UCLA faculty, visiting scholars and political thinkers continue to grapple with a contentious presidential campaign that includes “two of the most unpopular candidates in American history,” as Bill Schneider, longtime political analyst and current visiting professor in the UCLA Department of Communication Studies put it during a recent campus event related to the election.
Nickoll Family Chair to be awarded to renowned history scholar and UCLA faculty member
History alumnus Ben Nickoll ’86 was brought up in a family in which helping others and giving back were the norm. Now, he has given back to his alma mater by establishing the Nickoll Family Endowed Chair in History, which will have a focus on women’s history. The inaugural holder will be renowned scholar and writer Brenda Stevenson, who will be formally installed on October 24.
“I am proud to have known Ben Nickoll since my days as Dean of Social Sciences,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh. “His professional career, values and character are testaments to the importance of a liberal arts education.”
He said that the gift would help to ensure the quality and relevance of UCLA’s history department for decades to come.
“As a historian myself, I am deeply touched.” He said.
History chair Stephen Aron said that the gift would bolster the department’s efforts to attract and retain world-class faculty like Stevenson, whose research focuses on the history of slavery in the U.S. and Atlantic World, particularly of enslaved women.
“With this wonderful gift, Ben Nickoll has signaled his belief in the enduring value of a history degree, of excellent teaching, and of studying the past to shape a better future,” Aron said.
Nickoll grew up near UCLA, so it was a familiar fixture in his childhood. He recalled skateboarding through the campus, hanging out in Westwood with friends and attending basketball games with his dad at Pauley Pavilion. His parents were actively involved in the local community and in politics.
“They stood up for what they believed and gave to causes where they could have an impact,” he said.
When he first enrolled at UCLA, he had no idea what he wanted to study.
“Then I took a class taught by Prof. Roger McGrath, a gifted storyteller who brought historical characters and events to life in the classroom,” Nickoll said. “I was hooked and became a history major soon after that.”
After graduation, despite a lack of investment experience, Nickoll moved across country and talked his way into a job on Wall Street. He held high-level positions at top investment banks before co-founding investment firm Ore Hill in 2002. After that firm was sold in 2011, he founded El Faro Partners, an investment firm focused on real estate, private equity, credit and agriculture.
Nickoll is a member of the history department’s Board of Advisors and gave the commencement address at the department’s graduation ceremony in 2008. He is also a founding member of the board of the Fink Center for Finance and Investments at the Anderson School of Business.
“My wife, Chrissy, and I acknowledge that there are many worthy causes and organizations,” Nickoll said. “We believe in focusing the majority of our energy in our local communities, not just financially but also with action when possible.”
And he said he felt the time was right to make a major gift to his home department at UCLA.
If the liberal arts and subjects like history continue to be overlooked in favor of the sciences and engineering, he said, students might not develop a sufficiently broad, informed world view.
“I believe that the study of history is relevant to all aspects of life,” he said. “Take the investment world—an investor needs to understand context and how elements affecting past performance can affect a company today and in the future.”
For her part, Stevenson said that the Nickoll chair would allow her to take her work to a different level.
“Thanks to the Nickoll chair, I will now have the resources to undertake larger projects more efficiently and expediently,” Stevenson said. “I’m also going to be hiring some undergraduates to do a long-term project that deals with the history of racial violence in America. Private funding is so important for research initiatives that really do make positive contributions to our lives and to the world and to educating students.”
A professor of history and of African American studies at UCLA, she is the author of several books, including Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South.
Although most of Stevenson’s work focuses on the 19th century, and particularly the Southern U.S., she received the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism award for her 2013 book about more recent events in Los Angeles, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender and the Origins of the L.A. Riots. Stevenson has been awarded several fellowships, including a Guggenheim in 2015.
Stevenson is at work on two new books: a history of the slave family from the colonial through the antebellum eras and a history of slave women. Her work continues to shed light—on the page and in the classroom—on important parts of human history with a view to creating a more just society.
J. Fraser Stoddart, who was a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA from 1997 to 2008 and is currently the Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University, has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry, the Nobel committee announced this morning.
Jonathan Dotan appeared in the inaugural edition of the College Report magazine in 2004 in an article highlighting his internship in war-torn Bosnia. The College recently caught up with Dotan to find out about his post-graduation endeavors and career.
Jonathan Dotan ’03 has three great passions: technology, film and international affairs. By connecting the dots between the three fields, Dotan has found a way to build an exciting career.
Dotan is currently a co-producer and lead technical advisor for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” which wrapped its third season in June. His work helps to ensure that the show, whose storyline revolves around modern compression technology and computer science, is accurate in its dialogue and representation of the tech industry.
“I’m drawing from my own experience working in tech and film to make sure that the show, which is really dependent on accuracy, remains authentic,” Dotan said.
Dotan credits UCLA with laying the foundation for his future career. He created his own major, Information Policy, through the UCLA honors program, integrating coursework from the College, UCLA Law School, Theatre, Film & Television, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and UCLA Anderson School of Management. He said having the freedom to take a wide spectrum of courses across disciplines allowed him to graduate with a degree that prepared him perfectly for the future.
However, Dotan said even more vital than the classes he took at UCLA were the people he met there and the valuable friendships that emerged. He teamed up with classmate Robert Davari to enter the Anderson WWW Challenge in 2000, a campus-wide competition challenging students to create solutions to real consulting and technology problems. The two won first place and took their partnership into the real world. Today, Dotan serves as a consultant for Davari’s live event ticket app, Tixr.
He has particularly fond memories of his close mentor Jennifer Wilson, former assistant vice provost for honors in the UCLA College. He said her wisdom and approach to learning have stayed with him.
“She taught me to go the more unconventional path, which is an interdisciplinary path,” Dotan said. “The honors program prides itself on working across departments and disciplines, and I can tell you that my career is almost entirely related to the intersection between the arts and sciences.”
Another piece of advice she gave him, he said, was to pursue work that would bring about social change.
During their fourth year, Dotan and another student traveled to Bosnia as interns on a year-long war crimes project through the United Nations, thanks to funding from the honors program and UCLA’s Burkle International Institute. There, he drafted indictment recommendations to the State Court to charge three Bosnian government officials, ultimately achieving a 100% conviction rate.
“It was the largest corruption case in the Balkans and we helped crack it while we were just students at UCLA,” Dotan said. “It was some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.”
After graduating with a master’s in International Relations from Oxford University, Dotan travelled to 30 countries as an envoy for the Motion Picture Association of America. He worked on behalf of the major U.S. studios to engage with foreign film industries and governments to develop local markets and ensure fair market access. On a trip to India, he formed a relationship with India’s maverick retail mogul, Kishore Biyani, who ended up appointing Dotan to run his investments in film and technology.
Transplanted to India for the next five years, Dotan worked on dozens of ventures and notably one of the most-watched TV shows in the country’s history, “Satyamev Jayate” (Truth Alone Prevails), which reached an audience of more than 500 million people. Starring one of India’s most popular actors, Aamir Khan, the talk show brought to light Indian social issues such as inter-caste marriage and domestic violence. Dotan developed a social media platform to allow viewers to submit their own stories to the show.
“In two hours every Sunday morning, we brought people together to put a face on the most taboo issues in India society,” Dotan said. “We explained through stories of hope how people can overcome social ills.”
According to Dotan, the show, combined with the digital platform’s 15 million user stories and 1 billion impressions, became a powerful means to lobby Indian government, and 12 new laws—including the first child abuse law in the country—were enacted.
When he returned to the U.S. in 2013, he was invited to work with producers Mike Judge (“King of the Hill”) and Alec Berg (“Seinfeld”).
“When we sat down to talk about ‘Silicon Valley,’ I realized this was a really special opportunity to develop a show in a different way,” Dotan said. “While it’s primarily a half-hour comedy, the show is also a unique platform to use satire to discuss contemporary issues tech startups face in this golden age.”
Dotan enlists the brainpower of over 200 tech specialists to advise every episode of the show. His TV think-tank includes a team of Stanford researchers who specialize in compression technology and even an intrepid team of UCLA law students who build out pivotal legal plot lines.
Now at work on season four, Dotan said he never could have imagined working on a hit TV show – domestically or internationally – while he was a student more than a decade ago. But what he did discover at UCLA, he said, was the importance of being curious and willing to collaborate.
“The key is simply to ask good questions. People in the world are passionate about solving problems, and if you can bring innovation and dedication to your career, that type of talent will take you farther than you could ever dream,” he said.
As five UCLA freshmen settled onto a bus Thursday that would return them to campus after an on-set visit with the cast, crew, producers and writers of “The Big Bang Theory” at the Warner Bros. backlot, they bubbled over in amazement.
It all began with the adoption of a Jardine’s parrot in the mid-1990s. Ursula Heise, UCLA English professor and the Marcia H. Howard Chair in Literary Studies, author and leader in the growing study of environmental humanities, was surprised by the animal’s intelligence and ability to communicate.
Students in two global studies classes at UCLA this quarter will benefit from an eye-opening month their professor spent in Greece this past summer. In July, anthropologist Laurie Hart taught international graduate seminars on the current border crisis at the University of the Aegean on the island of Lesvos.
The UCLA chapter of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) has been selected to receive two awards from the national organization.
Clues from prehistoric droughts and arid periods in California show that today’s increasing greenhouse gas levels could lock the state into drought for centuries, according to a study led by UCLA professor Glen MacDonald.
Ward wanted to be a lawyer, but his plans changed during a class action suit against Chevron. In August 2012, the oil giant’s refinery in Richmond, California caught fire, sending a plume of toxic, black smoke into the air.
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