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A photo collage of Kristy Hinds, Leann Pham, Genevieve Finn and Kai Huang

UCLA alumna awarded Mitchell Scholarship, first in 20 years

A photo collage of Kristy Hinds, Leann Pham, Genevieve Finn and Kai Huang

Top row, from left: Genevieve Finn, Kristy Hinds. Bottom row, from left: Leann Pham, Kai Huang (Photo Credits: Genevieve Finn – Jacelyn O’Neill; Leann Pham – Anthony Ismail; Kristy Hinds – Daniel Hinds; Kai Huang – Kai Huang)

This time next year, Genevieve Finn ’20 will be studying creative writing at Trinity College in Dublin as one of 12 winners of this year’s prestigious Mitchell Scholarship. She is only the second UCLA alum to win a Mitchell Scholarship, and the first to win in 20 years.

The George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program is a national, competitive scholarship sponsored by the US-Ireland Alliance. Up to 12 Mitchell Scholars between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen annually for one academic year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A native of San Anselmo, Calif., Finn majored in English in the College Honors program and completed her degree in just two and a half years, thanks to AP credits and some “excellent” academic counselors who helped her manage her course load, she said. She was a reporter for the Daily Bruin and interned at the New York Times’ Australia bureau and GQ Australia. She will work at the Mexico bureau of the Associated Press when travel is safe. Finn was also awarded an Overseas Press Club Foundation fellowship for her reporting about her experience sailing on a container ship from Hong Kong to Singapore.

Finn is currently a reporter at the Malibu Times, working to create a Spanish-language insert in the paper’s print edition to serve Malibu’s Latinx day laborer-commuter population. With the Mitchell Scholarship, she plans to develop her skills in long form journalism and poetry, report on Ireland’s unique political and cultural narratives, and explore her own Irish heritage.

Finn said her love of journalism was cemented during a summer she spent traveling around Mexico and writing about the people she met while couch surfing and hitchhiking.

“I love talking to people and am just genuinely interested in other people’s lives,” Finn said. “I love the craft of writing and storytelling and find it exhilarating to be edited.”

She said UCLA’s creative writing program, in particular its poetry workshops, helped prepare her for graduate study.

“My absolute favorite memories of undergrad are far and away the times I got to sit in the Sculpture Garden in the sun with my peers and listen to them read their poetry out loud,” she said. “The workshops taught me so much about how to edit and be edited, made me a nimbler poet and bolder essayist, and gave me so many really wonderful, lasting friends and mentors. I’m going to take all of those skills and relationships with me to Europe!”

In other scholarship news, three UCLA students were finalists for prestigious scholarships this year.

UCLA students Kai Huang and Kristy Hinds were finalists for the Marshall Scholarship, which also funds graduate study in the UK.

Huang, a senior majoring in psychobiology, is an advocate for the transgender community at UCLA. They serve as Undergraduate Student Representative for the Trans Wellness Team, a team of healthcare professionals from Ashe, CAPS and UCLA Health who seek to improve transgender healthcare at UCLA, and are on the Community Advisory Board for the UCLA Gender Health Program Research Collaborative. He co-founded the LGBT Student Advocacy Committee and is the Activism Coordinator for the pre-health student organization Lavender Health Alliance. Huang plans to become a primary care physician for transgender people.

“I never had the opportunity to study abroad before, especially before I legally changed my name and gender marker to match who I am, and it meant a lot to me to be considered as a Marshall finalist as a nonbinary trans person in higher education, since I don’t know of many other trans people in healthcare,” Huang said.

Hinds, a senior majoring in English, is a recipient of the UCLA College Reentry Scholarship for non-traditional students as well as the English department’s Fallen Leaves Creative Writing Prize.

She is working on a directed research project producing a short story fiction collection that looks at women and race, and is researching black authors from the 18th century to the First World War in the areas of sermons, spirituals and autobiography. Hinds said UCLA’s rigor, academic opportunities and support system has inspired her success.

“For me, being a Marshall finalist was a confirmation of what took years to uncover and believe about myself—I am good enough and I am worth it,” Hinds said. “I know it is not despite my story but because of it that makes me a Marshall finalist.”

Leann Pham ’19 was a finalist for the Schwarzman Scholarship, which funds a one-year master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. At UCLA, in addition to majoring in political science and Asian American studies, she led a multi-year research study on responses to violence and taught a class to empower survivors of gender-based violence in the Asian/Pacific American community. She was also a Resident Assistant with UCLA Residential Life and helped organized sexual violence response training for over 300 RAs.

Pham is currently in Taiwan on a Fulbright Scholarship, where she is teaching and studying the Gender Equity Act in primary schools. She said it was an honor not only to be a Schwarzman finalist but also to see how her professors, advisors and friends all rallied to support her throughout the application process.

“Being a Schwarzman finalist meant that someone saw potential in me and my approach to gender-based violence between the U.S. and China,” Pham said. “But the experience of being a finalist showed me how lucky I was to have an entire ‘UCLA village’ support me.”

To learn more about scholarship opportunities for UCLA students, visit http://www.scholarshipcenter.ucla.edu/.

This article was written by Robin Shawn Migdol.

 

A photo of an aerial shot of campus.

UCLA, Berggruen Institute announce lecture series featuring emerging visionaries

A photo of an aerial shot of campus.

(Photo Credit: Pete Saloutos)

The UCLA Division of Humanities has partnered with the Los Angeles–based Berggruen Institute to launch “Possible Worlds,” a new lecture series that invites some of today’s most imaginative intellectual leaders and creators to deliver talks on the future of humanity.

The series will kick off Feb. 18, 2021, with a lecture by Harvard classicist and political theorist Danielle Allen, followed by presentations by architect Alejandro Aravena (spring 2021), author Kim Stanley Robinson (fall 2021), and innovation and sustainability expert Darja Isaksson (spring 2022). The cross-disciplinary lectures will highlight innovative ideas and offer unique insights about our transforming world.

The first collaborative project between UCLA and the Berggruen Institute, “Possible Worlds” furthers both institutions’ goal of fostering a culture of innovation in philosophy and governance, both in Southern California and throughout the world.

“Los Angeles is a place where innovation and diversity are celebrated and where far-reaching ideas are given a chance to take root,” said David Schaberg, dean of the UCLA Division of Humanities. “We’re proud to partner with the Berggruen Institute to amplify these qualities for the benefit of people everywhere with ‘Possible Worlds.’”

Having just celebrated its centennial anniversary, the UCLA Division of Humanities and its more than 200 faculty members are at the forefront of shaping workers and citizens who can uphold human values in a time of immense and rapid change. The Berggruen Institute, founded in 2010 by philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen, works to reinvent institutions to meet this century’s far-reaching and ongoing transformations of how we live, work, interact and govern.

“By partnering with UCLA Humanities, we can give a platform to true visionaries whose work has only just begun to shape the physical, intellectual and artistic landscape of society,” said Nils Gilman, the institute’s vice president of programs. “Attendees of ‘Possible Worlds’ will be guided in a multidisciplinary exploration of society and the human experience in the years to come.”

The initial lectures will be hosted virtually by UCLA, with the format of future lectures to be determined at a later date. Additional “Possible Worlds” lectures will be announced in the future.

About the speakers:

Danielle Allen

Feb. 18, 2021: Danielle Allen 

Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is a political theorist whose work focuses on democratic theory, political sociology and the history of political thought. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity from the Library of Congress and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. Her book “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” was awarded the Heartland Prize, the Zócalo Book Prize and the Society of American Historians’ Francis Parkman Prize.


Alejandro Aravena

Spring 2021: Alejandro Aravena

Aravena is an architect and founder and executive director of the firm Elemental. His works include the “Siamese Towers” at the Catholic University of Chile and the Novartis office campus in Shanghai. In 2016, the New York Times named Aravena one of the world’s “creative geniuses” who had helped define culture. He and Elemental have received numerous honors, including the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the 2015 London Design Museum’s Design of the Year award and the 2011 Index Award. Aravena currently serves as the president of the Pritzker Prize jury.


Kim Stanley Robinson

Fall 2021: Kim Stanley Robinson

Robinson is an American science fiction writer who has published more than 20 books, including the international bestselling “Mars” trilogy. His literary honors include the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the World Fantasy Award. Named a “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine in 2008, Robinson has worked with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers’ Program and UC San Diego’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.


Darja Isakkson

Spring 2022: Darja Isaksson

Isaksson is director general of Vinnova, Sweden’s national innovation agency, and serves as a member of the Swedish government’s National Digitalization Council and an adviser to the prime minister’s Innovation Council. The founder of two agencies, Isaksson has worked in business and product development for clients such as Sony Ericsson, Ikea and Husqvarna. She has been recognized as one of Sweden’s most powerful opinion-makers by financial magazine Veckans Affarer and was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people in digital government by the website Apolitical.

 

Article first appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Michael Carli and Christopher Zyda

The AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and ’90s forms the backdrop for written works by two Bruins, born generations apart

As part of his senior thesis, English major Michael Carli is putting the finishing touches on “Malfunction,” a short story about two gay men living in New York City from 1984 to 1986, and English alumnus Christopher Zyda ’84 recently published his memoir “The Storm: One Voice from the AIDS Generation” (Rare Bird Books), centered on losing his partner to AIDS in 1991.

Carli will interview Zyda on January 26 as part of an online author discussion hosted by the UCLA Creative Writing Program and moderated by Assistant Professor Justin Torres.

For Carli, writing about the AIDS epidemic stemmed from wanting to examine the era from the unique perspective of his generation.

A photo of Michael Carli and Christopher Zyda

From left: Michael Carli, Christopher Zyda

“I grew up with the worst of the AIDS epidemic behind me, but in a period in which my contemporary artistic heroes, particularly when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, were the ones who were left, who had witnessed the destruction [caused by AIDS] firsthand,” Carli said. “It’s important for me to examine that history now because I feel in a way that it’s been forgotten or misunderstood by my own generation.”

Like so many writers, Carli has always been a voracious reader. It was his love of literature that lured him back to school after a stint selling shoes at a Jimmy Choo boutique in Boston. Six years ago, he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a nanny and chef for a family in Santa Monica while attending community college. In 2019, he transferred to UCLA and discovered his passion for creative writing.

Carli said, “Years ago I was afraid to admit to wanting to write novels. The creative writing program has changed things for me. Not only do I feel secure in the education itself and the technical skills I’m attempting to master here, but I feel more confident I can do it. I’d read works by [my professors] Mona Simpson and Justin Torres before I came to UCLA, and it’s really a dream to be in the same room with them. All of my professors in the Department have been incredibly instructive and supportive.”

After graduating from UCLA, Carli plans to pursue an MFA degree in creative writing and complete his first novel. Through his fiction writing, he hopes to have a positive impact on environmental issues such as climate change.

“Moving through this century, facing ecological collapse, those of us working in the humanities have a special responsibility to engage with and respond to the work that scientists are doing. We have the power to translate, as it were, that work to the public by appealing more directly to readers’ emotions,” Carli said. “I hope to do that with my writing.”

Like Carli, Chris Zyda planned to write for a living after graduating from UCLA, but he ended up setting aside his book-writing ambitions for more than 35 years.

Zyda came of age in the early years of the AIDS epidemic and, like most, had no idea of the devastation to come. Then in 1986, his partner Stephen was diagnosed with AIDS. Knowing that sky-high medical expenses were on the horizon, Zyda decided to obtain his MBA from the UCLA Anderson School and pursue a career in corporate finance. He went on to serve in high-level financial roles for industry giants like The Walt Disney Company, Amazon, and eBay before founding his own boutique investment management firm, Mozaic LLC, in 2007.

The idea for “The Storm” began with a journal entry in 2011 on the 20th anniversary of Stephen’s death, but Zyda didn’t start writing the book until 2017, a disciplined process that took only six months alongside running his business. In the book, he recounts the highs and lows of his life through the lens of family dysfunction, Stephen’s battle with AIDS, grief, the gay rights movement, the scientific quest to understand the virus, and the big cultural moments of the era.

Zyda said, “When I first started, one of my fears was that I wouldn’t remember what had happened because I had spent 26 years trying to forget it and stuffing it all away. Fortunately, I am a packrat and save receipts, ticket stubs, photos, and letters. I also made a playlist of music from that time to help me remember. Writing “The Storm” became a cathartic, healing experience.”

As for the central message of “The Storm,” Zyda said, “At some point in life, everybody has to deal with some version of what I call ‘the storm.’ Whether it’s divorce or losing a loved one or losing a job or any other personal challenge in life, remember that you can get through it. My book is a story of survival, of coming through a really challenging situation and having a wonderful, positive life afterwards.”

Author discussion with Chris Zyda: Tuesday, January 26, at 4:00 p.m. To register, please click here.

UCLA’s English department has offered creative writing courses for more than 40 years, including undergraduate concentrations in fiction and poetry writing, as well as workshops in fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and creative nonfiction. Learn more: https://english.ucla.edu/creative-writing-faqs/

This article was written by Margaret MacDonald.

A photo of Royce Hall.

Match funds stimulate establishment of nine centennial term chairs

UCLA College donors gave gifts to establish nine endowed centennial term chairs in the final year of the Centennial Campaign, taking advantage of the opportunity to enhance the impact of their philanthropy through a $5-million dollar match fund.

A photo of Royce Hall.

The Centennial Term Chair Match Fund was set up by Dean of Physical Sciences Miguel García-Garibay using proceeds of UCLA’s sale of royalty interest in the prostate cancer drug Xtandi, which was developed by chemists in the UCLA College’s physical sciences division. The fund was intended to bolster efforts to hire and retain early-career faculty through the establishment of faculty term chairs. Centennial chair holders also will form a distinct cohort that brings College faculty together and advises the College deans on various initiatives.

Senior Dean of UCLA College David Schaberg said, “By ‘sharing the wealth’ through the match fund, Dean García-Garibay found an innovative way to spur investment in faculty throughout the College and engage donors who share our commitment to faculty excellence.”

Prestigious endowed chairs play a key role in recruiting and retaining premier faculty whose interdisciplinary research, commitment to mentoring students, and talent for teaching are essential to the university’s vitality and impact. UCLA vies with other top-tier universities, including many with much larger endowments, for the best faculty. Along with the prestige and recognition that come with an endowed chair, chair holders receive funds for research costs as well to support graduate students who teach and mentor undergraduates. Term chairs, while renewable, generally are awarded every five years to ensure representation of a cross-section of academic fields.

Below are the nine centennial term chairs established or committed:

Division of Humanities

– Theresa McShane Biggs and Henry P. Biggs Centennial Term Chair in Linguistics

– George P. Kolovos Family Centennial Term Chair in Hellenic Studies

 

Division of Life Sciences

– George and Nouhad Ayoub Centennial Chair in Life Sciences Innovation

– Kevin Love Fund Centennial Chair in Psychology*

 

Division of Physical Sciences

– Randy Schekman and Sabeeha Merchant Centennial Term Chair

– The Andrea M. Ghez Centennial Term Chair in Astronomy and Astrophysics (gifts from Astrid and Howard Preston, Lauren Leichtman and Arthur Levine, and the Heising-Simons Foundation)

 

Division of Social Sciences

– Benjamin Graham Centennial Endowed Chair in Value Investing (gift from the Havner Family Foundation)

– Mark Itkin Centennial Chair in Communication honoring Andrea L. Rich* (gift from Mark Allen Itkin)

 

Division of Undergraduate Education

– Centennial Director for Philanthropy Education (gift from Madeline and Mark Asofsky)

 

*Pending approval by UCOP

This article was written by Margaret MacDonald. 

A photo of a Page of works by Landacre.

UCLA Clark Library gains works by artist Paul Landacre

A photo of a Page of works by Landacre.

Page of works by Landacre (Photo Credit: Jeff Weber)

A new gift to UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library from collectors Robert and Toni Crisell highlights the legacy and artistic practice of Southern California wood engraver and naturalist Paul Hambleton Landacre.

The Crisells recently donated an expansive Landacre archive comprising prints, print proofs, preliminary drawings and page layouts, chapbooks, correspondence, catalogs, clippings, magazines, photographs and ephemera, as well as more personal items.

The gift adds to the Clark Library’s existing Landacre collection, the majority of which was donated by Landacre’s brother Joseph in 1986 and 1991. The library holds artwork, books, manuscripts, correspondence, blocks and tools related to Landacre.

Robert Crisell called Landacre “the first artist from Southern California to be recognized across America for his achievements.

“The more we did our research on the legacy of Paul Landacre, the more we felt an obligation to make certain that the bulk of the ephemera was made available to the public for future generations for research and to further the memory of him and his work,” Crisell said. “During a career that spanned nearly four decades, Landacre was praised by the most respected people in printmaking. In 1939, John Taylor Arms, president of the American National Committee of Engraving, referred to him as ‘America’s number one wood engraver.’”

Included in the newly donated archive are numerous proofs and drawings that allow scholars to understand Landacre’s working methods, alongside personal items such as blue ribbons he won for his work at the Los Angeles County Fair and portfolio cases he used during his lifetime.

“We are excited to receive this generous gift from the Crisells,” said Nina Schneider, rare books librarian at the Clark, which is located in Los Angeles’ West Adams neighborhood. “Scholars and admirers of Paul Landacre’s work now have the opportunity to study more of his working methods and techniques while expanding the context of the art of wood engraving. We look forward to being able to make this collection available to researchers.”

Landacre work from “Road of a Naturalist”

Engraving by Landacre from Donald Culcross Peattie’s 1941 book “The Road of a Naturalist.” (Photo Credit: Jeff Weber)

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1893, Landacre attended Ohio State University as a horticulture major, but a mysterious infection left him partly paralyzed and cut short his academic career. He moved to Southern California in 1916, where he began working as a commercial illustrator. From 1923 to 1925, he attended the Otis Art Institute, where he returned to teach for 10 years until his death in 1963.

“There is so much more to know about this underappreciated artist that we thought the only choice for this important part of his legacy was to donate it to the Clark Library, to not only supplement the archival materials on this artist they already own but to allow future scholars to fill in missing pieces of his life and work,” Crisell said.

Landacre’s skill at wood engraving and linocut, particularly of natural and landscape subjects, was first recognized by the bookseller Jake Zeitlin. During the 1930s, Landacre produced editions of single prints, and illustrations for books published mostly by local fine presses. Increasing commissions for book illustrations from about 1942 drew his attention away from art prints. The most notable books containing his work are “California Hills” (1931), “The Boar and Shibboleth” (1933), “De Rerum Natura” (1957) and “On the Origin of Species” (1963).

The Crisells started collecting Landacre materials after becoming interested in American prints of the period between World War I and World War II. After collecting several important prints by Landacre and other artists, they said they felt fortunate to acquire the entire Landacre collection originally started in 1966 by Patricia Adler Ingram.

This article, written by Jessica Wolf, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

Astrophysicist France Córdova to deliver UCLA’s Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership

France Córdova, internationally renowned astrophysicist and the first woman to be appointed chief scientist for NASA, will deliver UCLA College’s fifth Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership on Nov. 10, titled “The Learn’d Astronomer Discovers the Policy World.” Córdova is the former director of the National Science Foundation and served in five presidential administrations.

A photo of Astrophysicist France Córdova.

Astrophysicist France Córdova (Photo Courtesy of France Córdova)

Córdova will discuss the world of science policy, which affects scientific progress as much as scientific discoveries themselves. Through examples such as the writing of the U.S. Constitution to the present day challenges faced by universities and federal science agencies, she will illustrate how difficult — and important — it can be to form good policy.

Registration is required for this virtual event, which is free and open to UCLA students, alumni and the general public. Following her talk, Córdova will take part in a moderated discussion informed by questions submitted by students and alumni.

“As an influential leader and trailblazer in science, engineering and education, France Córdova offers invaluable perspective on meeting the challenges of our rapidly changing world,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said.

During her career as a scientist, Córdova specialized in multi-spectral research on X-ray and gamma ray sources and in developing space-borne instrumentation. She was the first woman to be appointed president of Purdue University and the first Latina chancellor of UC Riverside. She previously served as vice chancellor for research at UC Santa Barbara. Córdova also served as chair of the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution and on the board of trustees of Mayo Clinic. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology.

Among her numerous honors, Córdova is the recipient of NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal — the agency’s highest honor, and the Kilby International Award, which is presented for significant contributions to society through science, technology, innovation, invention and education. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a National Associate of the National Academies, an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy and a fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Women in Science. She was appointed to the board of trustees of Caltech in June.

“France Córdova’s groundbreaking achievements are inspiring to all who value progress and discovery,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College. “Her Luskin Lecture will undoubtedly motivate and challenge all of us to create a better world through education and exploration, as she herself as done.”

The Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership was established in the UCLA College by Meyer and Renee Luskin in 2011 as part of a transformative gift to UCLA. Their vision in establishing the endowed lecture series gives the UCLA College an opportunity to share knowledge and expand the dialogue among scholars, leaders in government and business, and the greater Los Angeles community.

This article, written by Melissa Abraham, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Images from the four episodes of Earth Focus

Faculty, students co-produce documentary on bipartisan environmental solutions

Images from the four episodes of Earth Focus

Earth Focus Collage
Images from the four episodes of Earth Focus. Top Left: “The New West and the Politics of the Environment,” image courtesy of KCET and LENS at UCLA; remaining images courtesy of Thomson Reuters Foundation. (Photos Courtesy of KCET, LENS and Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Anew documentary exploring environmental politics, which was researched, reported and produced by UCLA faculty and students in conjunction with the Southern California public media channel KCET, is slated to air in September as part of the locally produced environmental series “Earth Focus.”

This is the third season of “Earth Focus” that UCLA’s Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies has worked on. LENS advised on three of the episodes in this year’s series and co-produced the fourth, a feature-length documentary. Launched in 2007, the series is the longest-running investigative environmental news program on U.S. television and features reports about the changing environment and how it affects people around the world.

The 90-minute documentary, “The New West and the Politics of the Environment,” focuses on Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s work on sustainability. The film looks at topics like bipartisan solutions to water wars and land conservation, compromises between progressive urban areas and conservative rural areas, and equitable energy transitions from coal to renewable energy.

LENS co-founder Jon Christensen, a UCLA adjunct assistant professor and member of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, served as executive producer on the documentary. In collaboration with the filmmaking team at KCET, Christensen’s work included researching and shaping the story, interviewing subjects, and overseeing UCLA students working as researchers, reporters and writers on the series.

UCLA fourth-year political science student Lucas Holtz investigated environmental initiatives emerging in the western United States, while Spencer Robins, a graduate student in English, delved into Reid’s archived congressional papers, many of which were fortunately digitized before the pandemic quarantine.

Shouhei Tanaka, also a graduate student in English, researched the history of California’s reliance on coal and fossil fuels and turned it into an online article that will run with an “Earth Focus” episode about coal mining in South Africa. Geography grad student Alexandria Herr researched and wrote an article for the website about the environmental legacy of mercury used in the California gold rush, which will run as a companion piece to an episode about illegal gold mines in Peru.

“In a political season that’s as polarized as we’ve ever seen, we want to tell these stories showing that environmental politics are complicated and nuanced, and there are different paths being forged on the ground,” Christensen said. “Even among politicians who are opposed to funding climate change research, in the Midwest for example, there are many who care deeply about how changing weather patterns, drought and flooding affect farming.”

KCET partnered with the Thomson Reuters Foundation for the international filmmaking. While LENS’ work focused on the feature-length documentary, all the partners gathered for weekly calls on story development, providing Christensen and the UCLA students a voice in the development of the other three episodes in the series.

“Earth Focus” airs on KCET and Link TV beginning on Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. with “The Youth Climate Movement around the World,” and culminates with “The New West and the Politics of the Environment” on Sept. 29.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Shu-mei Shih named inaugural Edward W. Said Professorship in Comparative Literature

A portrait of Shu-mei Shih (Photo Credit: Raymond Schorr)

Humanities scholar Shu-mei Shih has been named the inaugural Edward W. Said Professor of Comparative Literature in the UCLA College division of humanities.

A UCLA faculty member since 1993, Shih is a professor in the departments of comparative literature, Asian languages and cultures, and Asian American studies and is vice president of the American Comparative Literature Association.

David Schaberg, senior dean of UCLA College and dean of humanities, said, “This prestigious endowed professorship recognizes Shu-mei Shih’s distinguished record of scholarship and teaching in comparative literature. We are proud that the legacy of Edward Said’s contributions to scholarship will live on at UCLA and will be represented in our eminent colleague’s continuing work.”

Shih’s research centers on the intersections of Sinophone, Asian American and transnational studies, with a focus on literature, visual culture and critical theory. She writes about modern literature and culture from the Sinophone world, as well as minority discourse, feminism and settler colonialism.

“It is a great honor to be awarded the Edward W. Said Professorship of Comparative Literature,” said Shih. “This endowment will allow me to continue pushing the boundaries of this vibrant field and to support graduate students in their endeavors.” Specifically for the field, she is currently at work on a monograph titled “Comparative Literature in a Relational World.”

Shih’s groundbreaking work “Visuality and Identity: Sinophone Articulations across the Pacific,” published in 2007, launched the field of Sinophone studies, which trains a cultural lens on Sinitic-language communities dispersed around the world, including in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States.

Shih co-directed UCLA’s Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities Cultures in Transnational Perspective for a decade. She is the recipient of numerous awards, honors and fellowships and has been a visiting professor in prestigious institutions around the world. She also serves on editorial boards in Asia, Europe and the Americas and is the editor of the Sinophone Studies book series at the University of California Press. She currently holds an honorary chair professorship in the Department of Taiwan Languages, Literature and Culture at National Taiwan Normal University and was previously the Hon-yin and Suet-fong Chan Professor of Chinese at the University of Hong Kong.

The Said Professorship was established in 2018 by a gift from the estate of Jean Stein, eldest daughter of Jules and Doris Stein (namesake of the UCLA Stein Eye Institute). Stein, who died in 2017, was a bestselling author, arts patron and magazine editor who greatly admired the prominent scholar, literary critic and political activist Edward Said. During her career, she regularly crossed paths with other luminaries, writers and intellectuals such as Joan Didion and John Kenneth Galbraith.

Learn more here

 

 

 

A photo of Royce Hall.

Alumna’s Gift will Support the Study of Contemporary Chinese Culture

A $250,000 donation from economics alumna May C. Chong has established the Heritage and Hope Endowment in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. Augmented by $125,000 from the Humanities Centennial Match, the gift will support students and faculty researching contemporary global Chinese culture and/or religion, specifically Buddhism.

A photo of Royce Hall.

Royce Hall (Photo Credit: UCLA)

“We are deeply grateful for May Chong’s generous gift, which will firmly embed contemporary Chinese cultural studies on our campus,” Dean of Humanities David Schaberg said. “More broadly, this gift further empowers UCLA in its mission to educate global citizens and foster greater cultural understanding.”

Chong, who graduated from UCLA in 1979, grew up in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States after graduating from high school. As a student, she spent hours in the Richard C. Rudolph East Asian Library in UCLA’s Young Research Library, considering it her “home away from home.” In 2011, she established an endowment for the library supporting the acquisition of books and materials, including primarily Chinese classics, culture, education and modern literature, as well as publications in Chinese or dual language (Chinese-English).

“It is my hope that these complementary gifts will help UCLA become known as a premier cultural and educational resource for both Chinese and non-Chinese-speaking people who are interested in Chinese language, teachings and cultures,” Chong said.

Chong is a longtime financial adviser currently employed by UBS Financial Services. She previously worked for Merrill Lynch. In 2014, she was named by the Financial Times among the Top 100 Women Financial Advisors. In the same year CEOWorld placed her on their America’s Top-Ranked 100 Women Financial Advisors list. She is married to Danny Yiu. They have a daughter who graduated from NYU in 2017.

A graphic visualization of the layers and connecting points in a conspiracy theory.

How conspiracy theories emerge – and how their storylines fall apart

A graphic visualization of the layers and connecting points in a conspiracy theory.

Researchers produced a graphic representation of the narratives they analyzed, with layers for major subplots of each story, and lines connecting the key people, places and institutions within and among those layers. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

A new study by UCLA professors offers a new way to understand how unfounded conspiracy theories emerge online. The research, which combines sophisticated artificial intelligence and a deep knowledge of how folklore is structured, explains how unrelated facts and false information can connect into a narrative framework that would quickly fall apart if some of those elements are taken out of the mix.

The authors, from the UCLA College and the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, illustrated the difference in the storytelling elements of a debunked conspiracy theory and those that emerged when journalists covered an actual event in the news media. Their approach could help shed light on how and why other conspiracy theories, including those around COVID-19, spread — even in the absence of facts.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, analyzed the spread of news about the 2013 “Bridgegate” scandal in New Jersey — an actual conspiracy — and the spread of misinformation about the 2016 “Pizzagate” myth, the completely fabricated conspiracy theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant was the center of a child sex-trafficking ring that involved prominent Democratic Party officials, including Hillary Clinton.

The researchers used machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to analyze the information that spread online about the Pizzagate story. The AI automatically can tease out all of the people, places, things and organizations in a story spreading online — whether the story is true or fabricated — and identify how they are related to each other.

Finding the puzzle pieces

In either case — whether for a conspiracy theory or an actual news story — the narrative framework is established by the relationships among all of the elements of the storyline. And, it turns out, conspiracy theories tend to form around certain elements that act as the adhesive holding the facts and characters together.

“Finding narratives hidden in social media forums is like solving a huge jigsaw puzzle, with the added complication of noise, where many of the pieces are just irrelevant,” said Vwani Roychowdhury, a UCLA professor of electrical and computer engineering and an expert in machine learning, and a lead author of the paper.

In recent years, researchers have made great strides in developing artificial intelligence tools that can analyze batches of text and identify the pieces to those puzzles. As the AI learns to identify patterns, identities and interactions that are embedded in words and phrases, the narratives begin to make “sense.” Drawing from the massive amount of data available on social media, and because of improving technology, the systems are increasingly able to teach themselves to “read” narratives, almost as if they were human.

The visual representations of those story frameworks showed the researchers how false conspiracy theory narratives are held together by threads that connect multiple characters, places and things. But they found that if even one of those threads is cut, the other elements often can’t form a coherent story without it.

A conspiracy theory unravels: The researchers found that with Wikileaks relationships removed as the “glue” for the false narrative, other elements of the Pizzagate myth quickly disconnected from one another. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

“One of the characteristics of a conspiracy theory narrative framework is that it is easily ‘disconnected,’” said Timothy Tangherlini, one of the paper’s lead authors, a professor in the UCLA Scandinavian section whose scholarship focuses on folklore, legend and popular culture. “If you take out one of the characters or story elements of a conspiracy theory, the connections between the other elements of the story fall apart.”

Which elements stick?

In contrast, he said, the stories around actual conspiracies — because they’re true — tend to stand up even if any given element of the story is removed from the framework. Consider Bridgegate, for example, in which New Jersey officials closed several lanes of the George Washington Bridge for politically motivated reasons. Even if any number of threads were removed from the news coverage of the scandal, the story would have held together: All of the characters involved had multiple points of connection by way of their roles in New Jersey politics.

“They are all within the same domain, in this case New Jersey politics, which will continue to exist irrespective of the deletions,” Tangherlini said. “Those connections don’t require the same ‘glue’ that a conspiracy theory does.”

Tangherlini calls himself a “computational folklorist.” Over the past several years, he has collaborated regularly with Roychowdhury to better understand the spread of information around hot-button issues like the anti-vaccination movement.

To analyze Pizzagate, in which the conspiracy theory arose from a creative interpretation of hacked emails released in 2016 by Wikileaks, the researchers analyzed nearly 18,000 posts from April 2016 through February 2018 from discussion boards on the websites Reddit and Voat.

“When we looked at the layers and structure of the narrative about Pizzagate, we found that if you take out Wikileaks as one of the elements in the story, the rest of the connections don’t hold up,” Tangherlini said. “In this conspiracy, the Wikileaks email dump and how theorists creatively interpreted the content of what was in the emails are the only glue holding the conspiracy together.”

The data generated by the AI analysis enabled the researchers to produce a graphic representation of narratives, with layers for major subplots of each story, and lines connecting the key people, places and institutions within and among those layers.

Quick build versus slow burn

Another difference that emerged between real and false narratives concerned the time they take to build. Narrative structures around conspiracy theories tend to build and become stable quickly, while narrative frameworks around actual conspiracies can take years to emerge, Tangherlini said. For example, the narrative framework of Pizzagate stabilized within a month after the Wikileaks dump, and it stayed relatively consistent over the next three years.

“The fact that additional information related to an actual conspiracy emerged over a prolonged period of time (here five and half years) might be one of the telltale signs of distinguishing a conspiracy from a conspiracy theory,” the authors wrote in the study.

Tangherlini said it’s becoming increasingly important to understand how conspiracy theories abound, in part because stories like Pizzagate have inspired some to take actions that endanger other people.

“The threat narratives found in conspiracy theories can imply or present strategies that encourage people to take real-world action,” he said. “Edgar Welch went to that Washington pizzeria with a gun looking for supposed caves hiding victims of sex trafficking.”

The UCLA researchers have also written another paper examining the narrative frameworks surrounding conspiracy theories related to COVID-19. In that study, which has been published on an open-source forum, they track how the conspiracy theories are being layered on to previously circulated conspiracy theories such as those about the perceived danger of vaccines, and, in other cases how the pandemic has given rise to completely new ones, like the idea that 5G cellular networks spread the coronavirus.

“We’re using the same pipeline on COVID-19 discussions as we did for Pizzagate,” Tangherlini said. “In Pizzagate, the targets were more limited, and the conspiracy theory stabilized rapidly. With COVID-19, there are many competing conspiracy theories, and we are tracing the alignment of multiple, smaller conspiracy theories into larger ones. But the underlying theory is identical for all conspiracy theories.”

This article, written by Jessica Wolf, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.