The Mighty Pen


UCLA counts among its illustrious alumni two U.S. Poet Laureates: Kay Ryan and Juan Felipe Herrera, both of whom served in the post for two terms.

Kay Ryan ’67, M.A. ’68, who served in the post from 2008 to 2010, is a Californian through and through. Born in San Jose and raised in the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, Ryan attended Antelope Valley College before transferring to UCLA to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Despite having won such prestigious awards as the Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships and published seven volumes of poetry, Ryan taught remedial English at College of Marin in Kentfield, California, for more than 30 years. Her students were not aspiring poets but people for whom learning basic English was a critical life skill. “Teaching basic skills is like saving lives,” Ryan says. “There is nothing more important or more satisfying.”

Juan Felipe Herrera ’72 also served two terms as the nation’s top poet, from 2015 to 2017, after serving as California’s poet laureate for two years, the first Latino in that post. A native of Fowler, California, Herrera spent his first six years in migrant worker camps in the San Joaquin Valley. “My beginnings were at the margins of society,” he says, adding that doors opened for him when he enrolled at UCLA. “I want to tell the big story through the people at the very edge of society.” During his tenure as national poet laureate, he engaged people of all ages and circumstances across the country, encouraging them to tell their stories. Herrera, who taught creative writing at UC Riverside, has published 30 books, including poetry collections, prose, short stories, young adult novels and children’s books. A New York Times critic wrote that Herrera’s art is “grounded in ethnic identity, fueled by collective pride, yet irreducibly individual, too.” His language is unique, yet universal.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ’69’s name became a household word because of basketball, but since his NBA retirement in 1989, the all-time leading scorer has garnered new fame as a bestselling author. His books have shed light on such diverse subjects as the Harlem Renaissance; an all-black tank unit in World War II; White Mountain Apaches; his friendship with Coach John Wooden; possible solutions to racism in politics; and remarkable achievements by African Americans. His kid-friendly What Color Is My World? profiles little-known African-American inventors. His book Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court describes the love that grew between an old-fashioned white Midwesterner and a black kid from New York City, whose bond looked unlikely on paper but grew into a lifelong friendship.

A League of Their Own


Title IX inset illustration
Brian Stauffer

Forty-seven years ago, a law passed that said nothing about athletics — but that changed UCLA sports history forever.

The law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, stated: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Title IX opened the floodgates of opportunity to female athletes, especially in high school and college.

But the law has generated controversy, sometimes heated, as institutions struggled with compliance and reduced spending on or cut less profitable men’s sports, such as wrestling, swimming and gymnastics. And those first women athletes after the law was passed often had to make do with woefully limited facilities.

But despite it all, Title IX gave women the right to sweat, and for UCLA, the result has been glorious.

In 1974 — a year marked now as the start of the modern era of UCLA women’s sports — Ann Meyers Drysdale ’79 received the first full-ride women’s athletic scholarship in basketball. Considered by many the greatest women’s player of all time, Meyers Drysdale helped put both UCLA and women’s collegiate sports on the map by leading her team to the 1978 national title in Pauley Pavilion.

And it’s only gotten better. So far, 41 of UCLA’s 116 NCAA titles have come from women’s teams, including the history-making 100th championship that the women’s water polo team won in 2007.

“I remember, in 1975, we were the talk of the [AIAW] tournament,” says former Bruin volleyball star Sheila King ’79, M.S. ’82. “UCLA had started putting money on the table for women’s volleyball in terms of scholarships, and we were winning it all. It got people thinking and gave other schools the impetus to get serious about volleyball, about women’s sports, and about what female athletes could be and do.”

Don’t Know Much About History …


The Unknown American Revolution by Gary B. Nash

What should America’s schoolchildren learn in history class?

That’s what UCLA Education Professor Charlotte Crabtree was thinking about in 1988 when she established the National Center for History in the Schools. Crabtree, an experienced classroom teacher, soon enlisted UCLA historian Gary Nash, the author of Red, White & Black: The Peoples of Early North America (1974).

In 1991, Crabtree and Nash tackled the challenge of developing national standards for the teaching of history. But they didn’t do it alone. For years, groups of professional historians and veteran classroom teachers worked together to develop frameworks for teaching U.S. and world history.

Released in 1994, the standards were attacked by Rush Limbaugh and Lynne Cheney, whose opinion piece was headlined “The End of History.”

Nash and Crabtree replied to the criticisms at length in the book History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past. “We are living in an era when unusually strident claims are made about how reinterpreters of history dishonor American traditions and demean Western values. The sky is falling, they say, because new faces crowding onto the stage of history ruin the symmetry and security of older versions of the past,” they wrote. “In fact, one of the most important of all American traditions is education and citizenship that requires open inquiry and healthy skepticism about any account of the past, and open-mindedness to the possibility of new historical perspectives.”

The revised version of the standards, released in 1996, continue to influence textbook writers and publishers, school administrators, curriculum specialists and policymakers.

The National Center for History in the Schools is now part of UCLA’s Public History Initiative, with its HistoryCorps internships and a simple but striking motto: “We help students and scholars bring history alive.”

Picture This


It’s a treasure trove of moving-image history. More than 350,000 motion pictures, 160,000 television programs, 10,000 commercials and 27 million feet of newsreel footage. This is the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the world’s second-largest media collection behind the U.S. Library of Congress and a highly regarded film preservation program.

Founded in 1968, the archive is a go-to resource for storytellers, scholars and historians, and a delight for the movie-going public, screening 400 films a year at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum. Cinephiles clamor to attend special events, such as the biennial UCLA Festival of Preservation, which showcases the program’s preservation work. Most of the archive’s films are viewable by the public on request for research, say for a book, article or feature film. “The idea is for the collection to live and breathe and not be locked away in vaults,” explains Mark Quigley M.F.A. ’00, television archivist.

Of the archive’s vast holdings, one of the most popular is the Hearst Metrotone News Collection, the entertaining, in-theater newsreels that brought moviegoers up to date on current events. Spanning 1916 to 1972, the collection is one of the most extensive continuous records of U.S. history anywhere. The archive’s many sought-after titles are used regularly by students, scholars, journalists, authors and filmmakers.

The archive strengthened its emphasis on preservation in 1974 with the arrival of Robert Rosen as director. A historian, Rosen saw films as “historical documents that embody collective narratives.” He said letting films fade away was a “cultural crime.”

A Test of Freedom


Free Angela Davis Protest
La Raza
Students protest at a rally to free Angela Davis.

In 1968, shortly after Charles E. Young became UCLA chancellor, he unveiled a plan to hire more minority faculty. One of his recruits was a 25-year-old African-American scholar, Angela Davis, who joined UCLA’s Department of Philosophy. In April 1969, UCLA offered Davis a one-year appointment with the possibility of renewal for another year. However, when the UC Regents learned that she was a member of the Communist Party, they tried to fire her.

The next quarter, the university allowed her to teach a noncredit course only, and the Academic Senate asked the faculty to withhold grades from students in support of Davis until she could teach for credit. David Kaplan ’56, Ph.D. ’64, who was vice chairman of the philosophy department, said, “The attempt to dismiss her on the sole basis of her political affiliations is a direct violation of her academic freedom.”

Credit for Davis’ course was restored, but the regents, led by Governor Ronald Reagan, appealed. Reagan vowed she would never again teach in the UC system, yet she went on to earn tenure at UC Santa Cruz, where she remained for 17 years.

Davis, now 75, has inspired generations. For example, Stephanie Younger, a black student activist who advocates for STEAM diversity, youth prison abolition and nonviolence, says Davis’ advocacy for prison abolition “inspired me to do the same for my community.”

Younger helped create Angela Davis’ Black Girl Coalition, which makes learning skills like conflict resolution accessible to black female students in marginalized communities. Hearing Davis speak, Younger says, served as an “affirmation to young and socially conscious black people who are willing to be a voice in the community that we will inherit.”

For the Greater Good


Tom Bradley, Judy Chu and Henry Waxman
UCLA Library, Judy Chu, Getty Images
From left: Tom Bradley, Judy Chu and Henry Waxman

Tom Bradley, first African-American mayor of Los Angeles

The son of sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, Tom Bradley helped build an ethos for Angelenos: We are better united than divided. In 1937, Bradley was one of 55 black students out of a total 4,000 at UCLA. After college, he rose through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department and became the first African American elected a Los Angeles city councilman and then mayor, in which role he oversaw the birth of commercial centers, a light-rail system and a burgeoning downtown skyline.

Judy Chu, first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress

Judy Chu ’74 started “harmony days” in Monterey Park, where she sat on the school board in the early 1980s, in response to divisions resulting from a recent influx of immigrants from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Along with her husband, Mike Eng J.D. ’74 — whom she met while both were undergraduates at UCLA — she declared “harmony days,” celebrating the San Gabriel Valley city’s diverse cultures. From city council to the California Assembly, and now in Congress, Chu has worked diligently to serve the needs of her constituents.

Antonio Villaraigosa, first modern-day Latino mayor of L.A.

After spending time reading in the UCLA library while waiting for a friend, Antonio Villaraigosa ’77, a high school dropout, set his sights on UCLA for college. On campus, he led demonstrations to end the Vietnam War and to advocate for ethnic studies, farmworkers’ rights and women and minority students. As speaker of the California Assembly, city council member and eventually mayor, he reduced crime to historic lows. He turned around 18 low-performing schools. Today, he is fighting for better public schools and immigrants’ rights across the state.

Henry Waxman, author of the Affordable Care Act

Henry Waxman ’61, J.D. ’64 joined the Young Democrats when he arrived at UCLA. After school and time as a lawyer, he began a career in public service, representing L.A.’s Westside in Congress for 40 years. Waxman saw U.S. dependence on foreign oil as a national security concern, and he authored legislation for cleaner air, safer drinking water and lead contamination control. He forced tobacco executives to swear under oath that nicotine was not addictive, and he held powerful British Petroleum executives accountable for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Under President Obama, he was a leader in drafting and negotiating the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Metal Heads


Ivy Reynolds
Xu Xie M.S. ’17 is a Ph.D. student in the Statistics Department and a member of Professor Song-Chun Zhu’s research group.

AI — or machine learning, or robots, or androids — is not just the stuff of science-fiction tropes like War Games or 2001. We’re talking Siri. And Alexa. Watson. Your web search engine.

And from the beginning, UCLA thinkers have been in the vanguard of the field.

Any exploration of Bruin contributions to AI must begin with Computer Science Professor Judea Pearl. In 2011, Pearl won the A.M. Turing Award, the “Nobel Prize” of computer science, for his “fundamental contributions to artificial intelligence.”

Before Pearl, AI systems could understand “true” or “false,” but not “maybe.” Pearl developed what he called a network that mimics the neural activities of the human brain — breaking up impossibly large numbers of variables into smaller chunks of interrelated ones. The concept has spawned innovation in medical diagnosis and gene mapping, credit-card fraud detection, homeland security, speech recognition systems and Google searches.

The UCLA faculty’s role in the development of AI can be traced to the field’s roots. Alan Turing, the father of computer science, was a student of Alonzo Church, a mathematician and philosopher on the UCLA faculty from 1967 to 1990. The Church-Turing thesis — which is that any function that can be sufficiently described as an algorithm can be performed by a machine — is the intellectual heart of AI.

In 1972, two years before he joined the UCLA faculty, psychiatrist Kenneth Colby developed PARRY, a computer program that mimicked a paranoid schizophrenic in typed conversation, for use as a psychiatry training tool. Two decades later, Charles Taylor, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, was part of a group that was instrumental in developing machines with lifelike properties, including the ability to learn and evolve.

Today’s visionary UCLA faculty include Michael Dyer, professor of computer science, who is a leader in the language-processing field. Professor of Statistics and Computer Science Song-Chun Zhu’s UCLA Center for Vision, Cognition, Learning and Autonomy uses natural language processing to train computers to understand human text and language. Computer Science Professor Richard Korf studies heuristics, or combinatorial optimization — finding efficient algorithms for problems so large that an exhaustive search is impossible.

And, of course, 2001’s HAL was a Bruin.

Just kidding. He was self-taught.

Sidewalk Sanctuaries


Sam Comen
Students at the Luskin School of Public Affairs helped create parklets in downtown Los Angeles — small spaces furnished with exercise equipment and seating areas.

In 2011, a $100-million-dollar gift from Renee ’53 and Meyer ’49 Luskin enabled the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs to take a new look at public domains. The question posed: “How can the actions of today improve our future relationships with issues such as health care, education, transportation, housing and crime?”

One place on which the study focused was the sidewalks of Los Angeles.

“The sidewalk used to be just a place for movement, where people met other people,” says Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Luskin School associate dean. Then, “sidewalks started to disappear and people started disappearing from sidewalks.”

Recalling the lively street culture in her native Greece, Loukaitou-Sideris worked with the UCLA Complete Streets Initiative to revitalize L.A.’s empty sidewalks. The project called for parklets — small-scale parks created at traffic triangles, parking spaces, parts of wide street lanes and other underused asphalt space.

While parklets in other cities offered a place to sit, the Luskin School went a step further, offering an exercise zone in some parklets with bolted-down workout machines to provide physical health improvement and combat the nation’s obesity epidemic. An assessment of the parklets found that the sites not only attracted people, but also helped reduce crime and vandalism.

“Since cities don’t have the funds to acquire huge chunks of land and convert them to open space, parklets are cost-effective ways to encourage recreation in dense, low-income areas,” she says.

Cities across the country have used the parklet template that UCLA provides on the Internet, proving that Loukaitou-Sideris’ hope of exercise zones to enhance urban life and improve public health is shared by many.