An employment among homeless graphic.

Nearly 75% of L.A. County’s homeless previously worked in California

An employment among homeless graphic.

Illustration of a retail employee superimposed over a Los Angeles street map. (Photo Credit: California Policy Lab)

report published Feb. 26 by the California Policy Lab at UCLA sheds light on people’s employment histories before, during and after they received homelessness services in Los Angeles County.

The report’s authors studied data for more than 130,000 people who received homeless services from Los Angeles County. They found that 74% of people who experienced homelessness had some work history in California and that 47% had worked in the four years prior to becoming homeless.

But only 19% had worked in the calendar quarter they became homeless, and the average annual earnings for people who worked before experiencing homelessness was only $9,970 in the year before they became homeless — just 16% of the Los Angeles area median income of $61,015.

“There’s often an assumption that people experiencing homelessness are not working,” said Till von Wachter, a co-author of the report and faculty director of the California Policy Lab at UCLA. “While it’s true that some individuals in our study had not worked in a long time, a substantial number — close to half — were working within four years before entering homelessness. These recent workers had a higher likelihood of returning to work after receiving services and their average earnings were also higher.”

Von Wachter, a UCLA economics professor, said the study’s findings — particularly those on who is most likely to work after enrolling for homeless services — could be used to tailor workforce programs that would help people who are receiving services to find employment and to increase the earnings of homeless service clients.

The study’s three main findings:

The likelihood of people finding employment after they enrolled in homeless services varied widely based on demographic factors and work history. For example, people who were recently employed before becoming homeless and younger people were more likely to be employed after homelessness. To a lesser degree, adults in families, and people without mental and physical health issues also had higher employment rates than the average for the entire sample. Understanding those differences could help officials better target services to those who are most likely to find gainful employment.

The employment rates for certain groups of people in the study improved within the two-year period after they enrolled to receive homeless services, although the authors pointed out that the relationship between the two facts may not be causal. For example, people in transitional housing and people who came from stable housing saw increases in employment rates after enrolling.

Sixty-five percent of the people in the study worked in four broad job categories prior to enrolling in homeless services: 28% in administrative support, waste management and remediation services; 14% in health care and social assistance fields; 12% in accommodation and food services; and 11% in retail. That finding could help inform the types of job training and placement programs that could help prevent homelessness or help people transition out of homelessness.

For the study, the researchers used data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority from 2010 to 2018 for people who were 18 to 70 years old at the time they enrolled for services, and state employment records from the California Employment Development Department for 1995 to 2018.

The authors wrote that although report should improve understanding of employment trends among people who receive homeless services in Los Angeles, more research is needed to develop specific policy recommendations. Future research should examine whether job loss is the direct cause of homelessness and for whom, and how workforce and training programs could either prevent homelessness or accelerate exits from homelessness.

The California Policy Lab creates data-driven insights for the public good. Based at UCLA and UC Berkeley, it partners with researchers at other University of California campuses, as well as with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence that solves California’s most urgent problems, including homelessness, poverty, crime and education inequality.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

 

Ellen DuBois, professor emerita of history in the UCLA College and author of “Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote.”

Historian’s new book traces three generations of suffragists

Ellen DuBois, professor emerita of history in the UCLA College and author of “Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote.”

Ellen DuBois observes that expanding the vote is still not something established political leaders are eager to do. (Photo Credit: Scarlett Freund)

They persisted.

August 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which ensured that all American women could vote in federal elections. Ellen DuBois, UCLA professor emerita of history, has devoted her academic life to the stories of the women (and men) whose unrelenting, passionate and organized advocacy withstood 75 years of shifting partisan politics to finally enfranchise women in the U.S.

Written for anyone who cares about rights in America, her latest book, “Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote,” which came out Feb. 25, takes a comprehensive look at the incomparable effort.

Her storytelling illuminates the lives and efforts of three generations of suffragists, as her prose passes the baton from woman to woman, grandmother to mother, mother to child. She celebrates the efforts of such champions as Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul, who were critical in the final push into the 20th century, and she illustrates how African American women — led by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell and Mary Ann Shadd Cary — demanded voting rights, even when white suffragists ignored them.

In a presidential election year, and as primary voters head to the polls for Super Tuesday on March 3, it is fitting to heed activist Gloria Steinem’s praise for DuBois’ work:

“Ellen DuBois tells us the long drama of women’s fight for the vote, without privileging polite lobbying over radical disobedience — or vice versa. In so doing, she gives us a full range of tactics now, and also the understanding that failing to vote is a betrayal of our foremothers and ourselves.”

We asked DuBois to share some of the key takeaways from “Suffrage.”

The Americans who took up the fight for women’s right to vote were originally proponents of “universal suffrage,” which would have meant a constitutional amendment affirming votes for every American citizen over the age of 18 — regardless of race or gender. How different might this battle have been if that original purpose had been successful?

The Constitution gives little control to the federal government over voting — just times, places, etc. — and none whatsoever over who gets to vote. The three voting amendments, including the 19th, barely tamper with that, only forbidding the states from named disenfranchisement. And as we know from the history of African American voter suppression, those are easy to get around.

If the suffragists’ early attempt to reframe voting as a positive right of national citizenship [had been successful], much of what we suffer today by way of voter suppression — which comes from the states — would no longer be legal or constitutional. We would have universal enfranchisement, which we cannot say we have now.

A photo of the cover of “Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote.”

“Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote” Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster

This book is also a fascinating rendering of the kaleidoscopic nature of American partisan politics. What was the biggest obstacle to women’s suffrage?

This is a question that suffragists and historians have long pondered. General male opposition to women taking a place in politics, as well as women’s hesitation about leaving their traditional roles, certainly played a part.

But as I studied the last few decades of the movement, I was especially struck by the determination of politicians to keep women without votes — both at the national level, fighting against amendment passage, and the state level, opposing ratification, the ultimate obstacle.

This was the case even when it was clear to the final opponents that women’s suffrage was inevitable. Politicians’ opposition certainly reflected their own conservative ideas about who women were — their delicate wives and the pesky radicals who wanted the vote — but it was also a political calculation. The suffragists and other social activist women had developed a solid reputation as nonpartisan reformers, and politicians didn’t want that. Finally, it was impossible to predict which party enfranchised women would favor. It turned out to be both.

As we know from our own times, expanding the vote is still not something established political leaders are eager to do.

By the time the 19th Amendment was passed, millions of women already had the right to vote in federal elections, thanks to state constitutions. By 1919, women in Wyoming and Colorado had voted in five or six presidential elections. Western states like California were critical to eventual nationwide suffrage. Who were some of the most important suffragists who helped win the vote in California?

California, when it amended its state constitution to enfranchise women in 1911, was the sixth state to do so — and by far the most important.

Maud Younger was a wealthy San Franciscan, among those young people known as “new women” for their eagerness for modern lives and new experiences. She left home, went to New York City, worked as a waitress and trade union activist, and returned to California to organize working women. They called her the “millionaire waitress.” She was responsible for getting the brewers union on board, which helped to overcome suffragists’ reputation for being anti-alcohol.

Sarah Massey Overton, an African American woman from San Jose, not only organized her area’s African American community, but — unusual for these years — worked closely with white suffragists in the interracial Political Equality League.

Hispanic Californian suffragists were harder to trace. I located a very interesting woman, Maria de Lopez, whose family was in California before its statehood. As of 1910, she was a college graduate and taught at UCLA and later was a scholar of Spanish-language literature. Fascinating!

Multiple other amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified before the 19th. How did the push for these amendments affect the fight for women’s suffrage? Why was the 17th Amendment critical to the eventual passage and ratification of the 19th?

The reconstruction amendments 14th and 15th were crucial: the latter for omitting women from the expansion of the franchise, which angered suffragists; the former for establishing — for the first time — national citizenship, which led hundreds of suffragists to claim the right to vote in the 1870s including Susan B. Anthony.

It was several decades before other amendments were added. The 17th made the election of senators dependent on the people’s vote, when previously they were appointed by state legislators. This played a role in breaking the final opposition to the women’s suffrage amendment in the upper house. The 18th Amendment [prohibition of alcohol] took this contentious issue, often associated with women voters, off the table and removed an issue of the opposition.

Do you have a favorite suffragist? If so, who and why?

I’m often asked this. I do love Elizabeth Cady Stanton for her brilliant insights into the multifaceted nature of women’s subordination and her vision for broad freedoms for women. These days she is remembered more for her racist and elitist outbursts against men who voted before women, but I think she has more to offer us than just that. These women are all so great, so varied, so brave, so determined — “nevertheless they persisted.” I love them all.

Your book also illustrates the power of an archive. Susan B. Anthony had the brilliant foresight to establish a multivolume history of the movement — including photographs and images of suffragists — and then donated copies to libraries and universities for posterity. Obviously this was critically important to historians like yourself and Eleanor Flexner, who wrote 1959’s “Century of Struggle.” What other stories are waiting to be told from this archive? What are you working on next?

The suffrage movement is unique for its geographical breadth and depth. It lasted so long, and constitutional amendments, which are contested like this one, require organized activism in virtually every state. There is so much more to be said about suffragists in our country.

A second issue is a more complex one: the varied and painful history of racism within the suffrage movement, which lasted from the years of emancipation through the height of the Jim Crow era.

Finally, and this is one of my unfinished projects, women’s enfranchisement was an international issue. In almost every country where women have received the right to vote, they have organized to fight for it. It was rarely given. I’m working on that in the interwar years.

My next big project is a major biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who has never really had one. I’m going to give her that.

DuBois is on a speaking tour for the book, including several upcoming events in town.

March 7 at 2 p.m. — “The Surprising Road to Woman Suffrage” illustrated book lecture at Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library

March 8 at 1 p.m. — “The Right to Vote Then and Now” panel discussion at Royce Hall. Also featuring Adam Winkler, Brenda Stevenson, Katherine Marino, Sheila Kuehl and Sandy Banks.

March 14 at 11 a.m. — “The Surprising Road to Woman Suffrage” Caughey Foundation Lecture at the Autry Museum of the American West

March 15 at 2 p.m. — Book presentation with Jessica Millward, UC Irvine associate professor of history, and Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells at the Wende Museum

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Professor Tracy Johnson.

Professor Seeks to Provide All Students with a Pathway to Research Success

A photo of Professor Tracy Johnson.

Professor Tracy Johnson, Keith and Cecilia Terasaki Presidential Endowed Chair in the Life Sciences, with undergraduate students in her research lab. (Photo credit: UCLA Strategic Communications.)

When Tracy Johnson was an undergraduate working in a lab at the University of California at San Diego, she found herself suddenly jolted. Conducting research on gene function using fruit flies, she realized she was involved in something deeper and more fulfilling than a traditional classroom experience. “The idea that I was learning things that nobody else knew, that I could make some contribution,” she says now, “that was a game-changer.”

Professor Johnson arrived at UCLA College’s Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology in 2014, aiming to bring this same sense of purpose to others. She founded the UCLA-HHMI Pathways to Success, a program that seeks to give students from diverse backgrounds an “authentic research experience, early on, and in a prolonged way.” For years, she says, students of color and those who were the first in their family to attend college pursued STEM degrees at equal rates as other students but left STEM majors at a higher rate.” “I think that has less to do with preparation,” she says, “and more to do with not seeing themselves as part of a scientific community. Pathways was designed to rethink that.” The goal was to help students understand they belonged and had important contributions to make.

In building the program, Johnson looked around the country to find what worked best, and bring it to UCLA. She was interested not just in lab work but in mentoring as well.

Pathways students participate in a lab course dedicated to Johnson’s field, gene expression. The DNA in every cell of a given plant or animal are identical. Expression is the process by which specific segments of the DNA, genes, get turned on.  This process allows cells to perform specific functions. For example this process can tell a cell to become part of a muscle, part of the bran, and so on.

It’s a lot to throw first-year students into, she acknowledges. “They’re freshmen, on campus for barely 10 weeks if it’s winter quarter. Some have never taken AP biology. It’s ambitious, but they rise to the occasion.”

In fact, she’s expecting to publish some of the student research in an academic journal in 2020. Pathways has now enrolled close to 100 students, and they’ve taken on more and more responsibility as the years have passed. Some have gone on to doctoral programs, others to medical school. “There isn’t anything quite like what we do,” she says. “I think it’s a model for how to think about student success.”

Find out more about UCLA College’s innovative Pathways program.

A photo of students on the UCLA campus, with the Janss Steps and Royce Hall in the background.

UCLA raises $5.49 billion in one of most ambitious campaigns ever by a public university

A photo of students on the UCLA campus, with the Janss Steps and Royce Hall in the background.

Nearly 220,000 donors from all 50 U.S. states and 98 additional countries gave to advance causes across the UCLA campus and in communities in Southern California and around the world. Photo Credit: Patricia Marroquin/UCLA

The Centennial Campaign for UCLA, one of the most ambitious fundraising campaigns ever by a public university, has raised $5.49 billion. As UCLA enters its second century, the funds are already supporting a broad array of priorities, including student scholarships and fellowships, faculty research, and programs that enrich communities in Los Angeles and beyond.

The campaign launched publicly in May 2014 and closed in December 2019, in the midst of UCLA’s 100th year. During the initiative, nearly 220,000 donors from all 50 U.S. states and 98 additional countries gave more than 574,000 gifts to advance causes across campus and in communities in Southern California and around the world.

Approximately 95% of those gifts were less than $10,000, and 81% were less than $1,000, indicating the broad-based support for UCLA’s mission.

UCLA also received transformative philanthropic commitments of more than $100 million, including Marion Anderson’s giving for students, faculty and facilities at the UCLA Anderson School of Management; David Geffen’s gifts for medical student scholarships and the Geffen Academy at UCLA; Meyer and Renee Luskin’s giving to name the school of public affairs and build a campus conference center; and Henry and Susan Samueli’s gifts to expand engineering education and research.

“As we celebrate UCLA’s first hundred years, the Centennial Campaign for UCLA has exceeded its goals and engaged students, faculty, friends and leaders in setting up the university for an even more remarkable second century,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “We are so grateful to each and every person who has participated in this extraordinary effort.”

Campaign gifts cross campus, causes and communities

Funds raised through the campaign already are making a difference across the campus, including supporting students in a diverse range of fields. Such support includes humanities fellowships established by Jordan and Christine Kaplan and Ken Panzer; scholarships created by the cast and crew of hit television show “The Big Bang Theory” for students in science, technology, engineering and math fields; scholarships for dentistry students created by Bob and Marion Wilson; and scholarships for public health students established by Jonathan and Karin Fielding.

Steve Tisch and Shirley and Walter Wang both established scholarships for students from middle-income families; faculty member Ellen Carol DuBois donated to support transfer students; and the family of the late Bill Steinmetz, a UCLA alumnus and World War II veteran, gave to support student veterans.

Campaign giving for scholarships leveraged funds through matching challenges, such as those initiated by Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the UCLA College division of physical sciences, and Block, who designated student support as a campaign and continuing priority. Every new scholarship will help make a high-quality education affordable for high-achieving students of all backgrounds. UCLA already ranks No. 1 among the nation’s top-tier universities for enrolling low- to middle-income students, and more of its graduates move up two or more income levels, according to The Equality of Opportunity Project. During the Centennial Campaign, UCLA raised $665 million for student support.

Many other campaign gifts created endowed chairs to recruit and retain stellar faculty: Iris Cantor established the university’s 500th chair with a gift to the Iris Cantor–UCLA Women’s Health Center, and the Ralph and Shirley Shapiro family established several faculty chairs during the campaign — in dentistry, disability studies, law, nursing, pediatrics and other areas — bringing the total number of chairs they have established at UCLA to more than 20.

Other donors enhanced the campus with lead gifts for state-of-the-art facilities. With the Eugene & Maxine Rosenfeld Hall for medical education, the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center, the Mo Ostin Basketball Center and the Wasserman Football Center, construction has transformed UCLA during the course of the campaign. In Westwood and beyond, the arts have benefited from Marcy Carsey’s and Stewart and Lynda Resnick’s gifts to renovate the Hammer Museum at UCLA and Margo Leavin’s gift to refurbish graduate art studios in Culver City.

Throughout the campaign, philanthropists supported UCLA initiatives in a wide array of fields with real-world relevance:

  • Brain health: A gift from James L. and Phyllis Easton advanced research on the prevention and treatment of neurodegeneration, and concussion and traumatic brain injury. Wendy and Leonard Goldberg endowed a migraine research program, and Laurie and Steven Gordon funded faculty chairs, a new lab and research dedicated to curing Parkinson’s disease. Gifts to the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge made UCLA the first university to offer depression and anxiety screening for students and immediate connection to appropriate levels of care.
  • Cancer: Agi Hirshberg’s campaign gift created a center dedicated to, and supported seed grants for, pancreatic cancer research. Eli and Edythe Broad made a major new gift to their eponymous stem cell research center at UCLA, which will help researchers translate findings into clinical applications for cancer and other diseases. And Dr. Victoria Mann Simms and Ronald Simms gave to support the expansion of integrative psychosocial care for people with cancer and for their families at UCLA clinics throughout Los Angeles.
  • Humanities, culture and entertainment: Tadashi Yanai’s gift endowed an initiative for globalizing Japanese humanities, which supports students, faculty, international exchanges and public events. Jeff Skoll’s gift established a center for promoting social change through entertainment, and Kenneth Ziffren gave multiple gifts to establish an institute in entertainment law. The Patricia Mitchell Trusts not only partnered with Ziffren to support that institute, but also created endowments to support UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television students and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
  • Environment and sustainability: Dan and Rae Emmett added a matching gift for their namesake institute for climate change and environmental law, whose research regularly informs policy leaders and the media. Morton La Kretz has helped the UCLA College renovate its botany building and the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, both in support of conservation education and research. Gifts to UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge helped produce valuable research and policy recommendations for the region.
  • Public outreach and service: The Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation established an interdisciplinary center for strengthening foster youth and families, and Matthew and Jennifer Harris established the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute. Campaign commitments enabled UCLA to found the Promise Institute for Human Rights and the Promise Armenian Institute, and many donors gave to UCLA Operation Mend, which provides medical and psychological treatment for service members, veterans and their family members.
  • Well-being for all ages: A major gift from Mattel Inc. advanced the local and international work of UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. Jane and Terry Semel endowed the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA, spreading activities, resources and healthier habits across campus and encouraging similar initiatives at college campuses and other institutions across the nation. James and Carol Collins have advanced research and programs serving older adults, including creating a chair in geriatric medicine and supporting fellowships, residencies and training for medical students and physicians.

Alumni and friends invest in UCLA

The Centennial Campaign, which was co-chaired by Tony Pritzker and UCLA alumnus Garen Staglin, counted the contributions of nearly 220,000 donors, including nearly 127,000 first-time donors and more than 108,000 alumni donors.

“I truly believe in UCLA as a unique public research institution that benefits students from every walk of life, the city of Los Angeles and the world at large,” said Pritzker, who is not a UCLA alumnus but serves as a tireless benefactor and champion of the campus. “Ensuring a successful start to its second century is an investment not only in the university and its students but in everyone’s future.”

Staglin and his wife, Shari, launched the organization One Mind, which bridges gaps in mental health research and patient support, and they have been strong advocates for the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge. “UCLA is leading the way in so many areas, and it has been a privilege to see alumni and friends come together to support causes close to their hearts while advancing education, research and service that change lives,” he said.

UCLA makes its mark in higher education fundraising

At the time of its launch, the Centennial Campaign’s $4.2 billion goal was the most ambitious fundraising goal ever announced by a U.S. public university, and UCLA surpassed that target 18 months ahead of schedule. Since then, the higher education sector has continued to see an upturn in fundraising and campaigns. According to the Voluntary Support of Education survey, giving to colleges and universities grew 6.1% in 2018–19.

The same survey ranked UCLA the No. 1 public university in philanthropic funds raised for 2017–18, and the campus was included in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s special report on multiyear campaigns in April 2019. The feature highlighted the proliferation of such fundraising drives across the country, including at several other high-profile institutions across Los Angeles.

“In a philanthropic landscape overflowing with opportunities to give, the success of the Centennial Campaign for UCLA speaks to donors’ generosity and their belief in UCLA’s mission,” said Rhea Turteltaub, UCLA’s vice chancellor for external affairs. “We take the responsibility to steward their trust very seriously, and we will continue working to ensure students’ access to education, secure resources for research and deliver on our commitment to public service every day.”

To view campaign results, read stories about gifts and beneficiaries or learn more about giving to UCLA, visit the Centennial Campaign for UCLA site and UCLA Newsroom.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of J. William Schopf

J. William Schopf’s quest to fill a black hole of knowledge

A photo of J. William Schopf

Paleobiologist J. William Schopf — now in his 52nd year as a UCLA faculty member — did not let scientists or others discourage him from his mission to uncover the earliest history of life. Photo Credit: UCLA

Paleobiologist J. William Schopf — in his 52nd year as a UCLA faculty member — has been on a quest. For decades, he and an international team of scientists have worked to fill a black hole of knowledge about Earth’s earliest history of life.

His pursuit began in 1960, when Schopf — then an undergraduate at Oberlin College in Ohio — took an introductory historical geology course. He had been learning a great deal through his textbooks and professors about the most recent 500 million years of Earth’s history, but could find virtually nothing about the Earth’s first 4 billion years. His professor mentioned that the earliest history of life, now known to be at least 85% of life’s history, was unknown. Schopf decided that day this was a problem he could solve.

He recalls thinking that evolution was a fact, not a fable, so the missing record of life didn’t make sense. Schopf went to his dormitory and read his copy of Charles Darwin’s 1859 classic, “On the Origin of Species.” Darwin stated that there is no known evidence of life before the oldest animal fossils from roughly 500 million years ago, and considered this an inexplicable hole in his theory of evolution. Why was there a complete absence of any record of life more than 500 million years ago?

Schopf said this enormous gap in knowledge was as if U.S. history began in the late 1960s and all earlier history had been wiped out — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, George Washington, the Civil War, electricity, telephones, the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Atomic Age and so much more.

During his college years, his father’s friends and other professionals tried to discourage Schopf from attempting to uncover life’s early fossil record, telling him there had been no meaningful progress for a century and that it was nearly certain he would fail. But he persisted and succeeded. He shares his remarkable story, spanning nearly 60 years, in his 2019 book, “Life in Deep Time: Darwin’s ‘Missing’ Fossil Record.” In it, he recounts the discoveries that reveal the earliest history of life.

Schopf, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life, and his colleagues have produced the most comprehensive information about life’s ancient history, from the formation of our planet 4.6 billion years ago to events half-a-billion years ago.

What significant events occurred in that first 85% of the Earth’s history? Among many other things, the first living organisms, the modern food chain, photosynthesis, the development of the atmosphere and oceans, and various types of cell division all date from this enormously long period of time.

The story of the Earth’s earliest history and the life it harbored is detailed in two books Schopf edited. “Earth’s Earliest Biosphere: Its Origin and Evolution,” published in 1983, spans the earliest 2 billion years of Earth’s history, and “The Proterozoic Biosphere: A Multidisciplinary Study,” published in 1992, focuses on the next 2 billion years. Some scientists have referred to these books as the Old Testament and the New Testament. Each received an award from the American Association of Publishers the year it was published.

The two books combined brought together 50 scientists from 30 universities in eight countries: the United States, Russia, Australia, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and South Africa. The interdisciplinary team of scientists included experts in such fields as geology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and microbiology.

Schopf and his colleagues collected and analyzed hundreds of ancient rocks from Australia, China, the United States, Europe, what was then the Soviet Union and elsewhere. They produced a vast ancient-fossil record that tells the history of the Earth’s first 4 billion years and changed our understanding of how evolution works.

Schopf joined UCLA’s faculty in 1968 at age 26, and was promoted to full professor five years later. In 1977, he received the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award as the outstanding young scientist in the nation. He has won seven medals from national and international scientific societies, and has been elected as a member of the country’s most prestigious scholarly honorific societies. He is a professor in UCLA’s department of Earth, planetary and space sciences.

In 2002, Schopf and colleagues substantiated the biological origin of the earliest known cellular fossils, which are nearly 3.5 billion years old.

He and colleagues presented a new analysis in 2017 of these 3.5-billion-year-old fossil microorganisms, which provided strong evidence to support the increasingly widespread understanding that life in the universe is likely common.

“By 3.465 billion years ago, life was already diverse on Earth — that’s clear,” Schopf said in 2017. “This tells us life had to have begun substantially earlier and it confirms that it was not difficult for primitive life to form and to evolve into more advanced microorganisms.”

In his 2019 book, he writes, “Clearly, primordial life evolved earlier, farther and faster than had ever been imagined.”

In 2015, Schopf was part of an international team of scientists that discovered the greatest absence of evolution ever reported — deep-sea microorganisms that appear to have not evolved over more than 2 billion years.

In the new book, he also writes about the NASA scientists who claimed in 1996 that they had found evidence of life on Mars in a meteorite that landed in Antarctica 13,000 years earlier. Schopf offers a behind-the-scenes look at the events leading to a NASA news conference that year that generated headlines worldwide. Schopf, who first assessed the evidence for life on Mars a year-and-a-half before the news conference, concluded, to put it charitably, that the evidence was inconclusive.

“I want there to be life on Mars more than anyone else,” he had said, “but it doesn’t matter what I want. The evidence isn’t there.”

Looking back at how the decades-long research on the Earth’s “missing” fossil record has changed our understanding of life on Earth, Schopf writes, “While this particular paradigm shift pales in comparison with Copernicus’ realization that the Earth flies around the sun, not the other way around, it too is fundamental, the root of two new fields of science, Precambrian paleobiology and astrobiology.”

At age 78, he continues to work seven days a week, searching for more answers.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block participating in a conversation.

Creative thinkers put kindness on the menu at dinner

Kindness is complicated, especially when we begin to consider how kindness might be institutionalized amid a politically polarized culture, how it might be taught, harnessed and wielded on behalf of justice, in service of the betterment of society at large.

Kindness is also simple, personal, quiet and rooted in the commonality of the human experience, the human need for love and support, our shared experiences of suffering and mortality.

Kindness resides in the micro and macro, and should be embraced and interrogated in both those spaces. That was the consensus from an eclectic group of scholars, medical professionals, artists, journalists, educators, activists and community builders who gathered to discuss kindness during an Atlantic Roundtable Dinner on Feb. 20 in Los Angeles, which was made possible by UCLA.

The event was produced by AtlanticLIVE, a division of The Atlantic magazine that crisscrosses the country with more than 100 events annually, from topical summits to festivals, bringing together creative thinkers from the arts, academia, health, entertainment, media and more.

Participants at the dinner cut a broad swath across Los Angeles institutions, including from UCLA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Public Library, the American Red Cross, Reddit, the Crete Academy in South Los Angeles, the Educating Young Minds after-school program, activist-gardener Ron Finley, Hollywood watchdog group The Blacklist, the Islamic Center of Southern California and more.

A photo of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block participating in a conversation.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block participating in a conversation about kindness that was hosted by The Atlantic. Photo Credit: Becki Smith for The Atlantic

It’s important to gather in this way, said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block.

“As diverse as we are as a campus community, we do still live in a bit of an echo chamber,” he said. “We talk to ourselves very well, but I can’t overemphasize how important it is to listen to other voices and to listen more broadly to the community around us.”

Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, started the conversation by talking about the recently launched UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute. Hunt shared an “operationalized definition” of kindness that social scientists affiliated with the first-of-its-kind research center will use in their work. Their research will include examining the roots of kindness in human evolution, the ways kindness is or is not institutionalized in other cultures, and the means and likelihood of perpetuating more widespread kindness.

“Our working basic description of kindness is ‘actions and associated thoughts and/or feelings that are intended to benefit others or society at large, where other’s welfare is an end in itself and not a means to an end,’” Hunt said.

Other UCLA participants were Michelle Craske, who sits on the executive committee of UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge, and Linda Sarna, dean of the UCLA School of Nursing.

Ronald Brownstein, senior editor at The Atlantic, moderated the discussion, inviting multiple perspectives to chime in on the topic, which he said seems more relevant than ever amid another fractious election cycle.

“We do not seem to be surrounded by an excess of kindness,” Brownstein observed.

Topics ranged from social media to social justice, health care to education, food insecurity to childhood trauma, and also included poverty, Hollywood and storytelling at large. Among the questions and ideas the panelists considered:

  • How do we perpetuate kindness in a culture that seems to reward cruelty?
  • How do people grapple with the pervasive racial undertones of cruelty in America?
  • Does the kindness of an oppressed person toward their oppressor actually result more-humane action?
  • Can social media and the internet be a home for kind words and deeds as well as vitriol?
  • Can kindness be taught?
  • Can kindness be measured?
  • How can children who live in unkind home situations learn and experience kindness?
  • How can kindness help stop cycles of pain and trauma, especially in children?
  • What is the role of the media and Hollywood storytellers in generating empathy and potentially kindness toward people of different races?
  • How can medical professionals like nurses, physicians and palliative care doctors continue to embrace not only operationalized kindness toward their patients, but also in service of self-care?
  • Can loving kindness as a meditation practice be used to treat depression?

Inspiring a community of kindness is about building positive environments, and supporting systems that inspire people from a young age to value each other more than the hottest gadget or pair of shoes, or other materialistic trappings, said Finley, who has seen it all through his urban gardening project in South Los Angeles.

“It’s real simple,” he said. “Good in, good out … in anything. If you have good soil and good seeds, you’re going to get a good plant. If somebody takes care of you and gives you these things that’s what’s going to come out.”

The complexity of questions from a diversity of voices and experiences yielded a few simple examples of kindness, like making sure a kid who makes a mistake gets a chance to learn about a fellow student’s struggle and a second chance to be kind, and how a single person speaking up for a marginalized group against an oppressor can be construed an act of kindness even if the message is not delivered kindly.

Overall the discussion was permeated by an awareness that while a simple act of kindness might be powerful, the powerful act of committing an entire culture to embrace kindness is far from simple.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Esmeralda Villavicencio.

Esmeralda Villavicencio Is Working to Make Disease and Infertility a Thing of the Past

UCLA College division of Life Sciences student Esmeralda Isabel Villavicencio wants to return some day to her home country of Ecuador as a genetics professor, leading pioneering research on complex diseases and neurological disorders. She already has a solid start at UCLA.

“My community has suffered from a tremendous lack of support for STEM research, and I want to contribute to change that,” says Villavicencio, a senior majoring in Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics with a Biomedical Research minor.

A photo of Esmeralda Villavicencio.

Esmeralda Villavicencio in the lab. Photo credit: UCLA College/Reed Hutchinson

Villavicencio is gaining valuable experience in Dr. Amander Clark’s lab as an undergraduate research assistant, where her project working with stem cells is a part of a research effort that could one day help develop novel treatments for infertility. The possibility that her work will have impact is what drives her.

“The work I’m doing now could eventually help people who suffer from infertility to conceive a child—people, for example, who become infertile after treatments for pediatric cancer, or due to developmental defects,” she says.

Villavicencio says the collaborative research environment at UCLA has prepared her for graduate school and a career as a scientist, from learning lab techniques to strengthening her critical thinking skills, discipline and resiliency.  This experience has helped her grow in her chosen career, and her hard work is also paying off in other ways.

Villavicencio’s drive and vision have been recognized by two UCLA Life Sciences scholarship awards that are helping her move closer to her goals. Last year, she was awarded the Kristen Hanson Memorial Scholarship, which honors a female undergraduate for academic accomplishment and a passion for science in addition to well-rounded interests, leadership, originality and commitment to engage with the world.  More recently, the COMPASS scholarship—from the Center for Opportunity to Maximize Participation, Access and Student Success—was presented to Villavicencio for her summer research.

“Knowing my hard work and enthusiasm stand out in such a top-tier school is encouraging, and receiving these honors also greatly alleviated my financial burden,” Villavicencio says. “I come from a low-income family and I’m able to attend UCLA in part thanks to a scholarship from my government. However, there are expenses it does not cover. The scholarships allow me to reduce my part-time job hours and focus more on my research and academic endeavors.”

Photos of UCLA College professors Jose Rodriguez and Erik Petigura.

Two UCLA College faculty members awarded 2020 Sloan Research Fellowships

Photos of UCLA College professors Jose Rodriguez and Erik Petigura.

UCLA College professors Jose Rodriguez (left) and Erik Petigura (right).

Two young UCLA College professors, and two others, are among 126 scientists and scholars from more than 60 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada selected today to receive 2020 Sloan Research Fellowships. UCLA is tied for fifth — behind only Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — in the number of faculty honored this year by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which selects early-career scientists and scholars who are rising stars of science.

“To receive a Sloan Research Fellowship is to be told by your fellow scientists that you stand out among your peers,” says Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “A Sloan Research Fellow is someone whose drive, creativity and insight make them a researcher to watch.”

Since the first Sloan Research Fellowships were awarded in 1955, 165 UCLA faculty members have received Sloan Research Fellowships. UCLA College’s 2020 recipients are:

Erik Petigura

Petigura, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the UCLA College, studies exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than the sun — using ground-based and space-based telescopes. “My passion for exoplanets is motivated by a deceptively simple, yet fundamental question: Why are we here?” said Petigura. “Our species has wrestled with this question since antiquity, and it resonates strongly with me.” Exoplanets offer the key avenue toward answering this question, as they inform the otherwise elusive physical processes that led to the formation of the solar system, the formation of the Earth and the origin of life. His group has shown that nearly every sun-like star has a planet between the size of Earth and Neptune — sizes not present in the solar system. “In other words, our solar system is not a typical outcome of planet formation, at least in that one key respect,” he said. As a Sloan Fellow, Petigura plans to study the origin, evolution and fate of these ubiquitous planets.

Jose Rodriguez

Rodriguez, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College, develops and applies new scientific methods in bio-imaging to determine, and provide a deep scientific understanding of, cellular and molecular structures and reveal undiscovered structures that influence chemistry, biology and medicine. His research combines computational, biochemical and biophysical experiments. His laboratory is working to explore the structures adopted by prions — a form of infectious protein that causes neurodegenerative disorders. Prion proteins, like the amyloid proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, form large clumps that damage and ultimately kill neurons in the brain. Among his awards and honors, Rodriguez won a 2019 Packard fellowship for Science and Engineering by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; a 2018 Pew scholar in the biomedical sciences, a 2017 Searle Scholar and a 2017 Beckman Young Investigator by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

Winners of Sloan Research Fellowships receive a two-year, $75,000 award to support their research. The fellowships are intended to enhance the careers of exceptional young scientists and scholars in chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences and physics. The Sloan Foundation, which is based in New York, was established in 1934.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Graphics of a check mark, Hammer Museum and Ackerman Student Union.

Changes make it easier than ever for Bruins to vote

Graphics of a check mark, Hammer Museum and Ackerman Student Union.

Students, faculty, staff and even members of the public will be able to vote at the Ackerman Union beginning Feb. 22, and at the Hammer Museum beginning Feb. 29.

When it comes to voting, there can be a litany of excuses as to why someone doesn’t make it to the polls on Election Day — you forgot, too busy to get there that day, working too far from your polling place, among others.

To erase as many barriers as possible to voting, Los Angeles County is implementing sweeping changes for voters leading up to the March 3 primary, and the UCLA campus community will be a major benefactor as the site of two vote centers — Ackerman Union and the Hammer Museum at UCLA.

The biggest change is that voters will have multiple days to cast their ballots. Voting begins Feb. 22 at Ackerman, and the Hammer Museum will be open for voting beginning Feb. 29.

For campus and county officials, bringing vote centers to UCLA was a no-brainer.

“We are really glad that California, specifically L.A. County, is pursuing a modernizing of the voting process,” said Karen Hedges, deputy director of campus life for UCLA Student Affairs. “There is often talk of students, faculty and staff trying to squeeze in their vote on Election Day. Having a vote center in the middle of campus at Ackerman Union, and having it open for 11 days, I think, will really encourage people to make voting less of a hassle and more of a prideful opportunity.”

The new L.A. County Vote Centers not only allow for up to 11 days of voting, but also commuters with limited time can rejoice. The new rules no longer force people to vote at the one place in their neighborhoods. Instead people now can cast their ballots at any voting center location in the county.

The new system also emphasizes accessibility. Voters can make the text larger on the screen, toggle between 13 languages, change the contrast of the screen and request an audio ballot. The system is also secure — it is not connected to the internet or any network and still produces a paper ballot.

“One of the goals to moving to the vote center model was to meet voters where they are, and UCLA is an amazing university centrally located to thousands of voters who live on campus or nearby,” said Mike Sanchez, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar. “We’re thrilled to have UCLA and other universities, colleges and high schools act as vote centers for the upcoming March primary election.”

A major push from UCLA students, faculty and staff is underway ahead of the Feb. 18 voter registration deadline. The BruinsVOTE! organization will be hosting get-out-the-vote events and its website relaunched this week to include extensive information on voter registration, events, FAQs and more.

“Culturally, we’re trying to weave voting into the fabric of campus life — this is what Bruins do,” Hedges added. “Bruins are civically engaged and civically minded. Our volunteer work, our service work — it all falls into alignment with this. I think it is a True Bruin Value to vote.”

As UCLA celebrates its centennial, campus officials also point out two other important anniversaries: The 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women’s constitutional right to vote and the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing men the right to vote regardless of race.

“These milestones should be reminders to all of us not to take for granted the hard-won right, responsibility and privilege we have to participate in our nation’s democracy,” Chancellor Gene Block said in a message to the campus community. “I hope you will get civically engaged and show the world that #Bruinsvote.”

On March 3 at 5:30 p.m., the Hammer Museum will host Super Tuesday Bash 2020, during which people can watch election returns and pundits’ analyzing what unfolds on big screens in the courtyard.

In the meantime, BruinsVOTE! members will work to continue the gains made in student participation during the past several elections. Organizers will be canvassing Bruin Walk and promoting voting at UCLA athletics events, to name a few efforts.

“I think the biggest change is now you have 11 days to vote instead of one,” said Joshua Avila, third-year political science major and co-director of the BruinsVOTE! initiative. “This is definitely a big improvement, and we are excited to see more student turnout because of that. If it’s just one day, students might be busy that day or they just forget.”

Although there is an emphasis on registering to vote by Feb. 18, the vote center will allow for same-day conditional registration, which is a major plus, officials touted.

“If you think about it, registering to vote is the last of the antiquated processes that you can’t just do instantly,” Hedges said. “That does not resonate with our students, who are last minute and who are used to being able to do something right now. In our last few elections we’ve had long lines of provisional ballot people in hopes that their votes will still count.”

Having 11 days and same-day registration should lessen voter congestion, she said.

The UCLA campus voice can and will be a vital one, said Elisa Chang, graduate student studying education and BruinsVOTE! co-director.

“If we want to be able to shape the future that we’re going to literally be inheriting, then we all actually do need to vote and make ourselves heard,” Chang said.

VOTE CENTERS

Ackerman Union
308 Westwood Plaza
Bruin Reception Room, second floor
11-day Vote Center
Feb. 22–March 2, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
March 3 (Election Day), 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Hammer Museum at UCLA
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Annenberg Terrace, third floor
Four-day Vote Center
Feb. 29–March 2, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
March 3 (Election Day), 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of a Himba father and son.

Study of African society inspires broad thinking about human paternity, fidelity

A new study from UCLA professor of anthropology Brooke Scelza invites geneticists and sociologists to think more broadly about human fidelity and paternity.

Scelza’s study, published in the journal Science Advances, uses data from a long-term anthropological study in Namibia with Himba pastoralists. She found that Himba have the highest recorded rate of what researchers call “extra-pair paternity.” The term refers to an instance in which a child is born to a married couple, but the husband is not the biological father.

The rate of extra-pair paternity found among Himba is 48%, far exceeding the 1% to 10% range previously thought to be typical for humans. Having children with non-marital partners was widespread among this group. A high percentage of couples (70%) had at least one child who was fathered by someone outside the marriage.

Extra-pair paternity is typically thought to occur at the expense of the husband, who is ostensibly being “tricked” into caring for a child who is not biologically his, Scelza said. However, her team shows that Himba men and women are highly accurate at detecting extra-pair paternity in their children. And Scelza contends that men not only are aware of this pattern, but they also have a system of social norms that support the practice.

A photo of a Himba father and son.

Brooke Scelza’s study found that “Himba have strong beliefs about the importance of social fatherhood, that a child is yours if it is born to your wife, regardless of paternity.” Photo Credit: Brooke Scelza/UCLA

“Himba have strong beliefs about the importance of social fatherhood, that a child is yours if it is born to your wife, regardless of paternity,” Scelza said. “Both the stigma that typically surrounds women having multiple partners and the bias that might lead to children being mistreated are markedly lower among Himba than they are in much of the rest of the world.”

It was important for researchers to collaborate closely with members of the Himba community involved in the study for ethical and logistical reasons that come up whenever paternity is at issue. For this study, Scelza and her team, in collaboration with the community, designed a novel double-blind method of analysis, so that none of the researchers was privy to both genetic data and individual-identifying information. The team received ethical approval for the study from Namibian Ministry of Home Affairs and the University of Namibia, as well as UCLA and the State University of New York’s Stony Brook University.

This research, while focusing on a small group, provides a new perspective in the study of human reproduction, Scelza said.

Generally, researchers believe that extra-pair paternity is rare among humans. Geneticists have estimated the extra-pair paternity rate in populations from the Netherlands and other European-descent communities. Historically, they have found the rate in these societies to be extremely low, from 1% to 6%.

Over the last decade, more social scientists have begun to focus on diversity and inclusivity when it comes to research samples, rather than focusing solely on people from Western societies, which has been the norm.

“Anthropologists have long emphasized the need to include diverse groups in research,” said Dr. Brenna Henn, a population geneticist formerly at Stony Brook and now at UC Davis, and co-author of the study. “Geneticists are still catching up. Our study shows that paternity rates can vary widely across different populations.”

Scelza emphasized that there is no “correct” or “moral” standard that researchers should think about when examining human reproductive behavior. In Himba culture, for example, extramarital sexual activity is common and not stigmatized.

“What we’re starting to understand and examine is how social and biological notions of paternity reflect complex suites of locally relevant norms, traditions and cultural histories,” Scelza said.

Scelza has been working with the Himba people for 10 years. A previous study published in Nature Human Behavior about infidelity also included Himba.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.