Editor’s note: This is an article from the Spring 1999 issue of UCLA Magazine.
You don’t have to talk to the Nobel Prize selection committees or the nominating board of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to know that UCLA is long past the days of the “gutty little Bruins” when this was a campus of feisty academic up-and-comers. Loaded with the likes of world-renowned Nobelists Paul Boyer and Donald Cram (chemistry) and Louis Ignarro (medicine), and such internationally recognized historians as Joyce Appleby and Saul Friedlander, UCLA has fielded a team of professors, researchers and physicians who have transformed Westwood into a prestigious global center of learning and cutting-edge scholarship, mentioned now in the same breath with such revered institutions as Harvard, Oxford and the Sorbonne. It may soon be the premier university in the world. Racing behind this vanguard is a well-stocked bullpen, as it were, an up-and-coming generation of gifted professors and researchers who are already breaking new ground in fields as diverse as language and dance, law and molecular biology. Following are eight young guns who promise to make Westwood the new “Dodge City” of learning in the next millennium.
Assistant Professor of Education
Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
Megan Franke teaches learning. In fact, her students are teachers who learn to learn from children. As upside-down as the system may sound, Franke’s revolutionary new way of viewing elementary school education could lead to rethinking our entire approach to educating. To understand it, though, requires a little adjusting of old thinking caps.
“Adults don’t think the same way about mathematics as children do,” explains Franke, who draws from a background in educational psychology and mathematics to unravel the thinking patterns of children as they solve problems. “When you ask them, they have some amazing ways of solving a problem.”
She explains, appropriately enough, through an equation. If Tammy has three baskets and seven balls in each basket, how many balls does she have? While adults tend to do a quick mental multiplication, kindergartners tackle such a question literally. They may draw the baskets and count. They may use pennies to represent balls. Or they may come up with a novel method that makes math majors stop in their tracks.
“A child as young as first grade, or even kindergarten, might say, ‘I know 7 + 7 is 14, so you add 6 and you get 20. So I added one more to get 21,’” says Franke. “What’s surprising is that kids so young can follow a grouping problem, something we would never expect them to do.”
But adults rarely ask children to solve the problems themselves. They wait until children can multiply, then coach them to think in multiplication terms. Very soon, kids abandon the creative learning strategies they’ve devised on their own.
Franke first became fascinated by how children’s mathematical thoughts unfold while studying for her advanced degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. By the time she joined UCLA in 1992, she was determined to teach teachers to learn from their students.
“What’s really powerful is how excited teachers get,” says the 1997 distinguished faculty award winner. “All of a sudden, they start thinking in terms of what children can do and not what they can’t do. The school learns not to infringe on children’s learning strategies, but to cultivate them.”
These days, Franke — who just completed a book, Teaching and Teacher Education, which will be accompanied by a CD-ROM featuring teachers learning from children — has taken her theories to the chalkboard: She’s heading a two-year program for 35 teachers and their students at Los Angeles-Moffat Elementary School. In addition, she co-directs Center X, a departmental effort to enhance the intersection of teacher education and practice.
Oh yes, and she still teaches, too. — Betsy Bates
Associate Professor of Neurology
School of Medicine
Rhonda Voskuhl credits her skyrocketing ascent to the head of those searching for a successful cure to multiple sclerosis to a mixture of luck, timing, mentors and colleagues. But those at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society chalk it up to something else: Voskuhl’s brilliant creativity.
Patricia O’Looney, director of biomedical research programs for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says the 38-year-old Oklahoma native combines a “wonderful knowledge of neurology and immunology” with a researcher’s sense of innovation and a clinician’s enthusiasm and compassion.
That innovation led to the MS Society’s most prestigious award in 1997, the Harry Weaver Neuroscience Scholarship, given to the most promising young scientist in the field as a result of her research into gender-based differences in autoimmune diseases.
The significance of gender differences in diseases such as MS, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which affect women three times more frequently than men and often improve during late pregnancy, was long-known but mostly overlooked. Voskuhl, a graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and former senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, suspected that the sex and pregnancy clues “must be a hint into how these diseases work.”
She zeroed in on two hormones produced in abundance during late pregnancy, progesterone and estriol. Mice developed as models for human autoimmune conditions were exposed to the hormones at blood levels close to what would be circulating during the third trimester.
“Progesterone didn’t do much,” she reports. “But there was a huge disease amelioration when we gave them estriol.”
The hormone seems to rein in peripheral blood cells that produce inflammatory reactions. So convincing were her results that the Food and Drug Administration gave her a green light for a six-month pilot study of estriol in women with MS.
As usual, Voskuhl downplays her achievement: “We got there earlier than the others did,” she notes. “I was fortunate.” — B.B.
Assistant Professor of Choreography/Performance
School of the Arts and Architecture
Dance is an art without words. But to create her postmodern dance pieces, which feature mothers and daughters, a troupe of both able-bodied and disabled dancers and even a cross-section of a Nebraska city performing on a football field, Victoria Marks begins with conversation and dialogue.
“When I worked with able-bodied and disabled dancers, I asked them, ‘How do you want to be represented? How do you move? Teach me,’” says Marks, 42, who teaches in the Department of World Arts and Cultures.
The resulting works, Marks says, are portraits that capture and communicate the character of relationships — fathers and daughters, for instance — or the essence of a city, as in her current: a “communitywide site project,” which explores themes of home and diversity in Lincoln, NB. Sometimes Marks works with professional dancers, but also likes to use lay people who are intrigued by movement.
“I explain that everybody is a dancer,” she says. “I like to work with people who don’t know they’re dancers.”
In Outside In, a filmed dance that has brought Marks critical acclaim, three dancers in wheelchairs interact with three dancers “on their feet,” as Marks puts it. The piece was praised for its dynamism and in-your-face exploration of disability. In watching the film, “you reform your feelings about disability,” Marks says.
Marks studied dance at Sarah Lawrence College and earned a B.A. in liberal arts there. She received a Fulbright Fellowship, as well as grants for her work from the National Endowment for the Arts and the London Arts Board, among others. In 1997, she received the Cal Arts Alpert Award for choreographic achievement and recently completed a three-year stint as director of choreography for the London Contemporary Dance School.
In addition, a number of her original works, including Mothers and Daughters, Men and Outside In, have been filmed and broadcast on television in Europe, Australia and North America, and have won several awards.
“Those films, in a single airing, have reached more of an audience than I would have in a lifetime of stage work,” she says. — Carroll Lachnit
Eugene Volokh ’83, J.D. ’92
Acting Professor of Law
School of Law
Just 30, Volokh is already a veteran “outer envelope-pusher.” The child prodigy formed a computer software company (in which he is still a partner) at the age of 12. He graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in math–computer science at age 15. He attended UCLA School of Law and clerked for both U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Alex Kozinski on the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
But being a brilliant child isn’t much help these days, Volokh insists.
“Ultimately, you can’t live in the past or bask in whatever glory you had — or what some might think of as glory,” he explains. “You have to add to those accomplishments in some way. The important thing is what I’m going to do next.”
Today, he writes serious, precedent-setting law-review articles on smut in cyberspace, gun control and free speech in the workplace, while also cranking out informative — and decidedly more entertaining — pieces like “Lawsuit, Shmawsuit” (co-authored by Judge Kozinski) and “Hum a Few Bar Exams,” a mock test with questions such as “Environmental Law: Big wheel keeps on turning; Proud Mary keeps on burning (or ‘boining’). What is the maximum level of particulate emissions Proud Mary may put out? Is an Environmental Impact Statement required?” In between, he teaches law school courses on free speech law, copyright law, the law of government and religion, and the law of firearms regulation.
What he plans next includes more teaching, scholarship, writing, media appearances and advocacy. Volokh, who describes himself politically as “a man of the center right,” worked as legal adviser to the Yes on Prop. 209 campaign.
In all his work, Volokh says he’s motivated by the idea of finding “a small sliver of the truth” — and the need to share it.
“Sometimes, we’re not really approaching the truth, or what we think is not that novel,” he explains. “But sometimes, there’s the tantalizing possibility that people might say, ‘Yeah, that makes sense,’ and maybe in a small way, you move the world in the direction of what is right.” — C.L.
Assistant Professor of Chinese Language
College of Letters and Science
These days, the Big Concerns for most people are topics like the millennium bug or the Asian financial flu. Not in David Schaberg’s world.
“From the perspective of the stuff I work on,” says the 34-year-old assistant professor of Chinese thought, “the whole last millennium is current events.”
The “stuff” Schaberg refers to is the historical writings of pre-Han and Han Period China, 206 B.C. to 220 A.D., which he has burrowed into for the last 13 years. Schaberg’s work is distinguished by his mastery of Chinese, Greek and Latin, his knowledge of the primary historical texts from each culture and his ability to examine those works through the prism of the latest literary and critical theories.
Schaberg’s current research examines history as narrative, looking at the connections between Chinese historical writings and fictional storytelling. He describes the foundations of Chinese historical writing and how the works’ compilers wrote their histories in order to justify the world views of certain philosophical schools, especially that of Confucius. Schaberg then compares those methods with those of their contemporaries in Greece, who also were dealing with questions of history as storytelling and history as science.
While finishing his current work, which includes translations of three early Confucian histories, Schaberg continues to work on cross-cultural influences. In May, he delivered a Chinese-Greek cross-cultural paper, “Travel, Geography and the Imperial Imagination in Fifth-Century Athens and Han China,” at a University of Oregon humanities conference. It will appear this year in the journal Comparative Literature. The paper examines how both Chinese and Greek writers saw differences and similarities in their encounters with “the Other” — the “so-called barbaric world,” Schaberg says.
He also is looking forward to his next project: a comparison of histories written under the early Chinese and Roman empires. To find such connections, Schaberg, who earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard in 1996, has to dig deep into difficult, ancient languages. If Schaberg’s work sounds a little esoteric for the new millennium, consider the role China is playing in the modern world. “These works are important as windows into what was going on in early China,” notes the professor. “Understanding how the early histories worked in forming the Confucian tradition helps us understand what’s true about Chinese ideas today. And as China becomes more and more important, a greater knowledge of how its past was envisioned will be important, too.” — C.L.
Associate Professor of Engineering
Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science
Ten years ago, when Chang-Jin Kim suddenly decided to switch his doctoral studies at UC Berkeley from robotics to an obscure new area called microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), friends told him he was making a horrible mistake.
Today, the 40-year-old engineering professor is one of the world’s most prominent researchers in a cutting-edge field with seemingly unlimited possibilities. Kim doesn’t rub his friends noses in it, but he does enjoy the occasional I-told-you-so moments.
“I love to prove that I was right,” he says.
Kim’s work is big because it’s so small. The micro-fuel injectors, micro-nozzle pumps and micro-slider actuators that he and his graduate students cook up in his Micro- Manufacturing Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering could fit on the head of an ant. The fact that the micro-manufactured devices are so innovative they have yet to find commercial application apparently doesn’t bother Kim.
“It’s like when you find a way to make steel, and you ask, ‘What’s the application?’ It can be anything,” explains Kim.
Like the microaccelerometers that currently activate automobile airbags in a crash. Soon, other micro-devices will enable aerospace companies to send mini-satellites into orbit and shrink chemical-analysis equipment so it can be taken out of the lab to process DNA samples at a crime scene.
Born and raised in Korea, Kim knew he wanted to be a scientist long before he came to the United States in 1983. His family had academics, lawyers and doctors — but no engineers.
“I got no advice from anyone around me,” Kim says. “But I was lucky to be like that. I wasn’t tainted by conventional engineering. The way I think is different from a typical engineer.”
For instance: Typical engineer thinking would focus on problems of weight in a micro-device, because that is a dominant concern in traditional engineering. But it is almost meaningless in MEMS. What is a problem is the slightest hint of moisture. It would be a negligible factor in regular-sized machines, but it can completely shut down a submillimeter-sized device. Such problems to Kim are like child’s play — literally.
“I’m in a world where nobody else has been before. It’s like being a child, playing with Legos, creating something every day,” says Kim. “I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world.” — C.L.
Assistant Professor of Policy Studies
School of Public Policy and Social Research
Ask the person on the street why the urban poor can’t get jobs and you’ll get a range of guesses and opinions: laziness, drugs, lack of education.
Ask 33-year-old policy studies maven Michael Stoll and you’ll hear about such things as “spatial mismatch.”
Stoll’s National Science Foundation–funded groundbreaking study, Race, Urban Inequality and Economic Opportunity, postulates geography, as opposed to personal shortcomings, as the chief barrier to employment. Thus, spatial mismatch: low-skill workers living in the inner city, with low-skill jobs — and information about their availability — located predominately in the suburbs. Transportation between the two places is routinely difficult and expensive. And making matters worse, according to Stoll, data indicates that discrimination, particularly against African Americans, is greater in the suburbs.
Stoll’s research, in many ways, is a natural outgrowth of his own life. He witnessed many of these same problems firsthand as a kid growing up in Los Angeles’ lower-middle-class Crenshaw District.
“I was a kid interested in fairness, and I saw the problems on the side of town where my family lived were different from the Westside,” recalls Stoll. “I knew that. But it wasn’t something I could process intellectually.”
That would be some years away. Stoll, an admitted “sports nut” in high school, didn’t plan to go to college, let alone study urban employment. He had his sights on becoming a pro basketball player. That dream went bust. He was lined up for a course in welding when a friend of his father’s nudged him into higher education. After undergraduate work at Cal State Northridge and UC Berkeley, Stoll earned his master’s and Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was awarded several pre- and postdoctoral fellowships.
Today, Stoll still has his old neighborhood in mind as he looks for solutions for urban poverty. His study, testing his theories of spatial mismatch and examining which factors most affect job-seekers, will have direct implications for a number of federally sponsored initiatives to reduce unemployment. Notes Stoll: “I have a strong desire for people to have some chance at opportunities in life. That still drives me.” — C.L.
Assistant Professor of Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology
College of Letters and Science
Luisa Arispe’s laboratory hums with a question that may be the most critical yet in the field of cancer research: What makes blood vessels grow? Which genes turn them on and turn them off — in fetal development, in wound healing and, especially, in laying down lifelines for tumor growth?
“Really understanding the nuances is going to be key,” says Arispe.
Born in Spain and raised in Argentina and Brazil, Arispe received her Ph.D. and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cellular molecular biology at the University of Washington. She was a researcher at Harvard Medical School until April, when she moved to UCLA to continue promising research in the molecular underpinnings of tumor growth.
The technical term for Arispe’s line of research is molecular regulation of angiogenesis. It is best understood by the root words angio for “vessel” and genesis, “beginnings.” Using such research, it appears that Arispe and her team have found a powerful inhibitor of blood-vessel growth in tumors. A tumor cannot grow without a robust blood supply; once it is established and flourishing, attacking it all too often becomes a mission of mass destruction, wiping out healthy cells in the process.
Arispe’s approach has been to cut off the blood supply by identifying unique characteristics of the signals given to blood vessels that supply malignant cells and developing ways to suppress them. In essence, she interferes with the power supply to a traffic signal poised to give vessels a green light if they supply tumor cells. Nearby signals, which give the go-ahead to vessels performing valuable functions such as wound-healing, are left untouched.
Arispe hopes her research can lead to streamlined tactics that will spare patients the hardships that come with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. So far, early results have been encouraging.
“Things are moving very fast,” she says. “We’re thrilled.”
Indeed, if all goes according to plan, a human clinical trial could begin in two years. — B.B.