Cecale, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, agreed.

“I’ve very much enjoyed the ability to focus and reframe some of the processes happening quite literally in my own backyard,” Cecale said. “I’ve also appreciated the openness and flexibility that was awarded to us as contributors.”

The first of three planned storylines will go live on kcet.org on Feb. 21. Led by Jon Christensen, LENS co-founder and adjunct assistant professor in IoES, the storyline focuses on the past, present and possible futures of Taylor Yard. Once a hub for Southern Pacific Railroad’s freight trains, Taylor Yard is now an undeveloped and still-contaminated site adjacent to the Los Angeles River. The articles, interactive web features, and a documentary short written and produced by Christensen, who also teaches history at UCLA, Guevara-Flanagan and LENS graduate students address how decisions about the future of Taylor Yard and development along the L.A. River are wrapped up in larger questions about what the future of Los Angeles should look like — and who gets a voice in determining these outcomes.

The next storyline, led by Ursula Heise, the Marcia H. Howard chair in literary studies in the English department at UCLA and who is also a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, will consider how Los Angeles has inadvertently become a sanctuary city for non-native animal and plant species that are sometimes endangered in their native habits.

The Green-cheeked parrot in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Mountains is a particularly beloved example and is the focus of a short documentary that Guevara-Flanagan and Heise are producing with UCLA graduate students in the film, television and digital media department. These species raise intriguing questions about human-created urban ecosystems, biodiversity and opportunities for creating sanctuaries for endangered species.

Heise and Christensen are also working with KCET on upcoming episodes of “Earth Focus,” slated to premiere in April 2018 focusing on the global concerns of adaptation and exploring how environmental changes are forcing all living creatures to adapt in order to survive.

This spring, a third storyline led by Carruth will investigate emerging ideas for food sustainability in California and the role of artists, writers and activists in these movements.

“Our relationship with UCLA and LENS has proven invaluable,” said Juan Devis, chief creative officer at KCET. “Their team of researchers, journalists and scientists has provided us with a new multidisciplinary approach to understanding the environment in the 21st century, helping us shape the future of environmental journalism.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel urges students to embrace risk in Startup UCLA roundtable

In a roundtable discussion with UCLA students and Chicago entrepreneurs at Startup UCLA on Feb. 12, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was adamant that despite all his career accomplishments, it is his failures, not his successes, that continue to teach him his biggest lessons.

For the students in the room, it was exactly what they needed to hear.

“Being young it’s always great to hear advice from someone who’s achieved great success in his career about how we can do that for ourselves,” said fourth-year statistics major Parker Mansfield. “[And to hear about] the mindset we should have while trying to do that and what we should look for on our journey to success.”

Emanuel served in the White House during the Obama and Clinton administrations as chief of staff and senior a dvisor to the president for policy and strategy, respectively, and was a three-term U.S. Representative for Illinois’s 5th congressional district. He has served as mayor of the city of Chicago since 2011.

The roundtable was part of Emanuel’s daylong visit to UCLA, which included delivering the keynote address for the 2018 UCLA College Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership at UCLA Royce Hall.

Mayor Emanuel visited students in the Maker Space to hear more about their opportunities to experiment with new technologies.

In the afternoon before the lecture, Emanuel visited Startup UCLA with a delegation of Chicago-based technology leaders as part of the Think Chicago Roadshow, Emanuel’s and World Business Chicago’s initiative to visit universities across the country to attract the next generation of tech leaders to the city.

The group toured the Maker Space in Rieber Hall, where students can use 3D printers, laser cutters, software and other tools to create their own projects, and had a peek at the Design & Innovation Living Learning Community in Sproul Hall, which cultivates students’ passions and pursuits around technology, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Emanuel and the entrepreneurs then sat down with seven undergraduate and two graduate students who had been invited because of their various interests in entrepreneurship. Emanuel discussed efforts to foster a culture of innovation and business leadership in Chicago, and he and the delegation shared their advice for finding success in the entrepreneurial world.

Emanuel shared his vision for Chicago as a city that welcomes and supports business leaders and innovators of all kinds, not just major corporations. He outlined the initiatives he has implemented in order to position Chicago as a hub of innovation, education and business, demonstrating that public policy and entrepreneurship can complement each other and allow both companies and communities to thrive together.

Second-year mechanical engineering major Nikhil Pawar noted that while he has met several technology leaders before, this was the first time he’d had the chance to hear directly from a leader in public service.

“Hearing about the social space, which is something I’m trying to marry into my work, was incredibly useful,” Pawar said.

Anshul Aggarwal, a third-year computer science major, asked Emanuel for his advice on risk management: How does he determine whether an investment of time, money, energy or resources is worthwhile?

Chicago business and innovation leaders joined the mayor to share key career insights with students.

“You have to evaluate what I call the pain/pleasure principle,” Emanuel said. “How much political pain is it going to take to get this and at the end of the day, is it worth it? You’ve got to decide what’s really important and worth taking a swing at and, sometimes you’re going to let other ones just go by.”

Aggarwal said Emanuel’s insights would stay with him for a long time since he sometimes struggles to decide whether a new project is worth taking on.

But Emanuel struck the biggest nerve when he encouraged the students not to be afraid to try something new and to embrace failures as necessary for success. He pointed to two low points in his life—when he nearly died as a teenager and when he was briefly fired from the Clinton administration—as the events that taught him more about his capabilities than any other achievement in his life.

“If you haven’t failed yet, you haven’t succeeded yet,” Emanuel said. “It is better to try and fail than to resent that you never tried.”

Frances Lai, a third-year cognitive sciences major, said Emanuel’s words reassured her that she’s still young and has a lot of time to do something with her life.

Having the opportunity to meet Emanuel and listen to his insights in such an intimate setting “means the world,” Aggarwal said.

“I’m the type of person who learns best finding out what other people have done, seeing what worked for them and applying it,” he said. “[Emanuel and the delegation’s] experiences are something we’re eventually going to go through as well and it’s exciting to be able to see the kinds of things they’ve done and see if we can take that into our lives as well.”

Startup UCLA Executive Director Deanna Evans hopes the students will be inspired by the once-in-a-lifetime experience of participating in a roundtable with Emanuel and the Chicago entrepreneurs.

“The advice he gave them may affirm their current career aspirations or set them on an entirely new course, possibly moving to Chicago to start their career,” Evans said. “I look forward to talking with these students in the future to see how this experience shaped their career journey.”