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UCLAPanelists and host enjoy a light moment at the "UCLA 'Glocal' Conversation: The University in an Interconnected World" at the UCLA Faculty Center during International Education Week 2023. (Photo: Todd Cheney.)

UCLA's glocal impacts

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By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

At the signature event of International Education Week 2023, four distinguished members of UCLA spoke about how their work connects the global to the local and vice-versa.

UCLA International Institute, November 21, 2023 — On November 8, Vice Provost Cindy Fan welcomed an audience of university leaders, faculty, staff and students to the “UCLA ‘Glocal’ Conversation: The University in an Interconnected World.”

The signature event of International Education Week (IEW) 2023, the evening event featured a panel discussion among four distinguished members of UCLA: medical doctor and philanthropist Eric Esrailian, curator Silvia Forni, Nobel prize–winner astrophysicist Andrea Ghez and sociologist Rubén Hernández-León.

The evening’s discussion picked up where the “Global Challenges, Local Responses” event of IEW 2022 left off. At that event, international diplomats based in LA described how their work in the city responded to such global challenges as health care access, misinformation and climate change. This year, UCLA faculty spoke about how their work connects the global to the local and vice-versa.

Ghez playfully pointed out that “thinking global” actually narrowed her cosmic perspective! “We study the universe,” said the astrophysicist, “which makes our planet — the global — very small in scale.”

Darnell Hunt, executive vice chancellor and provost, observed in his introductory remarks, “We have scholars across the globe developing solutions abroad that we can then apply here in our own region. Conversely, we also have experts solving problems here in Southern California, whose solutions can then be shared internationally.

“Since so many global issues are present here in Los Angeles, we can use our glocal model to facilitate our impact.”

Fan noted that UCLA’s new campus strategic plan includes a major goal of expanding UCLA’s reach as a global university. “Our mission is the creation, dissemination, preservation and application of knowledge for the betterment of global society — and this global society includes our local community.”

The global city of Los Angeles, with its rich ethnic and cultural diversity, many foreign-born residents and heritage language speakers, makes it “a very special city when we talk about glocal,” she said.

From left: Vice Provost Cindy Fan, Fowler Museum Director Sylvia Forni, Dr. Eric Esrailian,
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Professor Andrea Ghez, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt and
Professor Rubén Hernández-León. (Photo: Todd Cheney.)


Diverse disciplines have wide-ranging impacts

Each expert told a unique story. Dr. Eric Esrailian, clinical professor of medicine and chief of the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases at UCLA Health, spoke about the Armenian community’s deep-rooted connections to UCLA and Los Angeles (home to one of the largest Armenian diasporas in the world).

Esrailian’s philanthropical work made it possible to create two Armenian centers at UCLA in recent years: The Promise Institute for Human Rights at the UCLA School of Law in 2017, and the Promise Armenian Institute at the UCLA International Institute in 2019.

Both institutes are built on the excellence of UCLA faculty, he said, and connect it to the city’s thriving local Armenian community and the city at large. “UCLA is local, but it has global impact," he commented. In the past year alone, the Promise Institute for Human Rights hosted the Inter-American Congress for Human Rights on campus and opened a European office in The Hague (The Netherlands).

Even for LA residents with no connection to UCLA in Los Angeles, that institute “is a pathway … to connect with issues around the world,” said Esrailian, “As you know, world affairs are dominating not just the headlines, but the lives of many people in Los Angeles right now.“ Among those issues, he specified, are human rights, climate change and the environment.

“Community is very important in what we do and how we interpret, create and think of exhibitions,” said Silvia Forni of her work as director of the UCLA Fowler Museum. She mentioned several recent exhibitions that connected global and diaspora cultures, including those on Armenian needlework, Armenian photography and African Yoruba religious art.

“Museums have this strange effect. They can be very fraught and difficult institutions that push people back. But if we work right, we can be real spaces of pride for everybody,” said Forni. The Yoruba religious art exhibition, she said, benefited from eight advisors who helped the museum shape the exhibit of religious objects, leading to a “sense of pride in seeing [their] own story, identity and cherished belongings be visible and celebrated.

“At the Fowler, we spend a lot of time outside the museum,” she continued. “We have a program called ‘Fowler in the City.’

“We are very mindful that there are some barriers, that a lot of the communities we’re trying to reach live very far from Westwood. So there’s a lot of investment in doing outreach.” As part of this work, the museum regularly organizes education programs and develops educational resources for teachers.

Andrea Ghez — professor of physics and astronomy, director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group and only one of only four women ever to earn a Nobel Prize in Physics — discussed UCLA’s role in astronomical research. The UC system as a whole is a leading institution in astronomy because it manages two of the largest and most advanced optical and infrared telescopes in the world (located in Mauna Kea, Hawaii).

UCLA recognized the promise of infrared astronomy long before the technology reached the forefront of telescope technology, said Ghez. It backed its commitment to the field with major investments in faculty and resources, which eventually put UCLA on the map in astrophysics.

Ghez noted that her own research program, which focuses on the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, was rejected several times before it was initially funded. Having begun as a three-year program, it has now endured for 30 years and led her to win a Nobel Prize. “I think this is one of the ways in which UCLA really shines in terms of the local and the global: investing in a diverse leader,” she said.

The Galactic Center Program is, she said, “definitely a collaboration that’s wordwide.” Its original three collaborators have grown to a core group of 25, supported by a collaborative network of 100 researchers across the globe.

Rubén Hernández-León, professor of sociology and director of the UCLA Latin American Institute, or LAI, focused on the longstanding community outreach of the institute. LAI’s professional teacher development workshops in particular regularly share the latest research on the region with local teachers, enabling educators to teach their students about the many diverse cultures, histories and arts of Latin America.

Hernández-León stressed how important it is for immigrant students in LA classrooms to learn, through their teachers, about the richness of their cultures of origin — including Indigenous cultures and languages — as part of their socialization and education.

“Not only are we bringing Latin America to Los Angeles, we are now bringing teachers from LA to Latin America,” he continued. A summer 2023 teacher workshop saw 18 teachers travel to Oaxaca for a month of intensive study of Zapotec and lectures by Oaxacan experts in multiple fields, giving them direct experience of the history and culture of a vital diaspora community in Los Angeles.

“Our impact is not just on a few dozen teachers, but most likely, on thousands of children in our public schools… The students then develop their own clubs, projects and travel ideas,” he said, creating a network that connects LAI to the neighborhoods and communities of UCLA’s home city.

As the discussion closed, Fan thanked the panelists for their insights and perspectives. The glocal conversation will continue uninterrupted on campus and is sure to be a prominent feature of International Education Week in years to come.