He’s coaching the next generation of skilled social scientists
© Stephanie Yantz
By Jonathan Riggs
UCLA Professor Efrén Pérez made a surprising New Year’s resolution: learn the accordion. Surprising because, well, accordion, but also because his previous musical history was limited to a teenage attempt to master the alto sax that traumatized his loved ones’ ears.
It makes sense that Pérez, a professor of political science and of psychology, has a unique hobby — he’s carved out a unique career bridging two fields. As a political psychologist, his research explores how demographic changes are unleashing new political forces in the nation.
“Having a joint appointment in two such strong departments is intellectually exhilarating,” Pérez says. “As our country continues toward minority-majority status, we need to better understand what these trends imply. I believe that our UCLA undergraduates are uniquely positioned to provide some of the answers.”
A native Angeleno, Pérez worked in local politics before earning his Ph.D. in political science from Duke University. After spending 10 years as a professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, he joined UCLA. Growing up, he’d never set foot on the campus, believing it was out of reach, so he began his tenure here with a mission.
“Someone with my profile is not the pony you’re going to bet on to make it through a grueling doctoral program,” he says. “The fact that I did was strongly related to the mentoring I received. I learned firsthand if you want to see real change in academia, active support and mentorship of folks who come from nontraditional backgrounds are crucial.”
And so Pérez was inspired to found the Race, Ethnicity, Politics & Society Lab. Its mission is twofold: to further his systematic research into the effects of demographic diversity on U.S. society as well as to offer a training ground and pipeline for gifted undergraduate and graduate students from nontraditional backgrounds to gain the footing they need to pursue academic careers in the social sciences.
“There are plenty of directions I could be taking my career in, but empowering students is so gratifying. It feeds into what the UC system prides itself on: generating future leaders and upward mobility,” he says. “And if we want to keep California’s reputation as a paragon of innovation, we need to be investing more in the skill set that our undergraduates take with them once they leave our campus.”
It all comes back to that accordion (as everything should). Pérez was able to succeed where he once failed because he thoughtfully took the time not only to see the instrument’s potential but also to do the work to master it.
“When it comes to the art of making music or growing talent, it’s a long process,” Pérez says. “But it pays off.”
By Jonathan Riggs | June 6, 2022
Over a fresh farm-to-table meal courtesy of Lulu restaurant’s David Tanis and Alice Waters and the soundtrack of a UCLA student jazz group, members of the Bruin family gathered Monday, April 18 at the Hammer Museum to celebrate the launch of the UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies.
“Food is one of humanity’s few universally shared experiences, but questions about how to feed the world are some of the most complex and pressing issues of our time,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “These essential questions will be tackled by the Institute’s scholars and partners, who will take a holistic approach to understanding all there is to know about food and its impact on society.”
Guest of honor Marcie H. Rothman traced the night’s celebration all the way back to her parents, Ray and Shirley, who inspired her and her sister, Rita — all proud Bruins — to view the world with curiosity and to appreciate UCLA for the vast knowledge, impact and community spirit that epitomize its community.
When her own journey as a successful television chef and lifelong learner dovetailed with the opportunity to solidify UCLA’s global leadership in the food studies arena, Rothman was proud to help the Institute take permanent shape.
“Food connects and sustains, and the Institute will represent all of that and more for current and future students and faculty,” she said. “Tonight would have been my dad’s hundredth birthday, and I know both my parents would have considered news of the Institute the greatest gift they could have asked for.”
Dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education Adriana Galván took the opportunity to thank her predecessors, Judi Smith and Pat Turner, for paving the way for the division’s first institute and reflected on why this is such a transformational step for UCLA.
“It is clear to see that the building blocks of the Institute are as dynamic as they are interdisciplinary, and that’s what makes it so special,” she said. “The UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies will house UCLA’s popular Food Studies minor; provide ongoing funding for research, curriculum and library resources; and will bring together faculty, staff, students, chefs and members of the community.”
Galván went on to discuss how the global-leading work of the Institute will use food as a lens to guide and inform public policy while addressing wide-ranging issues, including food insecurity, climate change and advancing innovations in food systems, that impact us all.
“By providing a means and the resources to explore these concepts, our students will have an unparalleled collaborative opportunity and the experience of a lifetime to enact true change,” she added. “They will get to see how their work in the classroom translates to work in the real world.”
Renowned for pioneering the use of cooking as a medium to engage students and general audiences with science, biophysicist Amy Rowat shared her excitement for the new Institute, as well as her gratitude for being named UCLA’s inaugural Marcie H. Rothman Professor of Food Studies.
“I’m both thrilled and extremely grateful that the Marcie H. Rothman Presidential Chair will support my students’ food-based research to realize our vision of a world where we can produce delicious, nutritious foods to sustainably feed all,” Rowat said. “I’m also excited to expand my education research, using food to engage students in tackling complex societal challenges through interdisciplinary approaches.”
Rowat shared details from a new class she’s developing for the Institute’s Chef in Residence program, which includes studying historical narratives of enslaved Black chefs, learning about diffusion equations by marinating tofu, and exploring how soil pollutants can contribute to systemic health inequities.
“Food is truly such a powerful medium to engage students to become critical thinkers and advocates who will address pressing societal issues,” she said. “The Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies is a beacon of hope and innovation that will fortify this interdisciplinary food-focused approach to solve the challenges of our next generation.”
Famed KCRW “Good Food” host and restaurateur Evan Kleiman also spoke, describing how her life and career have been driven by curiosity focused through food, and how it can bring us into a better understanding of our humanity.
“My extreme focus on food made me kind of an outlier — it’s still hard to convince some people that food is worthy of serious academic study,” she said. “Recently, I asked Yale’s Paul Freedman why he thought that food was so often dismissed as an area of serious study. He replied that ‘materiality, necessity and repetition contribute to the apparent banality of food.’ I would say that this apparent banality is precisely why food is such a powerful holder of identity and culture.”
“The Institute has an exceptional opportunity to become a focus for deep interdisciplinary discussions of culture, community and how our decisions affect personal and planetary health,” Kleiman added. “Our health and wellbeing are linked to worldwide decisions about food production resources, and these decisions have consequences and costs regarding human health, poverty, justice and the natural world.”
As the evening drew to a close, Marcie H. Rothman led a toast honoring Alice Waters for being such a visionary UCLA collaborator while celebrating a bright future of many more efforts to come.
“I can think of nothing more important than connecting education and food,” said Waters. “The Rothman Family Institute has the potential to teach students the values we desperately need in order to live together on this planet: stewardship of the land, equity, community and nourishment. This edible education institute will be a prototype for schools in this country and around the world.”
Guests lingered over their dinners under the party lights in the trees, visibly inspired by discussions of the UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies and its limitless potential.
“Thank you for joining us to launch an institute that will not only challenge the way we look at our plates, but will also reframe how we see our neighborhood stores, farms, supply chains, restaurants, and more,” Chancellor Block concluded. “This is a spectacular specialty that will really define UCLA and bring about important change.”
Daniel Treisman, a professor of political science at the UCLA College, has been named a 2022 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. He joins 27 other fellows across the nation who will each receive a $200,000 stipend to support their social sciences and humanities work.
Founded in 2015, the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program has provided a philanthropic endowment of $48.8 million to 244 fellows. The program selection criteria includes originality of the research, its potential impact on the field and the scholar’s plans for reaching a broad audience with the findings. This year’s research proposals addressed U.S. democracy, the environment, polarization and inequality, technological and cultural evolution, international relations and other subjects.
“I’m honored to be part of this amazing cohort of scholars,” Treisman said. “The fellowship will help me explore how the particular historical paths different countries took to democracy explain their current weaknesses and sources of resilience.”
Treisman’s research interests focus on Russian politics and economics, as well as analyzing the rise and fall of autocracy, democracy and corruption within the context of comparative politics. He has authored multiple books in his fields of interest, including “The Return: Russia’s Journey From Gorbachev to Medvedev,” which was named one of the Financial Times’ best political books of 2011, and “Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21st Century,” which he co-authored with Sergei Guriev.
The stipend will aid Treisman with his project, “Diagnosing Democratic Frailty: What the History of Free Government Reveals About Today’s Vulnerabilities.” He aims to understand the political and historical processes through which today’s threats to democracies emerged, with the goal of finding solutions to counter these risks and bolster democracies.
Treisman has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, and a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He was a former interim lead editor of the American Political Science Review and is currently a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Since 2014, Treisman has been director of the Russia Political Insight Project, which investigates political decision-making in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Editor’s note: Congratulations to the 11 UCLA faculty members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, including eight professors from the College of Letters and Science: John Agnew, Walter Allen, Wilfrid Gangbo, Haruzo Hida, Peter Narins, Brad Shaffer, Blaire Van Valkenburgh and Min Zhou.
Stuart Wolpert | April 28, 2022
Eleven UCLA faculty members were elected today to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies. A total of 261 artists, scholars, scientists and leaders in the public, nonprofit and private sectors were elected, including honorary members from 16 countries.
UCLA had the second most honorees among colleges and universities, preceded only by Harvard. Stanford was third, UC Berkeley fourth, and MIT and Yale tied for fifth.
In February, UCLA was No. 1 in the number of professors selected for 2022 Sloan Research Fellowships, an honor widely seen as evidence of the quality of an institution’s science, math and economics faculty.
UCLA’s 2022 American Academy of Arts and Sciences honorees are:
Distinguished professor of geography
Agnew’s research focuses on political geography, international political economy, European urbanization and modern Italy. Among his many awards is the 2019 Vautrin Lud Prize, one of the highest honors in the field of geography. In 2017, Agnew was selected to deliver UCLA’s Faculty Research Lecture.
Distinguished professor of education, sociology and African American studies
Allen, UCLA’s Allan Murray Cartter Professor of Higher Education, is the director of UCLA’s Capacity Building Center and the UCLA Choices Project. His expertise includes the comparative study of race, ethnicity and inequality; diversity in higher education; family studies; and the status of Black males in American society.
Research professor of education
Gandara is co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA and chair of the working group on education for the UC–Mexico Initiative. Her publications include the 2021 books “Schools Under Siege: Immigration Enforcement and Educational Equity” and “The Students We Share: Preparing U.S. and Mexican Teachers for Our Transnational Future.”
Professor of mathematics
Gangbo’s expertise includes the calculus of variations, nonlinear analysis, partial differential equations and fluid mechanics. He is the founder of EcoAfrica, an association of scientists involved in projects in support of African countries, and is one of the UC and Stanford University faculty members who launched the David Harold Blackwell Summer Research Institute.
Distinguished research professor of mathematics
Hida is an expert on number theory and modular forms. A highly honored mathematician, he has spoken about his research at numerous international conferences and was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1991 and the Leroy P. Steele Prize for Seminal Contribution to Research from the American Mathematical Society in 2019.
Distinguished professor of human genetics and biological chemistry
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Kruglyak is UCLA’s Diller-von Furstenberg Professor of Human Genetics, chair of the department of human genetics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He studies the complex genetic basis of heritable traits, which involves many genes that interact with one another and the environment, and his laboratory conducts experiments using computational analysis and model organisms. He has been the recipient of many awards, including the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Innovation Award in Functional Genomics, the Curt Stern Award from the American Society of Human Genetics and the Edward Novitski Prize from the Genetics Society of America.
Distinguished research professor of integrative biology and physiology, and of ecology and evolutionary biology
Narins’ research focuses on how animals extract relevant sounds from the often noisy environments in which they live. His numerous honors and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Acoustical Society of America’s 2021 silver medal in animal bioacoustics and election to four scientific societies: the Acoustical Society of America, the Animal Behavior Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Society for Neuroethology.
Distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology
Shaffer, the director of the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science, is an expert on evolutionary biology, ecology and the conservation biology of amphibians and reptiles. His recent work has focused on conservation genomics of endangered and ecologically important plants and animals of California, global conservation of freshwater turtles and tortoises, and the application of genomics to the protection of endangered California amphibians and reptiles.
Blaire Van Valkenburgh
Distinguished research professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology
Van Valkenburgh, UCLA’s Donald R. Dickey Professor of Vertebrate Biology, focuses on the biology and paleontology of carnivorous mammals such as hyenas, wolves, lions and sabertooth cats. She is a leading expert on the evolutionary biology of large carnivores, past and present, and analyzes the fossil record of carnivores from both ecological and evolutionary perspectives.
Professor of computer science
UCLA Samueli School of Engineering
Varghese, UCLA’s Jonathan B. Postel Professor of Networking, devoted the first part of his career to making the internet faster — a field he calls network algorithmics — for which he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2017, the National Academy of Inventors in 2020 and the Internet Hall of Fame in 2021. He is now working to jump-start an area he calls network design automation to provide a set of tools for operating and debugging networks.
Distinguished professor of sociology and Asian American studies
Zhou, UCLA’s Walter and Shirley Wang Professor of U.S.–China Relations and Communications, is director of UCLA’s Asia Pacific Center. Her research interests include migration and development, Chinese diasporas, race and ethnicity, and urban sociology.
“These individuals excel in ways that excite us and inspire us at a time when recognizing excellence, commending expertise and working toward the common good is absolutely essential to realizing a better future,” David Oxtoby, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, said of this year’s honorees.
“Membership is an honor, and also an opportunity to shape ideas and influence policy in areas as diverse as the arts, democracy, education, global affairs and science,” said Nancy C. Andrews, chair of the academy’s board of directors.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals. Previous fellows have included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and UCLA astrophysicist Andrea Ghez.
The academy also serves an independent policy research center engaged in studies of complex and emerging problems. Its current membership represents some of today’s most innovative thinkers across a variety of fields and professions and includes more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners.
Ask Angela Deaver Campbell how she envisioned the work of the UCLA Scholarship Resource Center, which she launched in 1996, and you’ll get a fairly understated answer: “I saw us as ambassadors of goodwill helping students to graduate with less debt.”
Ask any of the hundreds of students she and her team have helped over the past 25 years, however, and their responses speak to the center’s profound impact.
“I absolutely would not be where I am today without Angela’s and the SRC’s support,” said Aleksandr Katsnelson, a 2009 graduate who went on to earn a law degree from Harvard University. “Angela wore many hats during our interactions: role model, emotional support provider and hero.”
Helping students compete for and win scholarships is the most visible aspect of their mission, but the resource center’s staff also brings a compassionate, high-touch approach to aiding students in other critical ways, including presentation skills, goal-setting and navigating complicated institutional structures.
Constantly evolving with the times, the center proved a beacon for students whose financial situations became unpredictable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was really lost as to how to navigate my financial situation, and the SRC addressed all of my questions and concerns,” said Alice Yanovsky, a 2021 graduate who, with guidance from the center, earned a Mandel and Winick Undergraduate Scholarship. “They helped me pay for my last year of school during the peak of the pandemic, which was a really scary time.”
The center’s legacy keeps growing thanks to Deaver Campbell, who still serves as director, and assistant director Rebecca Blustein, student affairs officer Mac Harris and a group of graduate students who act as student affairs advisors. And while its scope has expanded, the center’s core mission remains unchanged: to provide scholarship information, resources, mentoring and support to all UCLA students.
“Most colleges and universities do not have a center like this — we were way ahead of the curve in 1996 in reimagining the 20th century model of having students sink or swim on their own in the private scholarship process,” Deaver Campbell said. “The SRC is unique in that we provide students with high-touch, holistic service and counseling, regardless of their financial aid eligibility.”
The center’s emphasis on treating students as unique individuals, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach, hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Starting from day one, I knew that I could go to Angela and her team with questions about my scholarship, academics or even job searches,” said Max Harrell, a 2021 graduate whose education was supported by a Thelma L. Culverson Scholarship, which covers California resident tuition and room and board. “The fact that everyone at the SRC knows your name, your goals on campus and even what classes you’re taking, demonstrates how much they want you to succeed.”
When the center opened in 1996, its sole focus was to help students locate and apply for scholarships from off-campus sources. But in 1998, staff began working with development officers at the UCLA College to support students applying for 18 private donor-funded scholarships. Today, the number of scholarships overseen by the resource center has grown to around 100; and of the approximately $5 million in donor-funded scholarships overseen by UCLA’s Division of Undergraduate Education, the center administers about half.
Key to the center’s success are the UCLA graduate students who provide writing and counseling support, and run workshops on how to secure scholarships. Over the years, more than 50 graduate students have served in that role, and many have gone on to use their skills in faculty, administrative and student support positions at other institutions — at East Los Angeles College, the University of Chicago, Brown University and the University of Oregon, to name a few.
One of the center’s current priorities is empowering more students to vie for the world’s most competitive scholarships — including the Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Truman and Churchill — while coordinating the campus process for them. Leading that charge is Blustein, the assistant director, who can draw on her experience not only as a former student affairs advisor, but also as a past winner of a Mitchell scholarship.
Herman Luis Chavez, who expects to graduate from UCLA in June, is just one of the students benefiting from that approach. “Dr. Blustein was there for me every step of the way, from editing my application essays to providing mock interviews,” said Chavez, who received support from the center on his way to winning a Marshall scholarship and becoming a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship.
But beyond its ability to help students win scholarships, Blustein said, the center aims to empower all students who walk through its doors, no matter where they go or what they do after UCLA.
“The process of applying for scholarships — win or lose — was crucial to help me visualize my career goals and instrumental to prepare me for where I am today,” said Nathan Mallipeddi, a 2020 graduate who earned both Strauss and Fulbright scholarships and is now a first-year medical student at Harvard.
As the center begins its second quarter-century, Deaver Campbell has identified another important goal: securing independent support to help ensure it can continue to thrive regardless of statewide budget cuts.
“We would love for a donor to make the SRC’s funding permanent, so that no economic downturn could ever affect our ability to help change lives,” Deaver Campbell said. “Every year, more students and families come to us for solutions. Our work is too important to be vulnerable.”
Many students who have been helped by the Scholarship Resource Center have learned to appreciate the importance of philanthropy and some, like Darnel Grant, hope to become future donors themselves.
“The SRC provided me with constant support and encouragement throughout my undergraduate journey. They made me feel I was not going through my educational process alone,” said Grant, a recipient of the Eugene and Maxine Rosenfeld Scholarship who expects to graduate in June. “Now, my life’s goal is to help others to the same degree that the SRC helped me.”
What if you were told there was a completely natural way to stop your body from aging? The trick: You’d have to hibernate from September to May each year.
That’s what a team of UCLA biologists and colleagues studying yellow-bellied marmots discovered. These large ground squirrels are able to virtually halt the aging process during the seven to eight months they spend hibernating in their underground burrows, the researchers report today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
The study, the first to analyze the rate of aging among marmots in the wild, shows that this anti-aging phenomenon kicks in once the animals reach 2 years old, their age of sexual maturity.
The researchers studied marmot blood samples collected over multiple summer seasons in Colorado, when the animals are active above ground, to build statistical models that allowed them to estimate what occurred during hibernation. They assessed the biological aging of the marmots based on what are known as epigenetic changes — hundreds of chemical modifications that occur to their DNA.
“Our results from different statistical approaches reveal that epigenetic aging essentially stalls during hibernation,” said lead author Gabriela Pinho, who conducted the study as a UCLA doctoral student advised by Daniel Blumstein and Robert Wayne, professors of ecology and evolutionary biology. “We found that the epigenetic age of marmots increases during the active season, stops during hibernation and continues to increase in the next active season.”
This process, the researchers said, helps explain why the average life span of a yellow-bellied marmot is longer than would be expected from its body weight.
Hibernation, an evolutionary adaptation that allows animals to survive in harsh seasonal environments where there is no food and temperatures are very low, is common among smaller mammals, like marmots, native to the mountainous western regions of the U.S. and Canada.
The marmots’ hibernation alternates between periods of metabolic suppression that last a week or two and shorter periods of increased metabolism, which generally last less than a day. During metabolic suppression, their breathing slows and their body temperature drops dramatically, to the point that “they feel like fuzzy, cold rocks,” Blumstein said.
In addition, they use a miniscule amount of energy, burning about a single gram of fat a day. “That’s essentially nothing for a 5,000-to-6,000–gram (11–13 lbs.) animal,” Pinho noted. This allows them to save energy and survive long periods without food.
During their active summer season, marmots eat a lot, doubling their weight so that they have sufficient fat to survive the next hibernation period.
All of these hibernation-related conditions — diminished food consumption, low body temperature and reduced metabolism — are known to counter the aging process and promote longevity, the researchers said. This delayed aging is likely to occur in other mammals that hibernate, they said, because the molecular and physiological changes are similar.
“This study is the closest scientists have gotten to showing that biological processes involved in hibernation are important contributors to their longer-than-expected life span based on their body weight,” said Pinho, now a researcher with the nonprofit Institute of Ecological Research’s Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative in Brazil.
“The fact that we are able to detect this reduced aging during hibernation in a wild population means the effect of hibernation on slowing aging is really strong,” said Blumstein, a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and a senior author of the study. “This study was possible only because we had access to blood samples from free-living animals whose ages are known. Not many wild populations have detailed information about individual chronological age, and this reinforces the importance of long-term field projects.”
There may be biomedical advantages to inducing hibernation conditions in humans or human cells, the researchers said — to preserve organs for transplantation, for example, or as part of long-term space missions.
For the current publication, Pinho and her colleagues studied 73 female yellow-bellied marmots throughout their lives and collected blood samples every two weeks over 14 active seasons, analyzing them regularly. The marmots’ chronological age was calculated based on the date at which juveniles first emerged from their natal burrows. (The age of male marmots is difficult to determine, the researchers said, because they often migrate from one area to another.)
The research is part of part of a 60-year study of yellow-bellied marmots based at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado and was funded by Brazil’s Science Without Borders program, part of the country’s National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development, and the National Geographic Society, a Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory research fellowship and the National Science Foundation.
Other senior study authors are Robert Wayne; Matteo Pellegrini, a UCLA professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology; Steve Horvath, a professor of human genetics and biostatistics at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health who developed the “epigenetic clock” in 2013; Julien Martin from Canada’s University of Ottawa; and Sagi Snir from Israel’s University of Haifa. The authors received insights from UCLA’s Statistical Consulting Group.
On and off the page, UCLA doctoral student Thomas Ray Garcia seeks to span great distances
By Jonathan Riggs
The lure of the open road, the adventure of travel have long inspired and defined American writers who took “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country” to heart. In addition to being one of these journeymen himself, Thomas Ray Garcia, a UCLA doctoral student in the English Department, studies them, too.
“My dissertation focuses on literary representations of travel through the works of five 20th-century American writers I consider a chronological arc: Jack London, Jack Black, Carlos Bulosan, John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac,” he says. “All of them wrote some sort of fictionalized memoir, so I’m analyzing how the genre helped them craft their travels as journeys — not only throughout the country, but also to the professional class.”
According to Garcia, these individuals show how the idea of American authorship transformed during the early 20th century, from deskbound typists to vigorous vagabonds writing about and taking agency over their lived experiences. All five of these authors paint larger-than-life, uniquely American self-portraits, from Jack London’s tales of survival to Jack Kerouac’s free-flowing Beat Generation politics.
Writing with bravado and a scope as vast as the idealized, untamed American West, all of these authors — including Jack Black’s criminal memoirs to Carlos Bulosan’s perspective as a Filipino immigrant to John Steinbeck’s empathetic wisdom — unsurprisingly turned their attention to California.
“California was always this mecca for them; they wanted to reach what they called ‘the end of the road,’” Garcia says. “Going to the Santa Monica Pier and seeing the symbolic end of Route 66 spoke to me, too. Knowing I’m at UCLA focusing on writers who have a special relationship to this place enables me to see their work and mine through a unique lens.”
Garcia’s own travels have been just as life-changing as those of the authors he studies. Growing up 10 miles from Mexico in the border town of Pharr, Texas, Garcia was the first in his family to go to college. His experiences at Princeton — including gaining a new understanding of his Latino identity — helped inspire him to found the College Scholarship Leadership Access Program (CSLAP), a thriving Rio Grande Valley-based nonprofit that helps students reach and navigate higher education.
“I’m able to share my stories and my experiences with students, so they don’t have to struggle as much as I did,” Garcia says. “Several of the students I’m now helping apply to graduate school are the same ones I helped apply to undergrad. Helping my community like this lets me come full circle.”
A recipient of UCLA’s Carolyn See Graduate Fellowship in Southern California & Los Angeles Literature, Garcia is an accomplished creative writer, working on short stories and poetry about the U.S./Mexico border as well as co-authoring Speak with Style, a book series that helps children and young adults improve their public speaking. A project of particular importance to him is the historical memoir of Chicano activist Aurelio Montemayor he co-wrote, which has been peer-reviewed and approved by the faculty committee of Texas A&M University Press and is currently undergoing copyediting.
Now back in Texas, Garcia divides his time among academic work, creative writing and his nonprofit. He’s also a long-distance runner and likes to sneak in some nighttime miles whenever possible. His time spent under those endless Texas skies gives him the opportunity to think deeply about travel and distance — but also the importance of remembering where you’re from.
“People like me who were born and raised around this area recognize that it means something special to us. It informs who we are and all that we do,” he says. “This is a meaningful place for me to be and is definitely influencing how I’m approaching my dissertation – and everything that comes next.”
Doctoral student Isaac Gimenez finds wisdom and whimsy in the exploration, analysis and joy of art and poetry
By Jonathan Riggs
Literary translation is an art form that requires attention to detail, creativity and daring — after all, the challenges can be immense. But for doctoral student Isaac Gimenez, an adventurous artist with a bachelor’s degree in translation and interpreting and applied foreign languages, it can also be a lot of fun.
“You get to know the work really closely, and you can even take a playful approach, almost like a creative writing exercise,” says Gimenez, who was born in Spain. “It’s a dance between reproducing the original text with capturing the spirit of it in another language. You have to have a sense of humor about it all.”
After completing his undergraduate education at the University of Granada in Spain, Gimenez took various jobs in the service sector to save money and to improve his proficiency in English and French. He also worked as a freelance translator and interpreter, translating legal, technical, audiovisual and academic documents. He came to the U.S. with the goal of going to graduate school, landing a job teaching foreign language conversation at Pomona College, leading daily language labs and organizing student cultural activities. Already captivated by the arts and culture of Latin America, Gimenez was thrilled to enroll at UCLA to pursue his Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literatures with a focus on Brazil.
Today, he’s working on his dissertation on 20th- and 21st-century Brazilian poetry, tracing the country’s changing notions of authorship back to the first Modernist phase in the 1920s. Gimenez explores how these writers created what he calls “a poetry of errors” — a playful form of artistic civil disobedience embraced by both experimental and “marginal” poets.
“I am interested in poetic expressions in general and, arguably, Brazilian literary tradition is very rich in humoristic, experimental, transdisciplinary and politically engaged approaches to poetry. A lot of people have a misconception that poems have to be dense and solemn, and, consequently, inaccessible, for many,” Gimenez says. “I am fascinated by poets who embody what they write about too. It’s a good lesson for all of us to engage with more poetry and live our lives poetically.”
Deeply inspired by the poetry he’s studying, Gimenez is also creating artistic works of his own. He created a video-poem titled “desterro/desmadre,” which he presented for the first time at the 2020 conference Letras Expandidas (2020), organized by PUC-Rio (Br). This video-poem served two purposes: it complemented his analysis of Camila Assad’s 2019 anthology Desterro (which inspired him to write an article published in the Portuguese literary magazine eLyra) and was also a personal reflection of what it meant to live in a global hub like Los Angeles while restricted to a smaller, screen-based scope of existence during the lockdown. “desterro/desmadre” will also be published in 2022 in Párrafo, the literary, artistic and cultural magazine of the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
“A professor of mine, Patrícia Lino, reminded me that academic writing is, in fact, a creative practice as well,” he says. “In that sense, critical readings and interpretations of literary works can be inspired by and in dialogue with other art forms and mediums.”
Supplementing his academic and creative work is Gimenez’s role as Editor-in-Chief of Mester, the journal of UCLA’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese graduate students. (Click here for Mester’s open access.) As he works on his dissertation, Gimenez is grateful for the support he earned from the Lorrine Rona Lydeen Fund since it has allowed him to devote considerable time and energy to this additional work — as well as to expanding his professional skills and nurturing new collaborations, both at UCLA (participating in two Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms (EPIC) seminars) and through Mester, working closely with fellow scholars from Latin America and Europe. In fact, the journal will release its 50th issue later this year.
“I think it is quite remarkable that this issue builds bridges between scholars engaging with the Hispanic and Lusophone traditions from different continents and in different languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese,” says Gimenez.
It all adds up to why UCLA is such a special place for someone like Gimenez, who has traveled the globe.
“It means so much to be living in Los Angeles, a vibrant city that supports and is in continuous dialogue with artists, authors, intellectuals and cultural producers from Latin America and all over the world,” he says. “And most of all, being part of the UCLA community enhances those opportunities to access resources and meet scholars and professionals who inspire our work.”
Doctoral student Marissa Jenrich explores the lives of 19th-century Black women in New York City
By Jonathan Riggs
We know quite a bit about the lives of some of America’s most famous Black women of the 19th century, including civil rights legends Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells. But what about the lives of the millions of Black women who weren’t famous?
“When we look to the past, so often we are captivated by the stories of extraordinary individuals, who we want to serve as emblems of the period,” says Marissa Jenrich, a Ph.D. student in the Department of History whose work is supported by the Nickoll Family endowment. “But what I really love is when we focus on working class, everyday people — and when their stories make their way into the public imagination. History is the story of everyone, not just a remarkable few, and should be accessible to all.”
Narrowing her focus to 19th-century New York City, Jenrich seeks to give voice to the experience of these everyday women, especially how their lives were affected by the mechanisms of state power during one of the most turbulent eras in American history.
“It was a time of tremendous promise, but also tremendous constriction and fear before, during and after the Civil War. New York was not the bastion of liberty that we like to think of it today,” she says. “So much of New York’s economy was contingent on the slave trade that the mayor at the time, Fernando Wood, tried to get the city to secede. Obviously, Black New Yorkers had to walk a line between what rights they had in theory versus in reality.”
Guided by her advisor, Brenda E. Stevenson, the Nickoll Family Endowed Chair in History, Jenrich is particularly interested in exploring the tensions between Black women and the New York Police Department during an era of unprecedented systemic expansion as well as corruption.
“From the 1870s until 1894, the police force grew into an organization that many New Yorkers felt was abusive,” she says. “I agree with the assessment of one historian who described it as seeking to violently ‘over-control’ the population.”
Although this “over-control” affected all races, Jenrich found that Black women and men experienced excessive engagement with and harassment by police while being denied access to reform or rehabilitation programs frequently offered to their non-Black counterparts. This distinction echoed all the more in light of the 2020 murders by police of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the subsequent—and ongoing—protests.
“In some ways, it’s true that history is a conversation with the present, but we shouldn’t forget that today is not necessarily a carbon copy of the past, although there are similar undergirding impulses,” Jenrich says. “But until we understand the precedent of sentencing laws and the growth of the prison industrial complex and their roots in these earlier periods, we won’t be able to really reckon with some of the crises we see today, including the disproportionate numbers of women of color being incarcerated.”
Two deeply personal connections inspired Jenrich to focus on her specific area of research: a transformative Civil War course at California State University, Long Beach with her mentor, Jane Dabel, and Jenrich’s firsthand knowledge of her partner’s lived reality.
“My partner was born in Mexico but grew up in the U.S. with no legal standing here as an undocumented student. I saw parallels between his experience and the tenuous legal status of Black women in New York City during the 19th century,” she says. “Bridging these similar experiences across space and time really brought the struggle to life for me, of people who had to say, ‘This is the only country I know, but at the same time I don’t have any rights here, so how do I navigate these systems and make them work for me the best way I can?’”
For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.
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