2023 reflections: Stepping boldly into the future
UCLA Newsroom | December 23, 2023
With the holidays around the corner, it’s that time again — an opportunity to take stock of a year filled with awe-inspiring achievements and more than a few surprises, and to celebrate the accomplishments of our entire Bruin community.
“New” was certainly the watchword for 2023, which saw the opening of new vistas and venues for the arts, the introduction of new majors and academic programs, the establishment of a new campus facility for medical technology and training, the welcoming of new deans in medicine, engineering and law, and the launch of the new UCLA Strategic Plan: 2023–28, which charts a course for the university’s future centered on inclusivity and the expansion of our local and global engagement.
But perhaps the “newest” of all was UCLA’s acquisition of the historic Trust Building in downtown Los Angeles, a major investment aimed at broadening access to a UCLA education and strengthening our ties to the city’s diverse and dynamic communities. “We are thrilled about the possibilities this new space offers,” Chancellor Gene Block and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt said of the new UCLA Downtown building, “and confident that it will further intertwine UCLA and L.A., helping us to deepen the impact of our teaching, research and public service mission.”
By any measure, the future looks bright for UCLA. Below, take a deeper dive into everything that made 2023 a year to remember.
Topping the list
For the seventh year in a row, UCLA was named the nation’s best public university by U.S. News & World Report. “The success we have had in college rankings,” Chancellor Block said, “is reflective of the hard work, dedication, resilience, ingenuity and excellence of the people who make up the Bruin community.”
But the U.S. News rankings were just one of the many top honors the university community had to be proud about this year. Here are a few others:
- Shelley Taylor receives the National Medal of Science
- Justin Torres wins the National Book Award
- UCLA has 2 new MacArthur ‘genius award’ winners
- Time magazine picks UCLA climate solution as one of 2023’s top inventions
- Nearly 40 UCLA faculty ranked among world’s most influential researchers
- More UCLA awards and honors
Gene Block’s final year as chancellor
It’s still hard to imagine. Chancellor Block announced that he plans to step down from his position next July after 17 years of transformative leadership — a period that has seen the campus increase enrollment, guarantee housing to undergraduates, rise to the top of national rankings, double its research funding, expand its geographic footprint throughout Los Angeles and deepen its commitment to access, affordability, diversity and service.
But there’s still much work to be done before next summer, Block said. “I look forward to the opportunities ahead — to working on the campus’s new strategic plan, refining programming for our UCLA South Bay and UCLA Downtown properties, growing our faculty with a focus on diversity, supporting major research initiatives, deepening our ties to the city of Los Angeles and laying the groundwork for our institution’s next fundraising campaign.”
More on Chancellor and Mrs. Block in their final year:
- As UCLA continues its push for affordable student housing, Chancellor Block is honored for efforts
- Chancellor Block visits White House to talk about diversity on college campuses
- Carol Block: Quiet leadership that builds community
- Chancellor Block tribute site
Bringing Bruin expertise to bear on local issues
UCLA researchers have provided strategies that center equity and justice in LADWP’s transition to completely renewable energy.
As a world-class public research university located in one of the world’s most diverse and dynamic megacities and the nation’s most populous state, UCLA is effecting positive change throughout local communities.
Among those efforts, faculty, students and staff have partnered closely with the city of Los Angeles over the past year to formulate equity-based plans for addressing the threats posed by extreme heat and the city’s plan to achieve 100% clean energy by 2035.
Read more about UCLA’s local engagement in 2023:
- UCLA’s mobile medical program for L.A.’s homeless gets $25.3 million
- UCLA-led climate projects receive $7.5 million in state-funded grants
- In reparations debate, students help amplify Black Californians’ voices
- Law students advocate for equitable groundwater rules at state Capitol
- Geffen Academy’s wellness curriculum helps school districts
- Awards for community-engaged scholars | Awards for research benefiting society
Going global: UCLA’s impact around the world
A rainforest in Amazonas, Brazil. A global network aimed at saving rainforests around the world from deforestation has its roots at UCLA.
In 2023, Bruins continued to expand UCLA’s global reach, focusing on a wide range of pressing international challenges, from earthquakes and climate change to disease, food security and biodiversity. In June, for instance, the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, which is housed at UCLA brought together three dozen specialists from the governments of Brazil, Ecuador, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mexico and Peru to explore new ways to use sensing technology to protect rainforests from deforestation.
Other UCLA projects and programs that had a global impact:
- New European center extends UCLA’s impact as a leading voice for international human rights
- Workshop in Oaxaca immerses L.A. teachers in Indigenous Mexican culture
- UCLA Library funds 30 international cultural preservation projects
- Waystation Initiative returns ‘orphaned’ cultural objects to their rightful homes
- Newly digitized Florentine Codex reveals Aztec culture, language
- Students advance sustainable farming with incarcerated youth in Cameroon
- How Bruin alumni network around the world
UCLA continues to put its stamp on the world of sports
Perhaps no one is more representative of UCLA’s sports legacy than former men’s basketball coach John Wooden. This fall, the U.S. Postal Service announced it will issue a limited edition stamp honoring Wooden, who led the Bruins to a record 10 national championships and left an indelible mark on the university, the sport and a generation of student athletes — and whose teachings and books continue to inspire legions of fans and admirers around the world. Get out your pens and envelopes, Bruins!
At the same time, UCLA athletes — both human and otherwise — continued to inspire:
- UCLA men’s volleyball team brings home its 20th NCAA title
- Adaptive recreation gives Bruin athletes of any ability the chance to level up
- Linebacker mentors student-athletes in L.A. K–12 schools
- UCLA’s most advanced humanoid robot gets ready for soccer championship
A banner year for arts and culture
This year saw both the opening of UCLA’s new Nimoy Theater in the heart of Westwood — a landmark space that hosts events for UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance — and the unveiling of the updated Hammer Museum at UCLA following a two-decade transformation of its physical spaces. In addition, CAP UCLA named a , and the Hammer’s director, Ann Philbin, announced she would retire in 2024 after 25 years at the helm.
Among UCLA’s other arts and culture news:
- Concert for social justice features Brubeck Trio, world premieres from UCLA faculty
- 12 feet of hope: “Little Amal” the refugee has a big impact at UCLA Community School
- “We’re Alive” prison documentary gets a second life
- UCLA Hip Hop Initiative: Passing the mic, leading the way
- Bruins earn 4 Grammys
Elevating our teaching and learning
A UCLA literature course used an AI text generator to produce this book, which takes a fictional look back from the perspective of an “artificial literary historian” writing in the year 2063.
Providing students with a world-class, inclusive education while embracing new teaching strategies and technologies is a strategic priority at UCLA — one that will put the university at the forefront of a 21st-century education and help all students grow, thrive and become engaged members of society, according to Erin O’Leary Sanders, UCLA’s new vice provost for teaching and learning.
This year proved a pivotal moment, with the rise of ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence platforms, bringing with them extraordinary opportunities but also great responsibilities. One English literature course encouraged students to study AI analytically while also using in creatively. “I think that the use of generative AI … presents real ethical and moral concerns,” said the course’s instructor, Danny Snelson, who has been studying the intersection of AI and creativity. “But these tools, and the new ways of making they present, are not going away. That box has been opened.”
Other ways UCLA has enhanced teaching, learning and campus life in 2023:
- UCLA creates first disability studies major at a California public university
- Campus launches new music industry bachelor’s program
- Public health school to offer master’s of data science degree
- UCLA Labor Studies’ new residency program for labor movement leaders
- UCLA’s Faculty Forward Initiative aims to expand diversity
Pursuing knowledge from the oceans to the stars
Are we alone in the universe? That’s the question UCLA’s SETI — an acronym for “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” — has posed, and this year, they’re asking your help to find out. Their new project gives members of the public an opportunity to help scientists find signs of extraterrestrial life by classifying radio signals that may have been emitted up to tens of thousands of light-years away and that have been collected by a radio telescope.
Read more about the groundbreaking research conducted in 2023:
- Extinct Megalodon shark was no cold-blooded killer
- Consumers give too much credit to products’ claims
- Romance or nomance? Teens prefer less sex, more friendships on screen
- Wildfires are getting worse. But why?
- Astrophysicists confirm faintest galaxy ever seen in the early universe
- Whaling wiped out far more fin whales than previously thought
- Breakthrough reveals poaching hotspots, trade routes of most trafficked endangered mammal
- Small acts of kindness are frequent and universal
Students, staff and alumni making a difference
Nam Yong Cho training in Alaska during his time in the U.S. Army. Today, he is a third-year medical student at UCLA who hopes to become a trauma surgeon.
This Veterans Day, we highlighted the stories of three immigrant students who served in the U.S. military and have gone on to study for careers in medicine at UCLA — two with hopes of becoming trauma surgeons, and the other who intends to practice reconstructive surgery. These student veterans among the countless students, staff and alumni whose contributions consistently enrich the campus and its mission in so many areas, from health care and sustainability to government serviece and diversity and inclusion.
- Honoring 100 years of Black Greek life at UCLA
- Celebrating Alfred Herrera and UCLA’s Center for Community Partnerships
- First cohort of College Corps Bruins reflect on what it means to serve
- Alumni Association’s inaugural civic engagement awards recognize leadership in public service
- Latino labor studies alumni are enacting change in their communities
- New campus plan targets electric vehicle adoption
A year of extraordinary giving
In fiscal year 2022–23, more than $80.5 million in donations went toward student support, with $71 million of that total providing direct financial aid to students.
UCLA received $692 million in new gifts and pledges in fiscal year 2022–23, representing the largest annual tally of philanthropic support since the close of the Centennial Campaign.
“Throughout my tenure, I have been gratified to see how our mission as a public university inspires donors to contribute gifts of all sizes,” Block said. “Their support of our outstanding teaching, world-class research, top-quality health care, excellence in athletics and dynamic campus culture allows us to better serve Los Angeles, California and the world.”
A few highlights:
- With donors’ support, UCLA Affordability Initiative aims to reduce need for student loans
- $20 million gift establishes new UCLA microbiome center
- Center for the study of Iranian literary traditions launched with $11 million gift
- Faculty couple pledges $15.4 million
- UCLA’s sporting Jaquez family launches fund for student support
- More on gifts in 2023
Entrebruinurial: An engine of continuous invention
Company founders who pitched their ideas to investors at UCLA’s Venture Accelerator showcase.
At UCLA, entrepreneurial culture has evolved into a network of offices and scientific laboratories around campus where Bruins swap research, find private sector mentors and kick-start their own businesses. This year, the UCLA magazine highlighted how these incubators and accelerators have shaped hundreds of new companies, mostly in the technology, medical and environmental fields and have plugged into the creative spirit of Los Angeles, which is now the third-largest startup hub in the United States.
Read more on how UCLA is fostering innovation:
- Startups from across UCLA compete for funding at first-ever Innovation Showcase
- Students’ app for 2028 Olympic Games wins inaugural Innovation Challenge
- Med student wins UC Grad Slam competition for COVID-19 innovations
Commencement: Kindness, service is in UCLA’s DNA
This year’s UCLA College commencement ceremony focused on making meaningful change in the world. Thousands of soon-to-be graduates heard from a fellow Bruin actor, writer, comedian and keynote speaker Randall Park: “Let’s try to be kinder and more considerate of one another. Treating others with kindness, especially when there’s nothing personal to gain from it, is a small, simple and eﬀective way of making this world a better place.”
“Bruins,” Chancellor Block told the crowd, “are nothing if not marked by optimism, and it is in our DNA to look at the world and see it as ripe for constant reshaping.”
Ceremonies across campus featured addresses by, among others, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, California Surgeon General Diana Ramos and Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian.
Other highlights of commencement 2023:
- Randall Park brings sensory inclusion to UCLA
- Johanna Carbajal’s journey from lockup to law studies at UCLA
- The inspiring stories of the class of 2023
Bidding farewell to a UCLA icon
Former Chancellor Charles E. Young.
In October, Charles E. “Chuck” Young, who served chancellor of UCLA for 29 years, from 1968 to 1997, and whose legacy will long be felt across the campus, died at the age of 91.
“During his long tenure,” Chancellor Block said, “Chuck Young guided UCLA toward what it is today: one of the nation’s most comprehensive and respected research universities and one that is profoundly dedicated to inclusiveness and diversity. He faced head-on the many challenges of his time, and his principled leadership positioned UCLA to meet the many challenges of the future.”
- Other members of the Bruin family we lost in 2023