Professor Barbara Fuchs speaks with Pedro Sánchez, the president of Spain, on UCLA’s campus

Spanish government to honor UCLA professor for promoting language and culture

Professor Barbara Fuchs speaks with Pedro Sánchez, the president of Spain, on UCLA’s campus

Professor Barbara Fuchs speaks with Pedro Sánchez, the president of Spain, on UCLA’s campus

The Cervantes Institute, a Spanish government agency dedicated to promoting Spanish around the world, has chosen Barbara Fuchs, UCLA professor of Spanish and English, to receive its inaugural Ñ Prize, honoring her work disseminating Spanish language and culture through theater and literature.

The president of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, will join Fuchs on July 22 at UCLA as part of an event to announce the first Instituto Cervantes branch in Los Angeles, which will be the seventh such center in the United States. In October, Spain’s King Felipe VI will present the bronze Ñ Prize to Fuchs in person in Madrid.

Fuchs, a professor in the Spanish & Portuguese department and also the English department, currently serves as president of the Modern Language Association. She has served as the director of the UCLA Center for 17th- and 18th-Century Studies and UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. In 2014, she founded Diversifying the Classics, an initiative to promote awareness and appreciation of Hispanic classical theater.

“In a region with 4 million Spanish speakers, there was nevertheless a sense that ‘the classics’ still primarily meant Shakespeare,” Fuchs said. “But the classics come in different flavors. In addition to Shakespeare in the park, we can have Lope in the park and Sor Juana in the park. It will be incredible to have a partner like the Instituto Cervantes to collaborate with in Los Angeles.”

The July 22 event will be opened by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.

“I am proud of the rigorous and creative work of Professor Fuchs,” Block said. “She has brought much-needed awareness of the richness and depth of Hispanic classical theater and helped make that important cultural heritage accessible to our communities.”

Diversifying the Classics includes a collaborative translation workshop that makes Hispanic classical plays available in English. In 2018, the program launched the biennial La Escena festival, the first Hispanic classical theater festival in Los Angeles. The project also sponsors Golden Tongues, an adaptation initiative that pairs Los Angeles writers with Spanish source texts.

“We’ve offered performances after which a Latinx student will ask us, ‘Why did I never hear of this in high school?’ That’s heartbreaking,” Fuchs said. “Spanish isn’t just the everyday language for the home, it’s also the language of art and culture. In the U.S., conversations about diversity in theater and the classics have primarily been about who performs the plays, but they should extend to what plays are presented.”

The Cervantes Institute’s Ñ Prize is granted to individuals or institutions that have promoted Spanish in the world or have a career of special dedication to its international dissemination.

Fuchs’ research played a vital role in a 2019 Instituto Cervantes exhibition in Madrid, said the institute’s director, Luis García Montero. The exhibition featured women writers during the Spanish Golden Age in the 16th and 17th centuries, and Montero praised Fuchs’ historical research as a “fundamental reference” for the exhibition.

“Looking back has allowed Barbara Fuchs to teach us a lot about our theater, the benefits and difficulties of multiculturalism, our relations with the Anglo-Saxon culture, the picaresque and the presence of women — an essential look to complete the truth of our history,” Montero said.

Fuchs’ publications include “Passing for Spain: Cervantes and the Fictions of Identity,” “Exotic Nation: Maurophilia and the Construction of Early Modern Spain,” and “Knowing Fictions: Picaresque Reading in the Early Modern Hispanic World.” She is co-editor of “The Golden Age of Spanish Drama” and “Representing Imperial Rivalry in the Early Modern Mediterranean,” among other works. She has translated into English 11 comedias, eight of them with the UCLA Working Group on the Comedia in Translation and Performance. She is also the author of multiple articles on the literature and culture of early modern Europe, with a transnational focus.

In addition to her work as a translator, she has served as editor of Hispanic Review and, since 2017, as editor of the series, “The Comedia in Translation and Performance.” Fuchs taught previously at the University of Washington and at the University of Pennsylvania, and has received numerous fellowships, including from the Guggenheim and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations.

Editor’s note: This story was updated July 22 with pictures from the event.

This article, written by Alison Hewitt, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña.

Renee Tajima-Peña wins Peabody for ‘Asian Americans’ docuseries

A photo of UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña.

UCLA professor Renee Tajima-Peña, series producer of “Asian Americans.” (Photo Credit: Claudio Rocha)

“Asian Americans,” the five-part miniseries created for PBS by Renee Tajima-Peña, UCLA professor of Asian American studies, has received a Peabody Award.

The series, which aired in spring 2020, tells stories of struggle, progress and solidarity from the perspectives of multiple Asian American communities, highlighting their national, ethnic, religious, political, linguistic and cultural diversity.

Tajima-Peña’s production company shares the Peabody with the Center for Asian American Media, public broadcaster WETA-TV, postproduction house Flash Cuts and the Independent Television Service. The series was honored by the Peabody Awards for “its revelatory storytelling as a demonstration of activism and solidarity in the American story and fight for justice and dignity.”

“We’re all thrilled not only by the award, but the recognition that this history matters, at a time when we’re in the throes of a backlash to ethnic studies and to a perspective of American history that acknowledges the central role of systemic racism,” said Tajima-Peña, who is also the director of the UCLA Center for Ethnocommunications.

An Academy Award–nominated film director (“Who Killed Vincent Chin?”), she said she also feels like the current moment is powerful in the fight for racial justice and equity.

“Other people are really hungry to understand who we are today by understanding our past,” Tajima-Peña said. “Over the last 15 months, we’ve seen stereotypes of Asian Americans weaponized, as either the perpetual foreigner and walking virus, or the model minority deployed as a wedge against other people of color. In all the episodes of ‘Asian Americans,’ we tried to connect those fault lines from our arrival as immigrants to the current moment, and to center the resilience and activism of Asian Americans in resisting systemic racism.”

Watch award-winning actress Sandra Oh announce the Peabody recognition for “Asian Americans.”

Two years in the making, “Asian Americans” was a very UCLA-centric project. Grace Lee, an alumna of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, directed two of the episodes. Several other alumni were crew members on multiple episodes. And David Yoo, a professor of Asian American studies and history and vice provost of the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, served as lead scholar on the project.

Respected for its integrity and revered for its standards of excellence, the Peabody represents a high honor for creators of television, podcast/radio and digital media. Chosen each year by a diverse board of jurors through unanimous vote, Peabody Awards are given in the categories of entertainment, documentary, news, podcast/radio, arts, children’s and youth, public service and multimedia programming. Founded in 1940 at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, the Peabody Awards are based in Athens, Georgia.

This article, written by Jessica Wolf, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of UCLA physical sciences Centennial Award winners.

UCLA Division of Physical Sciences’ Centennial Awards honor faculty, alumni

A photo of UCLA physical sciences Centennial Award winners.

UCLA
Clockwise from top left: Stuart Brown, professor of physics and astronomy; Mahtash Esfandiari, professor of statistics; Tommaso Treu, professor of physics and astronomy; Robin Garrell, former vice provost for graduate education and professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Vassilis Angelopoulos, professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences; and Will Conley, professor of mathematics (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The UCLA Division of Physical Sciences will honor scientific excellence and commitment to education during the inaugural Centennial Awards celebration on May 26. The online event, which will feature a special welcome from Chancellor Gene Block and UCLA alumnus and actor Kal Penn, will honor faculty and alumni who have made significant contributions to their fields and the UCLA community.

“Through world-class research, leadership, mentorship and teaching, these awardees have demonstrated the level of excellence and service that UCLA is known for,” said Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the physical sciences division. “Every day they better the world around them, from students to faculty colleagues to the commercial sector and public at large. We are proud to celebrate them as part of the physical sciences family.”

Below are this year’s faculty awardees, who were nominated by their department.

Excellence in Education Award, which recognizes a faculty member who makes a broad impact on classroom inclusivity and demonstrated learning excellence:

  • Will Conley, professor of mathematics. Conley was recognized for his outstanding work teaching and promoting equity in the mathematics department’s introductory calculus sequence. His primary research interests are representation theory and algebraic number theory.
  • Mahtash Esfandiari, professor of statistics. Esfandiari is the director of the Statistical Consulting Center and the assistant director of the Center for the Teaching of Statistics. Her areas of interest include statistics education and statistical consulting.

Leadership Award, which acknowledges a member of the physical sciences division who has made extraordinary contributions through their service to UCLA or the national and/or international academic communities:

  • Robin Garrell, former vice provost for graduate education and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA. Garrell is now president of the graduate center at the City University of New York. Her research interests span vibrational spectroscopy and surface chemistry.

Mentorship Award, which recognizes a faculty member who has demonstrated a commitment to and success in mentoring research students from diverse backgrounds:

  • Vassilis Angelopoulos, professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences. As principal investigator of NASA’s THEMIS and ARTEMIS missions, Angelopoulos has led the development of five satellites and 20 ground-based observatories. He has also overseen the launch and operation of the first satellites built entirely at UCLA.
  • Stuart Brown, professor of physics and astronomy. Brown is a condensed matter experimentalist whose research focus is mostly on the phases and properties of correlated electron systems.

Outstanding Discovery Award, which honors physical sciences faculty who are leading their research fields with contributions from the most creative, productive and talented students, postdoctoral research fellows and researchers:

  • Tommaso Treu, professor of physics and astronomy. Treu is a member of the Hubble Telescope observing team. He is interested in understanding what the universe is made of, in particular the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and in understanding how galaxies and supermassive black holes form and evolve.

The Centennial Luminary Awards are presented to alumni in recognition of their contributions to UCLA and a career that exemplifies the values of research and education. The award recipients are:

– Leopold Andreoli, who received his doctorate in atmospheric sciences in 1980, will receive the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Luminary Award. Andreoli is a former Air Force colonel who led the development of critical intelligence technology.

– Amy Braverman, who received her master’s in mathematics in 1992 and her doctorate in statistics in 1999, will receive the Statistics Luminary Award. Braverman is principal statistician at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Her work focuses on the use of remote sensing data.

– Kirk Dunn, who received his bachelor’s in mathematics in 1983, will receive the Mathematics Luminary Award. Dunn is the chief operating office at Cloudera, where he uses his technology engineering, marketing, sales and management experience to oversee business operations.

– Myung Ki Hong, who received his bachelor’s in chemistry in 1959, will receive the Chemistry & Biochemistry Luminary Award. Known for his expertise in resin and coatings, Hong founded Dura Coat Products in 1986.

– Nathan Myhrvold, who received his bachelor’s in mathematics and his master’s in geophysics and space physics in 1979, will receive the Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences Luminary Award. Myhrvold is a prominent scientist, technologist, inventor, author and food photographer.

– Howard Preston, who received his bachelor’s in physics in 1965 and his doctorate in physics in 1974, will receive the Physics and Astronomy Luminary Award. Preston is president of Preston Cinema Systems, a motion picture camera equipment company based in Santa Monica.

– Benedict Schwegler, who received his doctorate in environmental science and engineering in 1999, will receive the Environment and Sustainability Luminary Award. Schwegler is currently chief scientist at Engie China Research Lab and an adjunct professor at Stanford University.

In addition, the Centennial Visionary Award will be presented to Mani Bhaumik, whose time as a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA led him to become one of the physical sciences division’s strongest supporters.

Visit the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences website for more information.

This article, written by Max Gordy, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

UCLA establishes Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies

Dominic Thomas, UCLA’s Madeleine L. Letessier Professor of French and Francophone Studies, has been appointed chair of the new department. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

In a move that defies a national trend toward diminishing higher-education language instruction, UCLA has renewed its commitment to languages by establishing the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies, or ELTS.

The new department brings together the existing departments of Germanic languages, French and Francophone studies, Italian and Scandinavian, but aims to offer a wider and more holistic course of study, focusing on the breadth of languages and cultures across Europe.

The term “transcultural” emphasizes shared European roots and an expanded focus on the perspectives of filmmakers, writers and theorists from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and elsewhere. This approach allows for a more pointed, rigorous and comprehensive understanding of history and a more accurate contextualization of the European experience and legacy in the world.

“This merger allows us to train an interdisciplinary lens on the rich and varied cultures of Europe while preserving the first-rate language instruction for which UCLA is known,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College and dean of humanities. “If we truly want our students to be active participants in an intellectual, multilingual and globalized world, we must be prepared to make bold changes such as this.”

Over the past decade, traditional university language departments have been hit hard by shrinking budgets, faculty retirements and a drop in enrollment. According to the Modern Language Association, from 2013 to 2016, U.S. universities cut 651 foreign language programs: French lost 129 programs, followed by Spanish at 118, German at 86 and Italian at 56.

UCLA currently offers courses in 37 languages, and major departments include Asian languages and cultures and Near Eastern languages and cultures. Students enrolled in ELTS courses will, in addition to language training, benefit from an interdisciplinary humanistic approach, notably in the experimental humanities, which include digital, environmental, medical and urban studies, as well as culture, literature, film, postcolonial studies, philosophy, critical theory, media studies, Jewish studies, and gender and sexuality studies.

The new department is the culmination of extensive consultation among campus leaders and faculty in the departments involved, who voted unanimously in favor of the action.

Dominic Thomas, UCLA’s Madeleine L. Letessier Professor of French and Francophone Studies, has been appointed chair of the new department.

“UCLA students have the opportunity to achieve a well-rounded education and to pursue advanced research in a challenging intellectual environment with superior research facilities,” Thomas said. “Our goal is to explore how different fields not only overlap with one another in intellectually exciting ways but also transcend geography and history.

“In addition to a solid grounding in at least one language, students will develop some knowledge of each of the areas that constitute our discipline and how these are in conversation with the broader study of the past and present, in addition to how they have flourished in the humanities over the centuries,” he said.

Undergraduate students in the ELTS major and minor will soon be able to take interdisciplinary courses in European cultures and histories, as well as study individual languages such as Dutch, French, German, Italian, Swedish and Yiddish.

Thomas added, “The combination of cultural literacy, language prowess and analytical and writing skills will encourage research on human rights, diversity, and religious tolerance, while also giving ELTS students an edge in graduate school and in careers ranging from international law and business to education, the arts, media and journalism.”

This article, written by Melissa Abraham, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo collage of Kristy Hinds, Leann Pham, Genevieve Finn and Kai Huang

UCLA alumna awarded Mitchell Scholarship, first in 20 years

A photo collage of Kristy Hinds, Leann Pham, Genevieve Finn and Kai Huang

Top row, from left: Genevieve Finn, Kristy Hinds. Bottom row, from left: Leann Pham, Kai Huang (Photo Credits: Genevieve Finn – Jacelyn O’Neill; Leann Pham – Anthony Ismail; Kristy Hinds – Daniel Hinds; Kai Huang – Kai Huang)

This time next year, Genevieve Finn ’20 will be studying creative writing at Trinity College in Dublin as one of 12 winners of this year’s prestigious Mitchell Scholarship. She is only the second UCLA alum to win a Mitchell Scholarship, and the first to win in 20 years.

The George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program is a national, competitive scholarship sponsored by the US-Ireland Alliance. Up to 12 Mitchell Scholars between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen annually for one academic year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A native of San Anselmo, Calif., Finn majored in English in the College Honors program and completed her degree in just two and a half years, thanks to AP credits and some “excellent” academic counselors who helped her manage her course load, she said. She was a reporter for the Daily Bruin and interned at the New York Times’ Australia bureau and GQ Australia. She will work at the Mexico bureau of the Associated Press when travel is safe. Finn was also awarded an Overseas Press Club Foundation fellowship for her reporting about her experience sailing on a container ship from Hong Kong to Singapore.

Finn is currently a reporter at the Malibu Times, working to create a Spanish-language insert in the paper’s print edition to serve Malibu’s Latinx day laborer-commuter population. With the Mitchell Scholarship, she plans to develop her skills in long form journalism and poetry, report on Ireland’s unique political and cultural narratives, and explore her own Irish heritage.

Finn said her love of journalism was cemented during a summer she spent traveling around Mexico and writing about the people she met while couch surfing and hitchhiking.

“I love talking to people and am just genuinely interested in other people’s lives,” Finn said. “I love the craft of writing and storytelling and find it exhilarating to be edited.”

She said UCLA’s creative writing program, in particular its poetry workshops, helped prepare her for graduate study.

“My absolute favorite memories of undergrad are far and away the times I got to sit in the Sculpture Garden in the sun with my peers and listen to them read their poetry out loud,” she said. “The workshops taught me so much about how to edit and be edited, made me a nimbler poet and bolder essayist, and gave me so many really wonderful, lasting friends and mentors. I’m going to take all of those skills and relationships with me to Europe!”

In other scholarship news, three UCLA students were finalists for prestigious scholarships this year.

UCLA students Kai Huang and Kristy Hinds were finalists for the Marshall Scholarship, which also funds graduate study in the UK.

Huang, a senior majoring in psychobiology, is an advocate for the transgender community at UCLA. They serve as Undergraduate Student Representative for the Trans Wellness Team, a team of healthcare professionals from Ashe, CAPS and UCLA Health who seek to improve transgender healthcare at UCLA, and are on the Community Advisory Board for the UCLA Gender Health Program Research Collaborative. He co-founded the LGBT Student Advocacy Committee and is the Activism Coordinator for the pre-health student organization Lavender Health Alliance. Huang plans to become a primary care physician for transgender people.

“I never had the opportunity to study abroad before, especially before I legally changed my name and gender marker to match who I am, and it meant a lot to me to be considered as a Marshall finalist as a nonbinary trans person in higher education, since I don’t know of many other trans people in healthcare,” Huang said.

Hinds, a senior majoring in English, is a recipient of the UCLA College Reentry Scholarship for non-traditional students as well as the English department’s Fallen Leaves Creative Writing Prize.

She is working on a directed research project producing a short story fiction collection that looks at women and race, and is researching black authors from the 18th century to the First World War in the areas of sermons, spirituals and autobiography. Hinds said UCLA’s rigor, academic opportunities and support system has inspired her success.

“For me, being a Marshall finalist was a confirmation of what took years to uncover and believe about myself—I am good enough and I am worth it,” Hinds said. “I know it is not despite my story but because of it that makes me a Marshall finalist.”

Leann Pham ’19 was a finalist for the Schwarzman Scholarship, which funds a one-year master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. At UCLA, in addition to majoring in political science and Asian American studies, she led a multi-year research study on responses to violence and taught a class to empower survivors of gender-based violence in the Asian/Pacific American community. She was also a Resident Assistant with UCLA Residential Life and helped organized sexual violence response training for over 300 RAs.

Pham is currently in Taiwan on a Fulbright Scholarship, where she is teaching and studying the Gender Equity Act in primary schools. She said it was an honor not only to be a Schwarzman finalist but also to see how her professors, advisors and friends all rallied to support her throughout the application process.

“Being a Schwarzman finalist meant that someone saw potential in me and my approach to gender-based violence between the U.S. and China,” Pham said. “But the experience of being a finalist showed me how lucky I was to have an entire ‘UCLA village’ support me.”

To learn more about scholarship opportunities for UCLA students, visit http://www.scholarshipcenter.ucla.edu/.

This article was written by Robin Shawn Migdol.

 

Wildfires should be considered a top threat to survival of species

A post-fire landscape in Kangaroo Island, Australia, evidence that wildfires have become larger and more severe in already fire-prone regions. (Photo Credit: Luke Kelly/University of Melbourne)

A new study by 27 prominent scientists from around the world — including UCLA’s Morgan Tingley — emphasizes the need to include fire among the list of potential threats to the survival of plant and animal species.

Traditionally,  fires have been viewed as a standard part of ecological cycles, necessary for species to survive and breed. But with increases in the frequency and severity of major wildfires, the way scientists view fires might need to change.

“If you ask a random scientist what the major threats are to biodiversity, they will generally list three: climate change, land use change, and invasive species,” said Tingley, a UCLA professor of ecology and a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “Undoubtedly, that’s true. What we’re seeing here is that fire should be included on the list.”

The paper, published in the journal Science, also offers strategies to manage fires more successfully.

The authors write that wildfires have become larger and more severe in already-fire-prone areas such as California and Australia, and that they are occurring in new regions — including the Arctic tundra and tropical forests of Asia and South America. At the same time, fire is disappearing from environments that depend on fires, like the grasslands of North America and Brazil.

The researchers determined that changes in fire activity around the world are a threat to 15% of species already categorized as in danger of extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, including koalas and orangutans.

Tingley said the more diverse a system is, the faster it can bounce back from ecological disruptions like wildfires.

“The more species you have packed into an area, the more resilient that area is,” he said. “We want a forest that has burned to become a healthy, beautiful forest of mature trees down the line. One of the ways that happens is by attracting biodiversity to it. If you can attract birds to an area after a fire, you’re going to get more seed dispersal. You’re going to get more nutrient cycling. You’re going to get more decomposition.”

The 2020 Apple Fire in Riverside County, California, burned more that 33,000 acres. (Photo Credit: Brody Hessin)

The paper’s lead author, University of Melbourne professor Luke Kelly, said he’d never seen fires like this year’s Australian bushfires.

“I stood on a ridgeline looking out across the landscape and, almost as far as the eye could see, all living vegetation had been consumed,” Kelly said. “Scientists rarely use the term ‘unprecedented’ but it’s a good way to describe the total area burnt in 2019–20 in eastern Australia. I’d never seen anything like it.”

The paper also recommends improvements to fire management practices.

One problem with existing strategies, they write, is that the combined forces of climate change, human development, past fire suppression efforts and invasive species are changing the way fires behave. The outcome came into stark relief during California’s 2020 wildfire season, which burned twice the acreage of any other season in recorded history.

Fire management typically focuses on protecting people and property, but neglects the broader ecosystems in which human communities exist. And wildfires are often managed the same way across ecosystems, even though fire behaves in different ways. In the Northern California, for example, the coniferous Sierra Nevada experiences frequent surface fires, while coastal shrublands in the southern part of the state experience infrequent but high-intensity fires.

Those differences are mirrored in regions around the world.

One recommendation is that fire management incorporate more ecological knowledge. But that doesn’t need to come at the cost of protecting human life, said Alexandra Syphard, a co-author of the paper and the chief scientist at Vertus Wildfire, a San Francisco-based insurer.

“If there are two different actions that result in equal benefits to humans, but one has ecological costs and the other doesn’t, a fire manager without an understanding of biodiversity may unintentionally choose the most ecological harmful one,” Syphard said.

In practice, this might mean letting small, natural fires burn to clear dead vegetation from the forest floor and make room for new plants to sprout. It also means passing zoning laws to prevent development in fire-prone areas.

Although ecosystems react differently to fire, they are also rapidly being altered by climate change and other human impacts. Some wildfire ecosystems are becoming more like others, so the paper recommends that experts around the world collaborate more to share effective strategies.

“Understanding the complexities from a global perspective helps to get a better sense of what is unique and what is general,” Tingley said. “It helps us understand if there are approaches people are taking in other areas that could be really important here.”

This article, written by Sonia Aronson, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Vahagn Aldzhyan Selected as Second Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholar

While volunteering with the UCLA undergraduate-led International Collegiate Health Initiative (ICHI), which aims to provide healthcare to underserved communities in Los Angeles, UCLA senior Vahagn Aldzhyan and his coworkers completed a needs assessment survey on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. When they asked the people there if they had access to medical care and health insurance, most said no.

“I always knew about Skid Row, I always drove past South LA, but just being there in person, talking to the people and getting a glimpse of what these people have to go through every day made me want to do a lot of work to empower people who are living in those situations,” said Aldzhyan, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major and Los Angeles native.

A photo of Vahagn Aldzhyan.

A portrait of Vahagn Aldzhyan. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The desire to bridge healthcare gaps and disparities has been the driving force throughout Aldzhyan’s time as Bruin. And it’s also part of what landed him the 2020-21 Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholarship, an annual award that recognizes and supports students who exemplify the attributes, values, commitment to service and pioneering spirit of the legendary Arthur Ashe ’66.

In addition to working as a grant writer for the ICHI, Aldzhyan is a research assistant in the lab of Dr. Richard J. Pietras and Dr. Diana Marquez-Garban, developing therapeutics to treat triple-negative breast cancer. He presented his research about this aggressive form of cancer, which disproportionately affects young black women, at Undergraduate Research Week this year.

Aldzhyan works as an undergraduate learning assistant in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and physics and astronomy and a board member of the Armenian Engineers and Scientists Association. He’s also an Emergency Medical Technician, and a Health Scholar at COPE Solutions, where he volunteers and rotates through different departments at a local hospital.

After graduation, his goal is to apply to medical school and complete dual degrees in medicine and business so that he can have a greater impact on underserved communities, including in Armenia where his parents both immigrated from.

“I feel like when I’m working directly with patients, I’m impacting one life, but with a business degree, I can do a lot more to implement community service programs and reach an audience at a much greater level,” he said.

Aldzhyan said he is inspired by Arthur Ashe’s commitment to helping people facing discrimination, racism and hatred even after he had already achieved astronomical success as an athlete. Although Ashe himself had experienced the same challenges, he didn’t let it stop him from succeeding as well as creating opportunities for others.

“He was able to reciprocate positive energy and help communities and people that were in the same kind of situation as he was growing up. So that was really inspiring.” Aldzhyan said.

And the advice he’s taken away from Ashe’s story?

“When you hit a roadblock, don’t stop, just go through it. And then when you get to a goal and achieve it, don’t forget who helped you and help them too,” he said.

Aldzhyan said that while he’s grateful that the scholarship will help him with his tuition this year, he’s even more humbled to be part of The Arthur Ashe Legacy at UCLA as a recipient of the scholarship named in Ashe’s honor. He’s already looking forward to aiding future students who find themselves on a similar path.

“I can come back 10, 15, or maybe even a couple years from now and give back to those students who are interested in embodying what Arthur Ashe stood for as a community leader and as a Bruin,” he said.

That’s a legacy worth leaving.

This article, written by Robin Migdol, originally appeared on The Arthur Ashe Legacy website

A photo of Norma Mendoza-Dutton.

Q&A: Norma Mendoza-Denton on how Donald Trump weaponizes words

Norma Mendoza-Denton, professor of anthropology in the UCLA College, studies the language used by President Donald Trump and politicians of all stripes. She’s co-editor (with Janet McIntosh of Brandeis University) of a new book, “Language in the Trump Era: Scandals and Emergencies,” which brings together 27 academics — including three other UCLA professors, H. Samy Alim, holder of the David O. Sears Presidential Endowed Chair in the Social Sciences and professor of Anthropology and African American Studies; Otto Santa Ana, professor emeritus of Chicana and Chicano studies, and Aomar Boum, associate professor of anthropology and Near Eastern languages and cultures — to analyze and understand the language of our current political moment. In this interview, Mendoza-Denton talks about how Trump uses words to manipulate reality, and how linguists can help us view politics through a more critical lens.

A photo of Norma Mendoza-Dutton.

Norma Mendoza-Dutton, professor of anthropology in the UCLA College. (Photo courtesy of Norma Mendoza-Dutton)

What did you set out to do with “Language in the Trump Era”? 

For me, the main purpose of this book has been to try to equip people to do their own analyses on the fly. So that when you hear something coming from a political figure or from somebody in authority, you have some tools to say, “Oh my gosh, I recognize this, it’s a discourse pattern that somebody is putting out there. And as a discourse pattern, I’m able to name it and I’m able to have it not take me in.” It’s a kind of tool set for people to make their own determination about what they believe.

As a linguistic anthropologist, how do you study Trump? Do you watch his rallies and read his tweets, just like the rest of us?

Yeah. He’s a very productive data source, you can just imagine. There’s a really excellent resource that you can get if you go to Factba.se. It’s a compendium of everything he’s ever said, tweeted and videoed out. And it’s searchable.

The introduction describes Trump as a “linguistic emergency.” What does that mean?

One of the ways that we mean “linguistic emergency” is that Trump is using language to shape reality. He’s able to say, “This agency can no longer talk about climate change.” When you’re able to legislate something in this way, it means that unless people are aware of the way that language is being regimented around them, their reality is changing right under their feet.

Another example is when he accuses someone of a crime, even though they’ve been exonerated. With Kamala Harris and the “Birther 2.0” thing, he says, “I don’t know, but somebody very highly qualified says that she’s not able to run.” When he keeps repeating it and the airways repeat it for him — because he’s news, he’s the president — it goes a long way toward creating the reality that all of us share. Even if it’s not true, it plants a little bit of a doubt in the average person’s mind: is she really not qualified? Or wait, I know that she is, but should she be? It creates a discourse, and that’s why it’s a linguistic emergency. We haven’t had somebody that holds so much power who so continuously changes the linguistic ground under our feet. That’s really a pressing thing for us to understand.

The book breaks down a lot of phrases that we’re all familiar with at this point. One chapter, written by co-editor Janet McIntosh, professor of anthropology at Brandeis University, discusses the terms “crybabies” and “snowflakes.” Why are politicians using these words?

McIntosh’s term “semiotic callusing” is really applicable here. It’s a way of saying to everybody else, “the people that have complaints about this are just weak.” It’s a continuation of a discourse that we have in the U.S., first identified by George Lakoff, which is that the Republicans are like the strict father and the Democrats are the indulgent, overprotective mother. By setting up the crybabies and snowflakes discourse, the Republicans have managed to continue the discourse of the strict father. And Trump is like the ultimate strict father in this way. He’s calling out the weaklings, showing his own power, but also demonstrating to people how they should be treating others. It’s setting the stage for us to not only understand ourselves as being subject to this kind of power, but to regard each other in this way. To regard somebody who needs help to make ends meet as a weakling or somebody who yells on the street as acceptable, because they’re not being a snowflake, or to see people who are trying to get redress for past wrongs as crybabies.

It’s also mimicked by the left, where they start calling out people on the right, saying, “Who’s the snowflake now?” It’s amplified on both sides.

Yeah, that’s a great point. Again, because the language is creating reality, you get swept up in the logic and you start reproducing that same idea, instead of challenging the premise of it to begin with.

The phrase “fake news” seems to be another major new feature of our discourse. Is this just a part of our politics now, referring to something as fake news?

I don’t think the strategy is new. This is a strategy that was used by Mao Zedong, it was used by Stalin, it was used by Hitler. Victor Klemperer has a book about the ways in which the Nazis crafted language and a big part of it was basically going against the press and questioning independent news. It’s not a new thing at all, but definitely “fake news” —that’s part of the genius of Trump. He’s able to come up with these incredibly audiogenic, pithy little sayings like “fake news” that just stick. Now people are using “fake news” in non-Trump contexts all the time. At first it starts as a joking thing, they’re kind of making fun of Trump. But now it’s just used in a kind of normal way. So, you can see he’s a source of linguistic innovation, and that’s really interesting.

Trump famously said that he was going to “build the wall and make Mexico pay for it.” Obviously, Mexico was not going to pay for it, and everybody knew this. What is he doing when he says things like that?

He’s basically creating a show. He’s creating a form of entertainment that we are supposed to participate in. By saying, “I have the biggest crowd. I have the most beautiful wall. It’s getting made,” — first of all, it doesn’t matter that half of the assertions that he makes are actually suspect, right? But they paint a particular picture. And frankly, when you’re one of his supporters, you’re in a mode of suspending disbelief as it is. So, once you’re in that suspension of disbelief, it paints the whole tableau so that you can get carried away in the illusion.

What can linguists do to help ordinary people understand and cope with Trump’s language on a daily basis? 

All of us are linguists in a way. All of us try to be critical when somebody makes an argument and they’re trying to pull a fast one on you, each one of us has to use our critical capacity, to try to figure out how reality is being constructed for us. And I think that that’s for me the most important thing. It doesn’t matter what spectrum of politics you’re coming from. As long as you’re equipping yourself to be able to understand when somebody is pulling a fast one or working against your interests, even though they claim to be working for your interests, when they reverse themselves, when they contradict themselves, when they’re calling someone names just to be memorable, instead of accurate.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photograph of Abel Valenzuela.

UCLA professor leads research on issues impacting vulnerable workers

Photograph of Abel Valenzuela.

Abel Valenzuela

“Los Angeles is the harbinger for the future. It’s a city that has driven the national debate on workforce issues such as the minimum wage, wage theft, youth employment and immigration. These key issues are shaping the conversation about the future of work nationwide.”

So says Abel Valenzuela, director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Valenzuela is an expert on day laborers, immigration and labor markets, urban poverty and inequality, and immigrant settlement patterns. His work focuses on understanding the social position and impact of immigrants in the United States, especially in Los Angeles.

Valenzuela, who serves as special advisor to the chancellor on immigration policy and is a professor in the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies in the UCLA College, has studied how different groups of workers compete for low-wage, low-skill jobs; the local economic and employment impacts of immigration; and job search and commuting behavior among racial and ethnic groups in Los Angeles.

Since its founding in 1945, the Institute has played an important role in the intellectual life of the university and in the national conversation on labor and employment issues. It forms wide-ranging research agendas on issues impacting workers on the margins including immigrant workers, Black workers, gig workers, young workers and domestic workers. The Institute’s studies have advanced policy changes related to the minimum wage, wage theft, and paid sick leave. Last fall, the Institute launched the labor studies major, the first of its kind at the University of California.

As local and national economies grapple with the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19, the Institute’s research will be critical to rebuilding a more racially equitable economy that prioritizes the most vulnerable workers.

Says Valenzuela, “UCLA is in the business of discovery and science and using that science to make change. My colleagues who study the impacts and intervention related to cancer are serious about finding a cure for cancer. In that same spirit, at the Institute we use social science to ensure workers live dignified lives and are able to support their families.”

Image of Math Building Collage

Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics awarded $25M renewal from NSF

UCLA’s Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics, through which mathematicians work collaboratively with a broad range of scholars of science and technology to transform the world through math, has received a five-year, $25 million funding renewal from the National Science Foundation, effective Sept. 1.

The new award represents the latest investment by the NSF, which has helped to support IPAM’s innovative multidisciplinary programs, workshops and other research activities since the institute’s founding in 2000.

“The continued NSF funding will enable IPAM to further its mission of creating inclusive new scientific communities and to bring the full range of mathematical techniques to bear on the great scientific challenges of our time,” said Dimitri Shlyakhtenko, IPAM’s director and a UCLA professor of mathematics. “We will be able to continue to sponsor programs that bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines or from different areas of mathematics with the goal of sparking interdisciplinary collaboration that continues long after the IPAM program ends.”

Mathematics has become increasingly central to science and technology, with applications in areas as diverse as search engines, cryptography, medical imaging, data science and artificial intelligence, to name a few, Shlyakhtenko said. Future developments, from sustainable energy production to autonomous vehicles and quantum computers, will require further mathematical innovation as well as the application of existing mathematics.

IPAM’s goal is to foster interactions between mathematicians and doctors, engineers, physical scientists, social scientists and humanists that enable such technological and social progress. In the near future, for example, IPAM will be partnering with the new NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Present and Future Quantum Computation, which was launched in July with a five-year, $25 million award to UC Berkeley, UCLA and other universities.

Over its two decades of existence, IPAM has helped to stimulate mathematical developments that advance national health, prosperity and welfare through a variety of programs and partnerships that address scientific and societal challenges. Its workshops, conferences and longer-term programs, which last up to three months, bring in thousands of visitors annually from academia, government and industry.

IPAM also helps to train new generations of interdisciplinary mathematicians and scientists and places a particular emphasis on the inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities in the mathematics community.

In addition to the IPAM funding, the NSF recently announced five-year awards to five other mathematical sciences research institutes.

“The influence of mathematical sciences on our daily lives is all around us and far-reaching,” said Juan Meza, director of the NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences. “The investment in these institutes enables interdisciplinary connections across fields of science, with impacts across sectors of computing, engineering and health.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.