2020 – Jukka Keränen, Ph.D. ’15
Jukka Keränen, Ph.D. ’15, was born in the town of Oulu in northern Finland, just 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. As many nerdy kids did in the 1980s, he grew up fascinated with space exploration: the first launch of the space shuttle Columbia in April 1981 was among his earliest meaningful memories. Keränen’s international adventure began in the early 90s, when he traveled to the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, UK, to attend Atlantic College. The international high school with students from more than 100 different countries was housed in an honest-to-goodness 12th-century castle. In Wales, his fascination with space evolved into a fascination with quantum physics.
By the time he went to attend college at Princeton, it had ramified into a love of mathematics and philosophy, a bifurcation that has governed the trajectory of his life ever since. While majoring in philosophy at Princeton, he returned to the UK for a year to study math at Cambridge. While pursuing graduate work in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, he again returned to Cambridge for a year, this time to obtain a master’s degree in math. After completing his Ph.D. at Pitt in 2005, he taught philosophy at Northwestern University.
Before too long, however, Keränen continued his westward migration, finally to settle in Los Angeles. He worked in the film industry for a couple of years, but he ultimately could not resist the temptation to give academia another try. He enrolled in the mathematics Ph.D. program at UCLA and completed a degree in number theory in 2015. After a postdoctoral year in his native Finland, Keränen returned to UCLA, at first working as an instructor in the Math Department. Since 2017, he has been employed by the Life Sciences Core Education Department to teach and further develop courses in the Mathematics for Life Scientists sequence.
Dr. Keränen has taught a wide variety of math courses both as a graduate student and as a lecturer. In 2018, he was presented with the Distinguished Teaching Award by the UCLA Math Department. He is very passionate about helping his students, hoping to treat every student in a class of 300 as if it were a class of 30.
In his spare time, Keränen writes screenplays (which surely will never be produced) and short stories (which surely will never be published) and continues his research in number theory. Staying true to his roots as a nerdy kid from the 1980s Scandinavia, Keränen enjoys building elaborate Lego projects, many of them space-themed, while listening to Synthwave.
2019 – Barbara Demman
Barbara Demman is a board certified acute care nurse practitioner and clinical nurse specialist. Her 20 years of nursing clinical experience has ranged from large urban teaching hospitals in varying specialties to small community international centers. She currently serves as a lecturer at UCLA School of Nursing, a nurse practitioner for Companion hospice and educator for Kaplan Inc.
Demman’s passion for global health concerns has paved the way for extensive international nursing work extending from the Caribbean, to Africa, to South East Asia. Most recently, she’s worked with Ghana Emergency Medicine Collaborative training Ghanaian nurses. This program has successfully implemented the first-ever nursing certification program within Ghana.
Demman has a strong interest in decreasing burnout symptoms and compassion fatigue among health care providers using mindfulness-based interventions. After experiencing her own burnout in 2008, she greatly values health promotion and wellness in nursing students. Demman completed a year-long fellowship at the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. She and her husband, an ER physician, created and facilitate six-week courses called S.H.A.R.P. – Stress in Healthcare: Awareness, Reduction and Prevention.
Of all these interests, Demman states she gets the most fulfillment from working with nursing students. She finds nursing students to be hardworking, eager to learn and very compassionate people. Her favorite quote by John Wooden is: “No written word, no spoken plea, can teach the students what they should be, Nor all the books on all the shelves. It’s what the teachers are themselves.” Professor Demman tries to live up to this ideal by John Wooden.
In her spare time Demman enjoys spending life with husband, baby girl Rocky and tap dancing. She thanks her family, friends and colleagues for all their support.
2018 – William E. Simon, Jr.
William E. Simon, Jr. is a partner at Massey Quick Simon, a wealth management firm with $3.7 billion in assets. Previously, he was co-chairman of William E. Simon & Sons, LLC which he founded in 1988 with his brother and late father, the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
In 2002, Mr. Simon was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in California. From 1985 to 1988, Mr. Simon served as Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York under Rudolph Giuliani.
As an Assistant Adjunct Professor in both the Department of Economics and the Law School at UCLA, Mr. Simon has taught courses on value investing, financial crises, leadership and rhetoric. He is a recipient of the Graham & Dodd, Murray, Greenwald Prize for Value Investing, the Baroness Thatcher Liberty Award of the Pacific Research Institute, and several honorary degrees.
Mr. Simon is chairman of the advisory board of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, as well as co-chairman of two family foundations. The author of two books on the Catholic church, he is at work on a third about the urgent need for more physical education in schools.
Mr. Simon earned his bachelor’s degree at Williams College where he is Trustee Emeritus. He is a 1982 graduate of Boston College Law School.
Mr. Simon is married with 4 children.
2017 – Josh Samani, M.S. ’11, Ph.D. ’14
Joshua Samani was a curious kid who loved to learn, imagine and play. In his early days, his favorite activity was playing in the mud in the side yard of his childhood home, but he quickly graduated to building legos and model rocket cars which he’d recklessly launch on his street. His wonderful, always supportive parents Shervin (“share-veen”) and Aziz luckily found his antics endearing, and instead of chastising him, they sent him to science camps.
Professor Samani was attracted to science as far back as he can remember. After admiring her from afar for many years through pre-school and kindergarten, he mustered up the courage to talk to her late in elementary school. He and science ended up dating casually for most of his life, but in high school things got pretty serious. When he started university, he realized that you rarely meet a beauty like science, and he decided to make it official by majoring in physics and mathematics. He graduated with a B.A. in physics and a B.S. in mathematics from UC Berkeley in 2008, and he earned a Ph.D. in physics from UCLA in the spring of 2014. His doctoral research was in high-energy physics under Professor Michael Gutperle.
He is currently a lecturer in the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy. His defining intellectual impulse is inspiring others to embrace and promote scientific values, methods and modes of thought. He is passionate about finding simple, effective ways of teaching difficult physics and mathematics, and he is obsessed with constructing learning environments that optimize the teaching and learning of these subjects. He believes deeply in the efficacy of diverse, collaborative learning environments, and he believes that learning ought to be inspirational.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the professor takes a scientific approach to educational innovation and optimization. In part this means being an active participant in the national community of physics education professionals. He serves on the Committee for Physics in Undergraduate Education for the American Association of Physics Teachers; he is an active contributor to the Partnership for Integration of Computation in Undergraduate Physics; and he is an instructional consultant for the UCLA Center of Education Innovation and Learning in the Sciences.
Josh Samani lives with his wife Nancy in Santa Monica where he tries, but often fails, to balance his married life and his relationship with science. Luckily, Nancy’s been unnaturally supportive of this complicated arrangement. Samani hopes that he and Nancy have lots of whimsical, imaginative children with whom they can play in the mud, build legos, and generally engage in tomfoolery of all sorts.
2016 – Will Conley, Ph.D. ’10
From a young age Will Conley, Ph.D. ’10, had a passion for learning – especially for mathematics and science. In high school, Conley was enthralled with the beauty found in mathematics and elementary physics. He attended college at Virginia Tech where he originally studied engineering, but eventually discovered he could not leave behind his passion for math. He earned bachelor’s degrees in both computer engineering and mathematics, and stayed on at Virginia Tech for a master’s degree in math.After graduating with a master’s degree, Conley came to UCLA to study pure math with a focus on number theory. At UCLA, even as a graduate student, he found a new passion: teaching math to the student body of UCLA. Conley completed his doctorate in 2010, after which he spent two years doing research in number theory at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.
Conley returned to UCLA in 2012 to teach and since has taught courses in many areas of mathematics including linear algebra, multivariable calculus, cryptography and differential equations. He has also helped to develop and teach a new course on dynamical systems for students in the life sciences department. In 2007, as a teaching assistant, and in 2014, as a lecturer, Conley was presented with the UCLA Math Department’s award for outstanding teaching.
Over the years Conley has “been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to develop a number of other passions outside academia. I love to spend time in the outdoors, hiking, rock climbing, slacklining and cycling.” He has hiked much of the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail, climbed El Capitan in Yosemite, rafted through the Grand Canyon and biked the Columbia River Gorge. Through many of these activities, Conley has “come to care tremendously about protecting the environment and about achieving sustainability in everything that we do.”
2015 – Randall R. Rojas ’97, M.S. ’06, Ph.D. ’10
Randall R. Rojas is an adjunct assistant professor of economics at UCLA. His research interests entail a highly interdisciplinary endeavor that includes econophysics, cosmology, cognitive science, statistics and finance.Professor Rojas was born in San Jose, Costa Rica but spent the first ten years of his childhood in Southern California. His fondest childhood memories are of his mother taking him and his younger sister to the Griffith Observatory, reading “Cosmos” by Carl Sagan, and conducting science experiments at home. These early experiences made a lasting impression on him, and led to his enamored fascination with physics.At age 11, his family relocated to Costa Rica, where he eventually began his academic training at the Universidad de Costa Rica, majoring in physics and mathematics, while also studying philosophy, and later, German at the Goethe Institute. Professor Rojas was able to start his college education at the age of 15 thanks to an influential mentor and mathematician, Professor Antonio Madrigal Alfaro, who prepared him for the university entry exams, continued contributing to his formal training in mathematics, and who’s teaching style he inherited, and practices today.After relocating back to the U.S., Professor Rojas received his B.S. in astrophysics and mathematics from UCLA in 1997. He earned his M.S. in theoretical physics in 2000, and in 2004 he earned his Ph.D. in physics/astrophysics, both from Drexel University. As a graduate student, he enjoyed recognitions for both his teaching and research endeavors through a series of awards. His dissertation work on void galaxies made an important contribution to our understanding of the large-scale structure of the universe: it demonstrated unequivocally that galaxies in underdense environments are statistically different from their counterparts in denser regions.
Upon completion of his doctorate degree, he joined Raytheon, Space and Airborne Systems as a Sr. Multi-Disciplined Engineer where he focused on the analysis of radar signals, the development of search and track algorithms, and investigating signal processing models among others. While working at Raytheon full-time, he also attended UCLA as a full-time graduate student, completing his M.S. in statistics in 2006, and his Ph.D. in statistics (with a concentration in cognitive science) in 2010, while at the same time learning Russian. His dissertation and current work focuses on a new Bayesian theory of sequential causal learning that explains results from many human conditioning paradigm experiments.
In 2010, Professor Rojas joined the UCLA Statistics Department as a lecturer, and in 2011 he transitioned to the UCLA Economics Department, followed by his appointment to his current position in 2013. He has supervised many student research projects in statistics and economics, and continues to engage students in his ongoing research on the modeling of financial markets, asset pricing models, economic warfare and options trading strategies.
For Professor Rojas, teaching has always played a leading role in his career because it challenges him to deliver the subject matter in a clear, intuitive and organized fashion. He has taught across a broad range of learning environments, student backgrounds and subjects throughout his more than 20 years of teaching experience. He is very passionate about teaching and believes that allowing students to feel comfortable asking questions is critical to their learning success. His teaching style focuses on distilling complex and/or difficult concepts to better understand the core ideas upon which these concepts are built on, as well as delivering his lectures with a unique sense of humility and respect towards his audience.
Professor Rojas has written many peer reviewed journal articles in astronomy, psychology, statistics and cognitive science, and remains an active researcher in these fields. He has also worked as an expert consultant for Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, continues to teach courses in cosmology and statistics for the UCLA Extension Program, and on occasion, teaches abroad. In addition to his academic commitments, he also enjoys playing chess, learning to play the guitar, white water rafting, hiking, canyoneering, and most importantly, spending time with his wife Paloma and daughter Emily.
2014 – Donald Neuen
UCLA Distinguished Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities
Donald Neuen’s teaching and conducting have been described as “being filled with substance, quality, and the highest standards of excellence” – his presentation based on “boundless energy, motivation, and inspiration.” As one writer stated: “Neuen is a one-man-army, leading the march for choral excellence.”
Raised in the small, enormously musical, Swiss-Mennonite community of Berne, Indiana, Neuen enthusiastically participated in both varsity athletics and musical ensembles during high school and college at Ball State University. Although music eventually won, many singers and instrumentalists under his direction have referred to him as coach, due to his energetic and motivating manner of teaching and conducting.
In 1993, after 12 years on the faculty of the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, Neuen accepted the position of professor of music/conducting and director of choral activities for UCLA. He developed the highly acclaimed UCLA Chorale and a graduate program in choral conducting – both the Master of Music (M.M.) and the Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.). In 2013 Neuen received UCLA’s prestigious award of Distinguished Professorship.
His wide-range of choral experience includes teaching all levels of public school music; conducting church, community, symphony and collegiate choruses, chamber music and opera. Prior to his position at The Eastman School of Music, Neuen served at the universities of Wisconsin, Tennessee, Ball State and Georgia State. He was conductor and musical director of the Oak Ridge (Tennessee) Symphony Orchestra and assistant conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. He has conducted in the Hollywood Bowl, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. He is currently a conductor with the 130-voice, Los Angeles-based Angeles Chorale, a large chorus whose repertoire emphasizes major works for chorus and orchestra.
The professor is also internationally recognized for the presentation of major extended works for chorus, soloists and orchestra. He is the conductor of the internationally televised Hour of Power Choir, viewed by millions throughout the world each week.
He has also served as guest conductor, lecturer, and clinician in Europe, Asia, Mexico, Canada, and nearly every state in the U.S.
Watch the video here.
2013 – Russell Burgos M.A. ᾿98, Ph.D. ᾿05
Russell A. Burgos is a lecturer in the UCLA Global Studies Interdepartmental Program.
Born and raised in Chicago, his earliest memories are of days spent in the Museum of Science and Industry, which sparked a life-long enthusiasm for learning – an enthusiasm that has taken him from German literature to military history, from Micronesian cargo cults to the political economy of 18th century piracy, from Abstract Expressionism to the history of rum, and one that became the core of a teaching philosophy focused on contextualizing data, events and history.
With an ancestral quilt that includes Belgian Huguenots, Basque fishermen, English coal miners, Caribbean Spanish colonial officers, brick-makers, business executives, cavalrymen, farmers, nurses, Oregon Trail pioneers, physicians, preachers, salesmen, school teachers and zinc smelters, Professor Burgos has tried his hand at an appropriately diverse range of vocations, including accounts payable clerk, bartender, editor, fork-lift driver, movie extra, phlebotomist, policy analyst, proofreader, software tester and soldier. He’s run with the bulls in Pamplona and driven a road grader in Iraq and thoroughly enjoyed doing both.
Professor Burgos earned his B.A. in English at Loyola University Chicago, an M.A. in security policy studies at George Washington University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from UCLA. He has been employed at UCLA since 2004, first as a member of then-Chancellor Al Carnesale’s speechwriting team, next as a Faculty Fellow in the political science department, and most recently in the UCLA International Institute. For four years he directed the Middle East
Military-Security program for UC’s Institute on Global Conflict & Cooperation, a Track II (behind-the-scenes) diplomatic program funded by the U.S. government, working closely with senior Arab, Israeli and NATO military officers to facilitate constructive dialog among them on
a range of pressing regional security challenges.
Professor Burgos has written scholarly articles, book chapters and professional monographs, and is at work on a book analyzing U.S.-Iraqi foreign relations. He has an active public speaking agenda and has appeared on local, national, and international radio and television. He has provided expert consulting for television and motion picture productions, and has addressed local, national and international audiences on topics including American politics, foreign policy and international security affairs.
In addition to teaching at UCLA, he has been an adjunct faculty member at Pepperdine University since 2001 and, since 2010, at the University of Southern California, where he was pleasantly surprised to find that not all of the students have sworn their allegiance to the Dark Side of the Force – though some he’s still not sure about.
2012 – Phil Gussin M.A. ’03, C.P.H. ’05, Ph.D. ’07
As a young man, Professor Phil Gussin M.A. ’03, C.P.H. ’05, Ph.D. ’07 knew that he wanted to be a teacher. He earned a B.A. in political science at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) in 1982. Unsure of whether he wanted to pursue a master’s degree in history or political science, Gussin – who was caring for his daughters during the day – began taking graduate-level courses at night. Within two years, circumstances required Gussin to leave school and get a fulltime job.
Gussin found what he assumed would be a temporary job as a plumber’s assistant. Although he had no previous experience in construction, Gussin learned the trade quickly. While his knowledge of political science was not directly applicable to plumbing, his ability to think abstractly proved to be extremely useful when reading blueprints and installing and designing plumbing systems. Within a couple of years, Gussin was the lead plumber on large residential and commercial jobs, supervising others with substantially more experience.
Still, his desire to teach found expression on the jobsite. On a number of occasions, Gussin would bring an English-to-Spanish dictionary to work and spend lunchtime with non-English speaking workers, helping them learn English while they taught him Spanish. In 1988, four years after being hired as a plumber’s assistant, Gussin became a licensed journeyman plumber in the City of Los Angeles. In the same year, he married his wife, Nancy, who he had known for more than 20 years. Two years later he started a plumbing business, and although the business was successful, Gussin’s desire to teach never waned.
In 1996, with the support of his wife and four children, Gussin sold the business with the intention of returning to college to get his Ph.D. By the time he returned to graduate school to become a teacher, Gussin was nearly 40 years old. When his application for entry into the graduate program in political science at UCLA was rejected, he returned to CSUN and earned a master’s degree in political science, graduating at the top of his class. He reapplied to UCLA a second time and was accepted into the program in 1998. He earned a second M.A. in political science from UCLA in 2003 and completed his Ph.D. in the summer of 2007. Since then, he has taught at UCLA, Pepperdine and a number of community colleges in the greater Los Angeles area.
Gussin has a unique teaching style. One of his colleagues remarked to the Daily Bruin that he “likes to be interrupted, he likes students asking him questions.” A student explained that she appreciated his focus on the basics and the way in which his classroom demeanor makes it really easy to learn. Part of Gussin’s great ability as a teacher comes from his love of his job. As he explained to the Daily Bruin, working as a professor is a dream come true for him and he is humbled to work alongside prestigious scholars.
Joking about his easy-going delivery as a lecturer Gussin says “I think like a political scientist, but sometimes I speak like a plumber.”
In the spring of 2012, Gussin was hired as a fulltime professor at College of the Canyons, a community college in Valencia, Calif. As a consequence, Gussin’s presentation will, in fact, be his last lecture at UCLA.
2011 – Richard G. Hovannisian Ph.D. ’66
Richard G. Hovannisian is professor of Armenian and Near Eastern History and holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation (AEF) Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA. A native of Tulare, California, he received his B.A. and M.A. in history from UC Berkeley, and Ph.D. in history from UCLA. A member of the UCLA faculty since 1962, he has organized both the undergraduate and graduate programs in Armenian history at the university and has guided a number of students to graduate degrees in Armenian history and a productive academic career. He served as the associate director of UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies (1978-1995) and became the first holder of the AEF Chair in 1987. He was also associate professor of history at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles (1966-1969).
Professor Hovannisian is a Guggenheim Fellow and has received many honors for his scholarship, civic activities and advancement of Armenian studies. He is a founder and six-time president of the Society for Armenian Studies and serves on the boards of five journals and 10 scholarly and civic organizations. He has given hundreds of lectures and participated in numerous international forums and interviews to the media on Armenian issues. Sine the 1970s he has focused on the remembrance and denial of the Armenian Genocide, about which he has spoken in 35 countries, more than 150 colleges and universities and more than 1000 public lectures and forums on six continents.
Dr. Hovannisian is the recipient of medals, honors and awards from supreme patriarchs of the Armenian Apostolic Church, from more than 20 civic, cultural and educational societies, and honorary doctorates from Yerevan State University and Artsakh (Karabagh) State University. In 1990, he became the first social scientist living abroad to be elected to the Armenian National Academy of Sciences.
Armenia on the Road to Independence (1967)
The Republic of Armenia, 4 volumes (1981-1996)
The Armenian Holocaust (1980)
The Armenian Image in History and Literature (1981)
The Armenian Genocide in Perspective (1986)
The Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, Ethics (1992)
The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, 2 volumes (1997)
Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide (1998)
Enlightenment and Diaspora: The Armenian and Jewish Cases (1999)
Looking Backward, Moving Forward: Confronting the Armenian Genocide (2005)
The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies (2007)
and several more on Near Eastern history, society and culture.
2010 – Dr. Asim Dasgupta
Born in Calcutta, India, Dr. Asim Dasgupta’s father was a professional soccer player and his mother, a housewife and musician (vocalist). Both parents were disappointed when he didn’t turn out to be either a soccer player or a professional musician. He told them that he wanted to be a scientist (science was his first love), although he could have been a musician too, since it came very natural to him and music was and still is a very close second love.
He received his B.S. in chemistry and M.S. in biochemistry from Calcutta University, India, and his Ph.D. degree in chemistry /biochemistry from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He became a part of the Bruin family in 1981 when he joined the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics (MIMG) as a virologist and molecular biologist. Since then he has served as a graduate advisor and vice chairman of the MIMG department, as well as part of the David Geffen School of Medicine faculty. Some of his accomplishments include receiving the prestigious American Cancer Society Faculty Research award as well as the National Institute of Health Career Development Award.
As his professional dreams were being fulfilled, he got interested in spirituality (not to be confused with being religious which he is not) and the meaning of life. He was extremely fortunate to meet a few self-realized individuals both in India and US who changed his life for good. He calls this change the “transformation of a scientist.”
In 2004, his wife was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer and passed away on Jan. 26, 2010, on their 30th wedding anniversary. Acting as his wife’s caretaker the last six years and finally dealing with her passing opened his eyes to some new realities that he was not aware of before.
The most important lesson he conveys to his students is to “be a kind, compassionate and humble human being first, and everything else will then fall into place.”