Young boy with school workbook and tablet computer

Through UCLA course, students deliver funding to L.A. nonprofits

Young boy with school workbook and tablet computer

Young boy with school workbook and tablet computer

 

Philanthropy as Civic Engagement class has distributed $780,000 to local organizations over past decade

Thanks to an unusual undergraduate course at UCLA, students have distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade to Los Angeles nonprofits.

The latest edition of the class, Philanthropy as Civic Engagement, concluded in June. Students distributed funds to three beneficiaries: Open Paths Counseling Center, which received $40,000 toward training clinicians to support the mental health needs of underserved communities; School on Wheels, which received $25,000 to provide laptops for homeless K-12 students; and Jazz Hands for Autism, which received $15,000 to provide musical training, career support and advocacy for musicians who have autism.

And since 2012, when the course was first offered, students have distributed a total of $780,000 to 27 local organizations.

The course enables students to explore their sense of responsibility to care for and improve their communities. While many of the students are already engaged in volunteerism, the experience provides a different perspective, introducing them to the process that individuals and grantmaking organizations go through when deciding how to allocate their charitable giving.

“People sometimes assume that to be philanthropic, you must be abundantly wealthy,” said Jennifer Lindholm, UCLA’s assistant dean of undergraduate education, who has led the course’s teaching team for the past five years. “That mindset can disempower us from engaging actively to strengthen our communities.

“Through this course, we aim to help students understand the work of nonprofit organizations, consider different perspectives on philanthropic giving, and challenge themselves to consider the myriad ways they can contribute — both now and in the future — to enhancing the common good.”

The money the students give away is provided by UCLA donors who have chosen to invest in cultivating a new generation of philanthropists. Since 2019, the course has been supported by Women & Philanthropy at UCLA, which continues to raise funds toward the class endowment.

In the 2021 class, students were divided into eight-person groups, each of which researched a pool of 14 potential nonprofit beneficiaries. Based on what they learned, each group chose eight semifinalists and held meetings with those organizations’ leaders.

One of those meetings was especially meaningful for Adriana Perez, a psychology major from Chatsworth, California, who is studying how to make mental health resources more accessible. During an online interview with representatives from Open Paths, Perez said, she connected deeply with the counseling center’s mission. But she had never before seen herself as a philanthropist.

“The ability to grant a real monetary award was incredibly empowering in that, as a class, we were able to decide what issues were most important to us, and the ability to encourage change was within our hands,” she said. “Philanthropy was not an area I thought I would ever be involved in, but this course definitely changed my perspective.”

Following those meetings, each group zeroed in one nonprofit as its chosen beneficiary, and presented a funding proposal for that organization to the other students in the class. A class-wide vote determined how much of the class’s total funds should go to each of the three organizations.

Students are free to consider and debate which criteria are most important to their funding decisions. In the latest iteration of the course, which ended in June, some students prioritized pandemic emergency relief, while others were more concerned with programs’ long-term viability or organizations’ prospects for sustained growth. Most were focused on social justice and equity.

Johnny Perez, a psychology major from Whittier, California, was a member of this year’s class. One of his long-term goals is to open a drug treatment center, and he took the course to better understand how funding decisions are made, which could come in handy when he seeks financial backers for his own nonprofit.

Course discussions helped him realize that all of his classmates had their own perspectives and priorities.

“We all had different views, and one was not necessarily better than the other,” Perez said. “I wanted to listen to other people’s views, to have the ability to want to learn and expand, and learn about other people’s values.”

Michael Lima-Sabatani is a public affairs major from Yorba Linda, California, with an interest in organizational governance. He said the course provided real opportunities to evaluate how his and his classmates’ skill sets could determine who was best equipped to serve certain roles on the team.

“I had done a lot of research on one organization and was passionate about it, but from listening to the other presentations, I knew one particular classmate would be the best advocate and presenter,” he said. “She had the most poise and was the best storyteller. And I took on an editorial position, which I know was a good fit for my writing skills.”

Lima-Sabatini said he also appreciated the opportunity to meet with leaders of the nonprofits he researched. “Gaining the first-hand experience in a setting where you are being supported was super valuable,” he said.

For other students, the course highlighted the importance of diversity in philanthropy.

“Being in this position gave me a lot of insight into philanthropy, and how diversity in board rooms is a hugely important issue,” said Aaron Tann, a communications major from Baldwin Park, California. “Different communities have different needs, perspectives and diverse opinions. We also need that diversity at the highest level of power where money is being distributed.

“A lot of us think we know what a community needs, but the organizations that are hands on with the community have a much better idea about the best use of the money.”

Armed with insights like that, those who completed the 2021 edition of the course have already laid the groundwork for the UCLA students who will take the class after them. Damola Adeyemo, a physiological science major from Rancho Cucamonga, California, shared her thoughts in an open letter that will be shared with students who might enroll in the 2022 class.

“This UCLA class is very different and you will be astonished by how much you will grow in 10 weeks. I do not think I will ever have another class as unique and exciting as this one in my time as an undergraduate.”

Raves from the beneficiaries

“It was a great experience working with the students. They were fully engaged in the project and asked questions to deeper their understanding of the work we do.”
– Charles Evans, executive director, School on Wheels

“It was a pleasure working with the Philanthropy as Civic Engagement class. They were very thoughtful and professional in their approach and inquiry. Their enthusiasm for our work was palpable, which made working with them an absolute delight.”
– Sierra Smith, executive director, Open Paths

“Working with the UCLA Philanthropy as Civic Engagement students was an incredible and emotional experience. Through their interviews and questions, the students were able to construct a cohesive narrative about the work JHFA does that I don’t think would have been possible without their help.”
– Ifunanya Nweke, executive director, Jazz Hands for Autism

This article, written by Elizabeth Kivowitz, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Anne Nguyen.

Graduating senior forged new connections to Vietnamese heritage through UCLA class

A photo of Anne Nguyen.

UCLA senior Anne Nguyen. (Photo Courtesy of Anne Nguyen)

Anne Nguyen started observing the economic and emotional tolls of the pandemic before a lot of others.

Having grown up in a community of mostly Vietnamese immigrants, she knew families who owned nail salons, people who worked as nail techs and also was familiar with some of the health concerns given the exposure to chemicals in that industry. It wasn’t until she came to UCLA in 2017 that she realized the severity of some of the health problems associated with spending hours in a salon.

Then in March 2020, nail salon workers were being laid off even before shutdown orders because of the rapid decline in business after false reports that the virus was spreading in nail salons. Soon after there was the rise in anti-Asian racism.

“The impact on this community feels close to home,” said Nguyen, a soon-to-be UCLA graduate from San Jose, California, who is determined to help the broader immigrant community that raised her.

During her time at UCLA, Nguyen spent four years volunteering with the student-run Vietnamese Community Health organization, or VCH, which operates mostly in Orange County offering screenings for hypertension, blood glucose, cholesterol, as well as women’s health services like mammograms or OB-GYN consultations.

Nguyen and the group have also focused on offering connections to mental health providers who speak Vietnamese. She says the community, especially the elderly members, have historically stigmatized the use of mental health resources, but that these resources are invaluable to refugees and immigrants who are adjusting to a foreign culture and experiences.

“I think that my work with VCH was particularly meaningful to me because it introduced me to community-based medicine,” said Nguyen, who is on track to earn her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a minor in Asian American studies. “I loved the focus that the organization had on educating their patients, as well as treating/screening them. It really helped me establish my service philosophy of giving communities the tools they need to commit to long-term change themselves.”

This past winter quarter, Nguyen’s desire to help Asian immigrants, took a more academic turn. She enrolled in a course put on by the Asian American studies department and the UCLA Center for Community Engagement called “Power to the People: Asian American Studies 140XP.”

The Center for Community Engagement supports community-engaged research, teaching and learning in partnership with communities and organizations throughout Los Angeles and beyond. This particular course was borne out of the hunger strike at San Francisco States University in the 60s, during which students demanded the school offer ethnic studies classes and that the school diversify its faculty and student body. This course, which has been taught at UCLA for seven years exposes students to different Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in greater Los Angeles and creates opportunities to work directly with those organizations.

During the course, Nguyen met with the instructor and her classmates two hours each week to discuss history and theory, and met virtually with community organizers, advocates and members of the nail salon industry through the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. The statewide, grassroots organization addresses health care, environmental factors, reproductive justice, and other social issues faced by low-income, immigrant and refugee women from Vietnam.

Dung Nguyen, program and outreach manager for the collaborative, supervised Anne Nguyen (no relation) and previous UCLA students who interned at the organization. Dung said there is nothing like working directly for an organization to bring social activism to life.

“Our student interns often reflect how civic engagement, advocacy, community organizations and collective power in a text book are very different than seeing this all play out in reality,” Dung Nguyen said.

Nguyen and another student phone banked to raise awareness about two bills in the state legislature — assembly bills 15 and 16, which were intended to protect tenants from being evicted during the pandemic and beyond. The pair created packages of Lunar New Year cards and masks for members of the nail salon collaborative to reinforce social bonds with the group during the isolation of the pandemic. They ran a small fundraiser to support nail salon workers who lost income during the pandemic and couldn’t meet their most basic needs. They also conducted a survey to see which members had been vaccinated, and then helped women get vaccination appointments so they could return to work safely.

“I did not expect to take a class like this when I came to UCLA since I never thought of volunteering/interning as something you can structure into a curriculum,” Nguyen said. “Every organization had a different method of organizing to best fit their communities and this class really reinforced that this was valid. The class gave me a greater appreciation for all the thought that went into the creation and continuation of the nail salon collaborative and all of the other class partners.”

Community organizer and course lecturer Sophia Cheng said that all the community partners tend to see themselves as part of the ethnic studies movement that started in the 1960s.

Cheng, who is the primary liaison for all the organizations, pushes students to go beyond critiquing, analyzing and dissecting situations, instead asking them to come up with real solutions to real issues. She said that she’s not trying to train every student to join the non-profit sector; there aren’t enough jobs in the Asian American nonprofit sector. Instead, Cheng focuses on different ways students can serve their communities in whatever career path they take.

Nguyen’s trajectory continues to be influenced by Cheng’s approach.

“I want to be a doctor, and I am focused on community health,” Nguyen said. “The course taught me to be more cognizant of cultural fit when it comes to health care, and other needs. A lot of Asian American and Pacific Islander patients might not trust or have resources like in typical western health care. The older generation also might not trust the younger generation. I’m using approaches from class to figure out how to approach medicine and how to help people, from the place where they are. I try to figure out what are the needs of the people, how can I serve them, and help them strengthen what they have to improve themselves.”

This article, written by Elizabeth Kivowitz, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of D’Artagnan Scorza filming his address to the UCLA College’s class of 2021.

UCLA College to host virtual commencement celebration June 11

A photo of D’Artagnan Scorza filming his address to the UCLA College’s class of 2021.

D’Artagnan Scorza filming his address to the UCLA College’s class of 2021. (Photo Credit: Mike Baker/UCLA)

Civic leader, social justice advocate and UCLA alumnus D’Artagnan Scorza will deliver the keynote address at the UCLA College’s virtual commencement celebration on Friday, June 11. The program, which begins at 6 p.m. PDT, will also feature remarks by Chancellor Gene Block, Nobel laureate Andrea Ghez, class of 2021 student speakers and others.

A decorated U.S. Navy veteran, Scorza is the inaugural executive director of racial equity for Los Angeles County and president of the UCLA Alumni Association. He is also a lecturer at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

“D’Artagnan Scorza has given back to his fellow Bruins and his fellow Americans in myriad ways since his graduation,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College and dean of humanities. “His incredible life experiences and dedication to social change make him the ideal person to inspire our graduating seniors to aim high and make a difference in the world.”

In 2008, Scorza founded the nonprofit Social Justice Learning Institute and as its executive director over the next 12 years led efforts to open up academic and career opportunities to Black and Latino youth while establishing community gardens, a farmers’ market and healthy lifestyle centers in his hometown of Inglewood, California. His research, policy initiatives and grassroots organizing have had a significant impact on high-need communities throughout California.

“This year’s graduating class deserves so much credit for their achievement and resilience in the face of the pandemic,” Scorza said. “It’s an incredible honor to have been asked to give the commencement address to this remarkable group of Bruins.”

While studying as an undergraduate UCLA, Scorza enlisted in the Navy following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and served for four-and-a-half years, including a deployment to Iraq. He later returned to UCLA, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in the study of religion in 2007 and earned his doctorate in education in 2013. As a UC student regent from 2007 to 2009, he helped pass policies that established veterans’ service centers and prioritized $160 million for student services across UC campuses.

Scorza also served as president of the Inglewood Unified School District Board of Education and chaired a campaign to secure $350 million in school improvement bonds for the district’s schools.

Scorza was invited to be the 2021 commencement speaker after being selected from among wide field of candidates by UCLA’s Commencement Committee, which comprises students, faculty members and administrators.

Along with his UCLA degrees, Scorza holds a bachelor’s in liberal studies from National University in San Diego.

Virtual and in-person commencement ceremonies

In addition to the virtual celebration, UCLA plans to recognize members of the class of 2021 individually and in person at a series of events beginning the weekend of June 11; these events will be held over the course of several days and will adhere to public safety guidelines. For information on the in-person and virtual celebrations, please visit the UCLA College’s commencement website and UCLA’s campus commencement website.

Campus leaders announced in April that while the UCLA College and other units would be hosting commencement ceremonies virtually due to the continued public health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA remains committed to hosting in-person commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2021and 2020 and their families and friends at a later date.

This article, written by Margaret MacDonald, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A photo of Ayad Akhtar

Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar to speak at UCLA’s Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership, May 13

A photo of Ayad Akhtar

Akhtar won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his Tony-nominated play “Disgraced.” (Courtesy of the Tuesday Agency)

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ayad Akhtar will speak at the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership on Thursday, May 13 at 4 p.m. Following his remarks, Akhtar will take part in a conversation with Ali Behdad, UCLA’s John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature.

The online event is free and open to the public.

“This is an exciting opportunity to hear from one of the most creative and brilliant literary minds of our time,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College. “Ayad Akhtar is an outstanding storyteller and an incisive observer of the human experience, and we are honored to have him share his insights with us.”

Akhtar won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his Tony-nominated play “Disgraced.” His other plays include “Junk,” which won the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for American Drama Inspired by American History and was nominated for a Tony, and “The Invisible Hand,” which earned an Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle’s John Gassner Award and Olivier Award.

Akhtar’s latest work is the novel “Homeland Elegies,” which explores the experiences of a Muslim man who, like the author, grew up in Wisconsin as the son of Pakistani immigrants. The Washington Post called it “a tour de force” and The New York Times noted it was “a beautiful novel … that had echoes of ‘The Great Gatsby’ and that circles, with pointed intellect, the possibilities and limitations of American life.”

Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the UCLA School of Law was one of the four UCLA deans who collectively chose to invite Akhtar to speak. She said “Homeland Elegies” was “the single most affecting, inspiring book” she has read during the pandemic.

“It is an extraordinary novel about the complexity of America, a beautiful interweaving of fact and fiction that explores identity, immigration, Islamophobia after 9/11, the process of literary creation and so much more,” Mnookin said. “It’s both a novel of ideas and a page turner.”

Akhtar’s first novel, “American Dervish,” has been published in more than 20 languages.

In 2017, Akhtar received an Arts and Letters Award for literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Steinberg Playwright Award and the Nestroy Theatre Prize. He has received fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, MacDowell, the Sundance Institute and Yaddo, for which he is also a board director. He is president of PEN America, the national nonprofit writers organization, and a board trustee at New York Theatre Workshop.

Visit the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership website to register for the livestream, learn more about the event and submit a question for the speaker.

The Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership was established in 2011 through a generous gift from Meyer and Rene Luskin. Their vision in establishing the lecture series gave UCLA an opportunity to share knowledge and foster dialogue among scholars, leaders in government and business, and the greater Los Angeles community.

This article, written by Margaret MacDonald, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A rendering of the NASA Perseverance rover as it would appear on Mars.

Q&A: David Paige on the Mars Perseverance landing

A rendering of the NASA Perseverance rover as it would appear on Mars.

Rendering of the NASA Perseverance. The rover’s RIMFAX technology will use radar waves to probe the unexplored world that lies beneath the Martian surface. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/FFI)

NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled to land on Mars on Feb. 18 after a six-and-a-half month flight. Over the next two years, it will explore Jezero Crater, which is in Mars’ northern hemisphere, for signs of ancient life and for new clues about the planet’s climate and geology.

Among other tasks, it will collect rock and soil samples in tubes that a later spacecraft will bring back to Earth, and the experiments will lay the groundwork for future human and robotic exploration of Mars.

Perseverance, which is about the size of a car, is outfitted with seven different instruments, including the Radar Imager for Mars‘ Subsurface Experiment, or RIMFAX. RIMFAX will probe beneath the planet’s surface to study its geology in detail, and its deputy principal investigator is David Paige, a UCLA professor of planetary science.

In an email interview with UCLA Newsroom, Paige discussed his hopes for the mission. Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why do you want to study Jezero Crater’s geologic history?

Jezero Crater is a very interesting location on Mars because it looks like there was once a lake inside the crater, and that a river flowed into the lake and deposited sediments in a delta. We plan to land near the delta and then explore it to learn more about Mars’ climate history, and maybe something about ancient Martian life. What we’ll be able to see once we start roving and what we will actually learn is anybody’s guess.

RIMFAX will provide a highly detailed view of subsurface structures and help find clues to past environments on Mars, including those that may have provided the conditions necessary for supporting life.

A photo of David Paige.

David Paige (Courtesy of David Paige)

What are you hoping to discover?

Well, the first thing to know about RIMFAX is that it’s an experiment. We’ve never tried using a ground-penetrating radar on Mars before, so we can’t really predict what types of subsurface structures we might be able to see.

But we have done some fairly extensive field testing of RIMFAX on Earth to learn how to use it and how to interpret the data. Here, ground-penetrating radars can be very useful for clarifying subsurface geology, but with any kind of imaging system, the science of ground-penetrating radar comes from the interpretation of the images, and interpretation relies on context.

Frankly, if we are able to usefully interpret anything we see in the RIMFAX data, the experiment will be a success. Any discoveries we make beyond that will be icing on the cake.

Are you hopeful of finding water, or evidence of water, beneath the planet’s surface?

There are all kinds of evidence for past liquid water all over Mars. At Jezero, there must have been a lot of water at some point, but we don’t expect that the ground beneath the rover will still be wet.

Mars today is a very cold place, and any water in the shallow subsurface should be frozen at Jezero. What we’re interested in finding are geologic features that wouldn’t be expected to form under present climatic conditions, as those would be especially interesting targets to search for signs of past life.

However, searching for past life on Mars may be very difficult, and we should not expect instant success. After all, we know the Earth was literally crawling with life, but definitive evidence for past life on Earth, especially ancient life, is very rare.

What is your role in the research? 

My role is to help plan the observations and analyze the results. Since the rover will be working on Mars time, in which the days are 24.5 hours long, responsibility for the operation of RIMFAX will pingpong between Norway and UCLA every two weeks. Having operations centers on two continents will make it easier to keep up with the mission and stay on a reasonably normal schedule.

In fact, RIMFAX was designed, paid for and built by our colleagues in Norway. I teamed up with my colleague, Svein-Erik Hamran of the University of Oslo, to propose the instrument to NASA, and it has been a rewarding experience to work with the international RIMFAX team.

Are UCLA students involved?

Yes. Mark Nasielski, a UCLA graduate student in electrical engineering, is part of our operations team. And Max Parks and Tyler Powell, graduate students in Earth, planetary and space sciences, are part of our science team.

This article, written by Stuart Wolpert, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A photo of Ida B. Well.

Five Black suffragists who were critical to the long battle for the vote

A photo of Ida B. Well.

In her latest book, “Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote,” UCLA professor emerita Ellen DuBois traces the three-generation struggle that led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920.

The battle for women’s suffrage was intertwined with America’s confrontation with slavery and its enduring effects of structural racism and inequity. As DuBois traces the sustained movement, she also shines a light on suffragists who fought for the enfranchisement of all Black citizens, and who often found their cause diminished — or themselves dismissed — by white women leading the suffragist charge.

Today is Women’s Equality Day, which marks the date the 19th Amendment was certified by the Secretary of State. In honor of the 100th anniversary of that milestone, we celebrate five African American women highlighted in DuBois’ book — each of whom played a critical role in the fight for women’s suffrage. They are listed here in order of their birth years.

Sojourner Truth

A photo of Sojourner Truth .

Sojourner Truth (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Truth (1797-1893) was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist best known for her speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a Woman?” delivered at the 1851 Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. In it, she challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inferiority and inequality by reminding listeners of her combined strength and her gender.

She devoted her life to the abolitionist movement and sponsored several other causes, including prison reform, property rights and universal suffrage.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

A photo of Mary Ann Shadd Cary.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary (Photo Credit: National Archives of Canada/National Park Service)

Cary (1823–1893) was an activist, writer, teacher and lawyer, and the first female African-American newspaper editor in North America. Her family participated in the Underground Railroad until the passage of Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, causing them to move to Canada.

In 1853, she created “The Provincial Freemen,” Canada’s first anti-slavery newspaper. She was a member of the National Woman Suffrage Association and spoke at the NWSA’s 1878 convention. Cary also advocated for the 14th and 15th Amendments at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, publicly taking offense that the writing of the amendments was not gender neutral.

► Read an interview with DuBois about her latest book

Frances Watkins Harper

A photo of Frances Watkins Harper.

Frances Watkins Harper (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Harper (1825-1911) was a poet and orator who advocated for abolition and education through speeches and publications. She published several poetry collections and the publication in 1859 of “Two Offers” made her the first African-American woman to publish a short story.

She was a member of the American Equal Suffrage Association and later formed the American Woman Suffrage Association with Frederick Douglass and other reformers.

Ida B. Wells

Wells (1862–1931) was a journalist, abolitionist and feminist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the 1890s. She openly confronted white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching, causing her to be ostracized by some women’s suffrage organizations. Wells brought her campaign to the White House in 1898, calling for President William McKinley to make reforms.

With Frances Watkins Harper, Mary Church Terrell and Harriet Tubman, she cofounded the National Association of Colored Women (later the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs), which was created to address civil rights and women’s suffrage issues.

Mary Church Terrell

A photo of Mary Church Terrell.

Mary Church Terrell (Photo Credit: Wikimedia)Commons

Terrell (1864-1954), one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, is best known as a national activist for civil rights and suffrage. After graduating from Oberlin College, Terrell became part of a rising Black middle and upper class who fought racial discrimination.

Terrell joined Ida B. Wells in anti-lynching campaigns, but her life’s work focused on the idea of racial uplift, the belief that Black people would help end racial discrimination by advancing themselves and other members of the race through education, work and community activism. She was a cofounder and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Image of Kabuki actor performing

UCLA receives $25 million from Uniqlo founder for Japanese literature and culture studies

Image of Kabuki actor performing

Renowned Kabuki actor Nakamura Kyozo performing the role of a lion in “Shujaku jishi” at the Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater in an event for students co-sponsored by the Yanai Initiative and the Japanese Ministry of Culture (November 14, 2019). (Credit: Ning Wong Studios)

UCLA has received a $25 million gift from Tadashi Yanai, the chair, president and CEO of Japan-based Fast Retailing and founder of clothing company Uniqlo. The funds will endow the Tadashi Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities, which will bolster UCLA’s status as a leading center for the study of Japanese literature, language and culture.

The gift is the largest from an individual donor in the history of the UCLA College’s humanities division. A previous donation of $2.5 million from Yanai in 2014 created the Yanai Initiative, a collaboration between UCLA and Waseda University, one of Japan’s most prestigious universities. The program supports academic and cultural programming and enables student and faculty exchanges between the two universities. This latest gift will ensure the initiative’s long-term future.

“Mr. Yanai’s extraordinary gifts are a testament to UCLA’s long-standing commitment to educate global citizens who can thrive in careers — and cultures — anywhere in the world,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “The Tadashi Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities will have a profound and lasting impact on this campus.”

Photo of Tadashi Yanai

UCLA has received a $25 million gift from Tadashi Yanai, the chair, president and CEO of Japan-based Fast Retailing and founder of clothing company Uniqlo. (Credit: Fast Retailing Co., Ltd.)

The Yanai Initiative is housed in the UCLA College department of Asian languages and cultures and directed by Professor Michael Emmerich. The latest gift will fund and establish an endowed chair in Japanese literature and will fund conferences, public lectures, faculty research, cultural performances and community outreach. It will support graduate and postdoctoral fellowships and undergraduate awards.

“It has been inspiring to see all of the creative, innovative programming — both academic and cultural — that this project has realized over the past five years,” Yanai said. “Now that we are making it permanent, I’m excited to see how it will continue to transform the Japanese humanities in a global context. At the same time, I hope this gift will give others a chance to remember how crucial the humanities are, and, in their own way, to recommit.”

The gift also triggers matching funds from the Humanities Centennial Match and the UCLA Centennial Scholars Match to support UCLA graduate students in Japanese humanities and other areas of study.

“Mr. Yanai’s gift is a visionary investment in a field of increasing interest to humanities scholars, students and people everywhere,” said David Schaberg, UCLA’s dean of humanities. “Thanks to his generosity, UCLA will lead the way in research and teaching in Japanese humanities, bringing new attention to a rich culture that has captured people’s imaginations for centuries.”

Schaberg said another benefit of the gift is that it will deepen UCLA’s partnership with Waseda.

In addition to funding fellowships, symposia, lectures and academic workshops, Yanai’s previous donation supported a range of cultural programs, including a five-day series of events featuring actor Nomura Mansaku, who was designated a “living national treasure” by the Japanese government; a retrospective of films by Palme d’Or recipient Hirokazu Kore-eda; and “The Art of the Benshi,” which introduced Los Angeles audiences to the early 20th century performance art in which narrators bring silent movies to life with live music accompaniment.

“During the past five years, Mr. Yanai’s generosity has enabled us to do so much for students and for the Japanese humanities not just at UCLA, but across the country and around the world,” Emmerich said. “We’ve been able to organize major cultural events across Los Angeles, drawing thousands of participants. I never imagined I would be able to say that all this was only the beginning. I can’t express how grateful we all are to Mr. Yanai for his generosity, his incisive advice and his commitment.”

The gift was facilitated through a designated donations program run by the Japan Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting cultural and intellectual exchange with Japan. Over the past three decades, the foundation has helped advance and fund numerous cultural programs at UCLA.

View this release in Japanese

UCLA Opens World’s 1st Institute To Study Kindness

UCLA receives $20 million to establish UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute

Jennifer and Matthew C. Harris ‘84.

The Bedari Foundation, established by philanthropists Jennifer and Matthew C. Harris, has given $20 million to the UCLA College to establish the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute.

The institute, which is housed in the division of social sciences, will support world-class research on kindness, create opportunities to translate that research into real-world practices, and serve as a global platform to educate and communicate its findings. Among its principal goals are to empower citizens and inspire leaders to build more humane societies.

“Universities should always be places where we teach students to reach across lines of difference and treat one another with empathy and respect — even when we deeply disagree,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute will bring the best thinking to this vital issue and, I think, will allow us to have a real social impact on future generations.”

The institute, which will begin operating immediately, will take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding kindness — through evolutionary, biological, psychological, economic, cultural and sociological perspectives. It will focus on research about the actions, thoughts, feelings and social institutions associated with kindness and will bring together researchers from across numerous disciplines at UCLA and at external organizations.

The inaugural director of the institute is Daniel Fessler, a UCLA anthropology professor whose research interests include exploring how witnessing acts of remarkable kindness can cause an uplifting emotional experience that in turn motivates the observer to be kind. Studies by Fessler and his colleagues have shed light on why some people are open to that type of “contagious kindness” experience.

The Bedari Foundation is a private family foundation whose aim is to enable significant cultural shifts in the fields of health and wellness, community displacement and environmental conservation.

“Our vision is that we will all live in a world where humanity discovers and practices the kindness that exists in all of us,” said Matthew Harris, the foundation’s co-founder and a 1984 UCLA graduate. “Much research is needed to understand why kindness can be so scarce in the modern world. As we seek at Bedari to bridge the divide between science and spirituality, through the establishment of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute we hope to educate and empower more and more people in the practice of kindness.”

Already, a range of researchers at UCLA are studying the types of questions that will be the basis of the institute’s work. For example, UCLA anthropologists are examining how kindness spreads from person to person and group to group. UCLA sociologists are analyzing how people who regularly act unkind might be encouraged to engage in kind acts instead, and UCLA psychologists are researching how kindness can improve people’s moods and reduce symptoms of depression. Others are pursuing research on changes in neurobiology and behaviors resulting from mindfulness, and how those changes can influence kindness and people’s mental, physical and social well-being.

“In the midst of current world politics, violence and strife, the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute seeks to be an antidote,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA division of social sciences. “Rooted in serious academic work, the institute will partner and share its research on kindness broadly in accessible formats. The Bedari Foundation’s extraordinary gift is truly visionary and we are grateful for its support and leadership.”

The Kindness Institute will provide seed funding for research projects that examine the social and physical mechanics of kindness and how kindness might be harnessed to create more humane societies. It also will provide mindfulness awareness training to students, faculty and staff and in underserved Los Angeles communities, and host an annual conference at which presenters will examine new discoveries in kindness research, among other activities.

“The mission of the Kindness Institute perfectly aligns with that of the division of social sciences, where engaging the amazing diversity and social challenges shaping Los Angeles routinely inspires research that has the potential to change the world,” Hunt said.

The gift is part of the Centennial Campaign for UCLA, which is scheduled to conclude in December.

Study shows how serotonin and a popular anti-depressant affect the gut’s microbiota

Senior author Elaine Hsiao says researchers hope to build on their current study to learn whether microbial interactions with antidepressants have consequences for health and disease. Photo: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

A new study in mice led by UCLA biologists strongly suggests that serotonin and drugs that target serotonin, such as anti-depressants, can have a major effect on the gut’s microbiota — the 100 trillion or so bacteria and other microbes that live in the human body’s intestines.

Serotonin — a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger that sends messages among cells — serves many functions in the human body, including playing a role in emotions and happiness. An estimated 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, where it influences gut immunity.

The team — led by senior author Elaine Hsiao and lead author Thomas Fung, a postdoctoral fellow — identified a specific gut bacterium that can detect and transport serotonin into bacterial cells. When mice were given the antidepressant fluoxetine, or Prozac, the biologists found this reduced the transport of serotonin into their cells. This bacterium, about which little is known, is called Turicibacter sanguinis. The study is published this week in the journal Nature Microbiology.

“Our previous work showed that particular gut bacteria help the gut produce serotonin. In this study, we were interested in finding out why they might do so,” said Hsiao, UCLA assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology, and of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics in the UCLA College; and of digestive diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Hsiao and her research group reported in the journal Cell in 2015 that in mice, a specific mixture of bacteria, consisting mainly of Turicibacter sanguinis and Clostridia, produces molecules that signal to gut cells to increase production of serotonin. When Hsiao’s team raised mice without the bacteria, more than 50% of their gut serotonin was missing. The researchers then added the bacteria mixture of mainly Turicibacter and Clostridia, and their serotonin increased to a normal level.

That study got the team wondering why bacteria signal to our gut cells to make serotonin. Do microbes use serotonin, and if so, for what?

In this new study, the researchers added serotonin to the drinking water of some mice and raised others with a mutation (created by altering a specific serotonin transporter gene) that increased the levels of serotonin in their guts. After studying the microbiota of the mice, the researchers discovered that the bacteria Turicibacter and Clostridia increased significantly when there was more serotonin in the gut.

If these bacteria increase in the presence of serotonin, perhaps they have some cellular machinery to detect serotonin, the researchers speculated. Together with study co-author Lucy Forrest and her team at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the researchers found a protein in multiple species of Turicibacter that has some structural similarity to a protein that transports serotonin in mammals. When they grew Turicibacter sanguinis in the lab, they found that the bacterium imports serotonin into the cell.

In another experiment, the researchers added the antidepressant fluoxetine, which normally blocks the mammalian serotonin transporter, to a tube containing Turicibacter sanguinisThey found the bacterium transported significantly less serotonin.

The team found that exposing Turicibacter sanguinis to serotonin or fluoxetine influenced how well the bacterium could thrive in the gastrointestinal tract. In the presence of serotonin, the bacterium grew to high levels in mice, but when exposed to fluoxetine, the bacterium grew to only low levels in mice.

“Previous studies from our lab and others showed that specific bacteria promote serotonin levels in the gut,” Fung said. “Our new study tells us that certain gut bacteria can respond to serotonin and drugs that influence serotonin, like anti-depressants. This is a unique form of communication between bacteria and our own cells through molecules traditionally recognized as neurotransmitters.”

The team’s research on Turicibacter aligns with a growing number of studies reporting that anti-depressants can alter the gut microbiota. “For the future,” Hsiao said, “we want to learn whether microbial interactions with antidepressants have consequences for health and disease.” Hsiao wrote a blog post for the journal about the new research.

Other study co-authors are Helen Vuong, Geoffrey Pronovost, Cristopher Luna, Anastasia Vavilina, Julianne McGinn and Tomiko Rendon, all of UCLA; and Antoniya Aleksandrova and Noah Riley, members of Forrest’s team.

The research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health’s Director’s Early Independence Award, Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award, and David & Lucile Packard Foundation’s Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.