$1.2 million from Kachigian family trust establishes UCLA lectureship in Armenian studies

Armenian language scholar Hagop Kouloujian has been appointed to the position for a five-year term
Black-and-white portraits of Kachigian siblings

Left to right: Siblings George, Alice and Harold Kachigian | UCLA

Jonathan Riggs | July 21, 2022

Key takeaways:
   • Late siblings George and Alice Kachigian were longtime supporters of  Armenian scholarship at UCLA.
   • The inaugural lectureship holder, Hagop Kouloujian, seeks to revive Western Armenian by having students compose creative works in the endangered language.

The UCLA Division of Humanities has received a $1.2 million bequest from the estate of siblings George and Alice Kachigian to support the Armenian studies program in the department of Near Eastern languages and cultures. As part of the gift, the department created the Kachigian Family Lectureship in Armenian Language and Culture.

The inaugural holder of the lectureship will be Hagop Kouloujian, a UCLA scholar and instructor who specializes in Western Armenian, a language that since the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century has been spoken almost exclusively by people in the diaspora. Kouloujian was instrumental in having it designated an endangered language by UNESCO in 2010.

“We are grateful for the kindness and visionary support of the Kachigian family,” said David Schaberg, dean of humanities and senior dean of the UCLA College. “Their generosity will contribute to the vitality of this endangered language and culture.”

Los Angeles, with the largest Armenian-speaking population outside Armenia itself, and UCLA are natural settings for such scholarship. Since the launch of the Armenian studies program in 1969, UCLA has been a destination for students interested in the field, and the creation of the UCLA Promise Armenian Institute in 2019 cemented the university’s leadership role in Armenian research and public impact programs.

Image of Hagop Kouloujian, UCLA’s inaugural Kachigian Family Lecturer in Armenian Language and Culture

Hagop Kouloujian, UCLA’s inaugural Kachigian Family Lecturer in Armenian Language and Culture | Courtesy of Hagop Kouloujian

Kouloujian’s ongoing Language in Action project at UCLA, funded by the Portugal-based Calouse Gulbenkian Foundation, exemplifies his “creative literacy” approach, which focuses on teaching students by encouraging their own creative output. His students have produced hundreds of pieces, ranging from creative works to nonfiction, with the goal of contributing to the vitality of Western Armenian language and culture.

In May 2022, for example, the department of Near Eastern languages and cultures held an event to celebrate the publication of “Girkov useloo, inchoo hos em?” (“To Say With Passion, Why Am I Here?”), a full-length volume of poetry written in Western Armenian by the late Tenny Arlen, a 2013 UCLA comparative literature graduate who learned the language and wrote most of the collection in Kouloujian’s courses.

Donors George and Alice Kachigian, for whom the lectureship is named, were active members and generous supporters of the Los Angeles Armenian community. Although they moved to Oregon 30 years ago following the deaths of their parents and brother Harold, they continued to support UCLA’s Armenian studies program throughout their lives, providing research funding for faculty in the divisions of social sciences and humanities.

Alice died in 2017, and after George’s death in 2019, the siblings’ estate left generous funding to the Armenian studies program and the department of neurology at UCLA.

“The Kachigian family were friends to all, donated to many causes and counseled anyone who requested their help. They lived lives of goodness and kindness,” said Rafe Aharonian, trustee of the Kachigian Living Trust. “George, Alice and Harold wanted to help the youth learn more about Armenian heritage, and courses like Dr. Kouloujian’s encourage connections between UCLA students of Armenian heritage who might otherwise not have met.”

The Kachigians’ legacy will live on in all those at UCLA and elsewhere who, through the family’s generosity, have developed a deep connection to and appreciation for Armenian culture and language, said Kouloujian, who will hold the lectureship for five years.

“My aspiration for this lectureship is to continue to enhance UCLA’s Armenian work with forward-looking activities and community impact projects that will help invigorate the future of this language and culture,” he said. “I want to share the enduring, evolving beauty and power of Armenian with as many people as possible.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

UCLA names Alex Stern dean of humanities

Image of Alex Stern

Alex Stern | Image credit: University of Michigan

By Sean Brenner | April 14, 2022

Alexandra Minna Stern, currently the associate dean for the humanities at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, will be the new dean of humanities at the UCLA College. Her appointment is effective Nov. 1.

Stern is the Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Professor of American Culture at Michigan, where she also holds appointments in history, women’s and gender studies, and obstetrics and gynecology. Her research has focused on modern and contemporary histories of science, medicine and society in the U.S. and Latin America, and, most recently, on the cultures and ideologies of the far right and white nationalism.

She is the founder and co-director of the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab, an interdisciplinary research team that explores the history of eugenic sterilization in the U.S.

Stern has two prior connections to the University of California: She earned her master’s degree in Latin American studies from UC San Diego, and later, from 2000 to 2002, she was a faculty member at UC Santa Cruz.

Stern said she looks forward to providing creative and responsive leadership in her new role.

“I am thrilled to be the incoming humanities dean at UCLA and eager to partner with the excellent and diverse units and communities that comprise the division,” she said. “I am honored to be joining a world-class public research university that recognizes the centrality of humanities to liberal arts and the mission of higher education.”

As associate dean at Michigan, Stern enhanced humanities research, promoted curricular and funding opportunities in experimental humanities, and supported languages and global studies. Prior to that role, she held a series of other leadership positions at the Ann Arbor campus: chair of the department of American culture (2017–19), director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Center/Brazil Initiative (2014–17) and associate director of the Center for the History of Medicine (2002–12). She has been a faculty member at Michigan since 2002.

Among the numerous grants and fellowships she has received are awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. She is frequently quoted in prominent media outlets, from the Los Angeles Times to the Atlantic.

In a message to the campus community, Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Michael Levine wrote, “Chancellor [Gene] Block and I are confident that UCLA Humanities will continue to thrive and fulfill its vital role on campus under Alex’s capable leadership and that she will be an extraordinary addition to our campus leadership team.”

In addition to her master’s from UC San Diego, Stern earned a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University and a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago.

Stern will succeed David Schaberg, who has led the humanities division since 2011. Schaberg will return to teaching and research full time after a sabbatical.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit

Innovation the Swedish way: Darja Isaksson delivers Possible Worlds lecture

Courtesy of Darja Isaksson

Possible Worlds lecturer Darja Isaksson is Director General of Vinnova, Sweden’s national innovation agency, and serves as a member of the Swedish government’s National Digitalization Council. Image courtesy of Darja Isaksson.

By Anushka Chakrabarti

In the latest installment of the Possible Worlds lecture series, Darja Isaksson — an internationally recognized innovation and sustainability expert — joined UCLA students, faculty and community members on March 11 to discuss innovation’s role in shaping the future. The event was held in person at Royce Hall, with a livestream reaching additional audience members virtually.

In her talk, Innovation the Swedish Way, Isaksson explored Sweden’s role as an early industrializer and examined the current narrative around innovation. She underscored the importance of the humanities in effecting change and driving new ideas.

“I think people in the humanities are often uniquely equipped with the capacity for reflection, a lot of knowledge, strong skills in narratives and storytelling — things that we need,” Isaksson shared.

A collaborative effort between the UCLA Division of Humanities and the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute, Possible Worlds is a biannual lecture series that invites today’s most imaginative intellectual leaders and creators to deliver talks on the future of humanity. Isaksson’s lecture marked the fourth event in the series.

David Schaberg, dean of the Division of Humanities and senior dean of the UCLA College, explained that the lecturers in Possible Worlds aim to share insights into where we are headed as a planet and as the population of that planet.

“We’ve looked at environmental questions. We’ve looked at questions of justice. We’ve looked at questions around the future of democracy,” Schaberg said.

Isaksson is the director general of Vinnova, Sweden’s national innovation agency, and serves as a member of the Swedish government’s National Digitalization Council. She described growing up in northern Sweden with her father, a telecom engineer, in a house that she called a “late eighties, early nineties maker-space.” When her father first brought home a modem, it changed her life — and sparked her career journey.

Isaksson went on to discuss how innovation has shaped public life in Sweden, walking through the historical methods the country has successfully employed in areas ranging from climate protection to union agreements.

“Public-private collaboration and research and innovation have been essential … for us in Sweden for decades,” Isaksson said, “but also organizations, working employees, employers and unions working together.”

Isaksson’s lecture was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Tobias Higbie, UCLA professor of history and labor studies. Participants joining virtually and in person were encouraged to share their questions, which ranged from “How can young people be more innovative as they go through the education system?” to “How hard is it to have breakthrough innovation nowadays with a small budget?”

Schaberg stressed that the multidisciplinary lectures in Possible Worlds are aimed at informing a sustained and engaged public dialogue.

“These are not highly specialized, highly technical talks,” Schaberg said. “The point is to get people thinking together, from whatever position they may hold.”

View the Possible Worlds lecture by Darja Isaksson on the UCLA Humanities website and on the UCLA College YouTube channel.

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Division of Humanities website. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit

Living life like Brazilian poetry

Doctoral student Isaac Gimenez finds wisdom and whimsy in the exploration, analysis and joy of art and poetry

Image of doctoral student Isaac Gimenez

UCLA doctoral student Isaac Gimenez

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.”

For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

Photo of Tori Schmitt visiting Autun Cathedral in France.

Reconstructing What Was

Photo of Tori Schmitt visiting Autun Cathedral in France.

Tori Schmitt visiting Autun Cathedral in France.

By Jonathan Riggs

Founded early in the sixth century, rebuilt in the twelfth and dismantled in the nineteenth after the French Revolution, the glorious Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève in Paris was one of the earliest examples of Gothic architecture, but exists now only in legend.

In her dissertation, UCLA art history doctoral student Tori Schmitt hopes to shed more light on this medieval church, named after the patron saint of Paris and originally located where the neoclassical Panthèon now stands on the Left Bank.

“There’s not a building to work with, just sculptural fragments, drawings, watercolors and accounts by people. So that mystery intrigued me the more I read and learned about it,” says Tori Schmitt, a UCLA doctoral student in art history. “I’ve always loved 3-D modeling, drafting and trying to imagine what might have been, so I found it an exciting puzzle.”

Photo of Tori Schmitt

Tori Schmitt

Schmitt’s interest in historical reconstructions was first piqued when she served as an undergraduate research assistant to Professor Meredith Cohen on the digital humanities project Paris Past & Present. After earning her master’s at Columbia University, Schmitt returned to UCLA to once again work closely with her mentor, earning the inaugural Diane C. Brouillette Graduate Fellowship in Art History along the way.

“Diane C. Brouillette also worked on early Gothic architecture and sculpture; she wrote her dissertation on Senlis Cathedral,” says Schmitt. “I am honored to hold a fellowship in her name and add to the field.”

The fellowship will allow Schmitt to conduct research abroad in France, scouring Parisian archives and libraries in addition to viewing sculptural fragments of the abbey in the collections of Musée de Cluny, Musée Carnavalet and the Louvre. Crucially, she will be able to travel to other significant French sites of early Gothic architecture and sculpture, such as Chartres, Sens and Senlis, as well as museum collections throughout the country, and to gain a deeper understanding of the abbey’s enduring power across French culture and history.

This opportunity means everything to the Southern California native, who has long drawn inspiration from the architecture of Los Angeles and of UCLA’s campus. During the pandemic, Schmitt took up amateur photography, snapping images of interesting and surprising buildings she encountered on her bike rides, including quite a few L.A. Gothic-inspired, 1930s-era ‘storybook’ bungalows. For Schmitt, it’s a reminder that architecture doesn’t just belong to history or scholarship, but to everyone.

“Whenever I’m teaching undergrads, I try to remind them that they shouldn’t be intimidated by the study of architecture, because they’ve been interacting with it their entire lives,” she says. “They don’t have to become Gothic art historians like me, but I want them to be interested and engaged and to have open eyes for all the spaces they’ll enter throughout their lives. Ultimately, architecture is about people.”

Looking at history through this hands-on lens of wonder and curiosity is key to Schmitt’s approach in both her research and her teaching. After all, it’s one thing to ask a question of Google and receive thousands of results; it’s quite another to travel in person to a historical site and view a single document preserved for thousands of years. It helps bring the past—and most importantly its people—alive, and in a broader, more vivid context that connects us all. This is something Schmitt thinks about frequently, especially when she’s in the physical presence of the architectural creations that deserve to be thought of as much more than just buildings.

“When I went to Notre-Dame for the first time and climbed to the top, I was overwhelmed. It was so big, so beautiful it blew my mind,” Schmitt says. “They built it with no power tools—it was all relational math, highly complex geometry—and the skill on display is beyond belief. Gothic cathedrals were constructed to be awe-inspiring, and when you think about the people behind the place, that power is multiplied.”

Photo of Dr. Amuzegar

Jahangir and Eleanor Amuzegar Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Contemporary Iranian Studies

UCLA has launched a national and international search for a top post-doctoral scholar who will be the inaugural recipient of the Jahangir and Eleanor Amuzegar Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Contemporary Iranian Studies.

The Amuzegar Fellow, who may be appointed for up to two years, will be housed in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (NELC). The Amuzegar Fellow will conduct original research, develop and teach undergraduate and graduate courses, and participate in academic programs hosted by the NELC department, the Program of Iranian Studies, the Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World in the Division of Humanities, as well as other affiliated departments and centers at UCLA.

The Amuzegar Fellowship was established in 2015 following a gift of $1 million by UCLA alumnus Dr. Jahangir Amuzegar, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 98.

Photo of Dr. Amuzegar

Dr. Amuzegar

“The fellowship established in memory of Dr. Jahangir Amuzegar, a remarkable scholar, stateman, and UCLA alumnus, greatly honors us. It substantially enriches Iranian Studies at UCLA, while providing emerging scholars the leisure to pursue innovative and consequential research on Modern Iran,” said M. Rahim Shayegan, Director of the Pouradvoud Center.

Dr. Amuzegar was an economist and former Iranian government official who served as Iran’s ambassador-at-large to the United States from 1963 to 1979. He was also a member of the board of the International Monetary Fund and a special advisor to the IMF director from 1979 to 1984. Previously, he had served as Iran’s minister of commerce and minister of finance in the early 1960s, and as chairman of the National Iranian Oil Company.

Dr. Amuzegar wrote widely on Iran’s economy and politics and was the author of several books, including “The Islamic Republic of Iran: Reflections on an Emerging Economy” (2014), “Managing Oil Wealth” (1999), “Iran’s Economy Under the Islamic Republic” (1993) and “The Dynamics of the Iranian Revolution” (1991).

Dr. Amuzegar held a bachelor’s degree in Economy from Tehran University and a Ph.D. in Economics from UCLA. In addition to the postdoctoral fellowship, in the year 2000, he and his late wife established the Jahangir and Eleanor Amuzegar Chair in Iranian Studies at UCLA, held by M. Rahim Shayegan. The chair promotes innovative research on, and teaching in, all aspects of the Iranian civilization, including Iranian antiquity and the classical period.

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

Students studying in Powell library

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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