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Q&A with Professor Rojas, 2015′s My Last Lecture Award Recipient


Randall Rojas’ teaching ability may inspire students in a way beyond the scope of most instructors at UCLA, but the decor in his Bunche Hall office is as unexciting and ordinary as most professors’: a shelf of books, a metal filing cabinet, a desktop monitor. Awarded this year’s My Last Lecture Award, the only faculty award chosen by students, Rojas is famous for his varied academic interests: from pursuing a doctorate degree in physics at Drexel University to teaching statistics, cosmology and currently, economics. His biography states he enjoys canyoneering and spending time with his family, and it also gives an overview of his educational pathway from beginning college at 15 to the completion of his doctorate degree at Drexel University.

At the same time, biographies don’t capture everything. Curious to learn more, I sat down for a quick chat with professor Rojas to go beyond what a quick skim of the My Last Lecture page could gleam. How did this man who moved easily between the subjects of physics and economics, but still made time to be an excellent teacher, come to be?

Is there anything about you that you feel isn’t accurately represented in your autobiography? I am actually very accessible, and I feel like students don’t realize that until they come to office hours. With 400 students in a course, it can be very difficult to feel comfortable (in speaking to me). I do ask and do try to remember names. Students are often surprised when I remember little details, like them getting their wisdom teeth removed the week before. All in all, I am quite approachable and actually pretty silly. Maybe they get some of that from class too? (In class), I try to not be as serious and make for a relaxed learning environment.

Who was your memorable lecturer throughout your long university education? How has that impacted you? Well, I had two. First, I had a professor (at Universidad de Costa Rica), Antonio Madrigal. He always believed in distilling complex things to the core and presenting things in a very simple fashion. I think it’s a great thing to be able to do this, and it’s not always easy. I’ve definitely inherited his teaching style. I find myself teaching a lot of different concepts like econometrics and time series. (With Madrigal),  I saw the value and beauty in bringing things down to a simplified level.

In a more comical fashion, his approach was to make it seem like something seemed fun and light-hearted, even if the concepts were incredibly difficult. Adding a humor element distracts the students and then they can enjoy the process of learning more. In graduate school, my quantum mechanics professor, Lorenzo Narducci, (at Drexel) taught me that you truly need to have a passion for teaching. He was an expert in the field, but he also had a passion for teaching. He cared about every single student, showing genuine concern for students. It was really an eye opener for me. I could go to him and ask any question, and he wouldn’t trivialize them.

How do you feel about your shift from a focus on physics to economics? Do you still feel like physics is part of your life? I’ve tried to reconcile what I’m doing now with my love for physics. If I don’t understand something in economics, I have to translate it into physics for it to make sense, as strange as that sounds. In that regard, even if I don’t teach physics,  I exercise it everyday. Just because you don’t teach it, the training and skills I have learned  still help me daily.

I never would have imagined I would be teaching economics today. Back then, I thought that my lifelong passion would be physics. As you grow older, you eventually realize that things happen differently, and that you really have to be open and flexible to those changes. I saw this as an opportunity to teach new material. This reconciling (of my interests) is where my research lies currently, the intersection of physics and economics: econophysics. (Econophysics is the application of physics theory to financial markets.)

Dr. Rojas gives his “last lecture” on Tuesday, May 12, in De Neve Auditorium, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are free through the Central Ticket Office, but seating is limited. To read a recap of Rojas’ lecture, pick up a copy of Wednesday’s Daily Bruin.

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Street Style: Week Six

Needless to say, there are some cool cats deep in North Campus. Here are some Bruins who caught our eye this week.

Iris Goldsztajn / Daily Bruin

Name: Veronica Mitrache
Year: First
Major: Business economics
Style: “Whatever I’m in the mood for in the morning.”
Outfit: Shirt  thrift shop; pants  UNIQLO; sandals – Birkenstock

IMG_9301Name: Erik Kristman
Year: Fifth
Major: English
Style: “Slightly hungover.”
Outfit: Shirt  MUJI; jeans  Levi’s; shoes and bag  Zara

Iris Goldsztajn / Daily Bruin


Name: Aaron D. Estrada
Year: Second
Major: Art
Style: “Classic, southern Californian.”
Outfit: Slauson Swapmeet


Name: Troyese Robinson
Year: Second
Major: Art
Style: “Boyhood, dandy.”
Outfit: Superthrift in the San Fernando Valley

Iris Goldsztajn / Daily Bruin


Name: Stephanie Gorman a.k.a. “So Fresh Steph”
Year: Fifth
Major: Comparative literature, but secretly in the art and design department. “I’m undercover.”
Style: “Different. Comfortable but different. Willing to try new things. Nice and cute, but comfortable.”
Outfit: Jacket  her grandmother’s; skirt  her aunt’s; shoes  Urban Outfitters; necklace  from the beach; shirt  from a mall, back in high school

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While You Were Studying: Trending Stories

As you continue to procrastinate studying for midterms, you scroll through your News Feed and see a news article shared by your friends. It’s not about the upcoming election or even world news in general, but a topic that just isn’t worth taking time out of your 15-minute social media break. In an effort to keep you up to date with trending news while giving you enough Instagram time, here is a quick roundup of the top stories of the week so far.

1. Sorry Prince Harry, your journey to the throne just got longer. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have named their daughter Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge, born Saturday, May 2, 2015. She is the fourth in line to the throne after her grandfather, father and brother – which you can see in this nifty little map.

2. Holy guacamole! You just saved some money in your extremely tight college student budget. Chipotle just released its famous “guac is extra” recipe.

3. If you had any presence on social media Monday, you would know that Vogue’s annual Costume Institute Gala took place. This $25,000-per-ticket fundraiser takes place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and all in attendance wore their Monday best, from Sarah Jessica Parker’s surprisingly elegant H&M gown to Beyonce’s near-nude sparkling dress.

4. Miley Cyrus dyed her armpit hair pink. You know you want to click this.

5. Here’s a feel-good story for you. During the Boston Marathon, the women at Wellesley College traditionally offer kisses to the runners. One runner, Barbara Tatge, was dared by her daughter to kiss a handsome man during her run as she ran through the town of Wellesley. Needless to say, the photo went viral and the search for the anonymous man began. Of all people, the man’s wife responded, ending the search. The couple wished to remain anonymous, however, and there were no bumps in the marriage because the wife knew it was just for good fun.

So now, you will be able to contribute a little to the small talk around school while still getting that A on your dreaded midterm. You’re welcome.


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What We Learned from Relay for Life 2015

Matt Cummings/Daily Bruin
Matt Cummings/Daily Bruin

This past weekend, UCLA held yet another successful Relay for Life. For those of you who may not be familiar, Relay for Life is a 24-hour event in which teams of participants relay continuously around an area (in our case, the track at Drake Stadium) to come to together against cancer and to spread awareness of the disease. Each team works to fundraise a goal amount beforehand and even during the event, and all of the proceeds go towards cancer research and the American Cancer Society. The 24 hours were also packed with games and entertainment, so there was really never a dull moment. Participating in my first-ever Relay made me realize just how symbolic and educational this event really was.

Cancer does not discriminate. 

This powerful phrase was repeated multiple times throughout Relay. Anybody can get cancer, regardless of race, sex or any other defining characteristics. Furthermore, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re predisposed or not. Many people develop cancer based on lifestyle choices rather than a genetic predisposition – both can be factors. During the closing ceremony, one of the education chairs from Colleges Against Cancer held an exercise in which she asked members of the audience to stand up if they did certain things regularly (such as smoking or using sunscreen) to demonstrate the ways in which our lifestyle choices could increase or decrease our likelihood of getting cancer.

Sometimes when one person has cancer, it can feel like the whole family has cancer. 

One of the speakers during the Luminaria portion of Relay said this during her speech, and these words really stuck with me. This isn’t to downplay the brutality of having cancer for the patient or even to say that his or her family is experiencing the same pain. Instead, this speaker was implying that the families of cancer patients also feel the aftershocks of this pain. The family members (and friends too) that stand by a loved one battling cancer are known among the Relay community as “caregivers.” Caregivers are the ones who drive their patient to their countless doctors’ appointments, accompany them through the difficult experience of chemotherapy and ultimately provide a shoulder to cry on in times of sadness.

You can greatly diminish your risk for cancer by choosing a healthy lifestyle.

Believe it or not, cancer is in many ways a preventable illness. Certain habits like smoking cigarettes (also hookah or electronic cigarettes), using tanning beds and drinking above a normal limit of one standard drink per day can increase your risk for different forms of cancer including lung cancer, skin cancer and mouth cancer. Conversely, healthy habits such as daily exercise and maintaining a healthy diet high in antioxidants have been proven to decrease your risk for the disease. One of the main focuses at Relay was to illustrate this idea through signs lining the track, posters at the different booths and various speeches.

As much as Relay for Life was a fun and packed 24 hours, it was also a time for reflection on just how ruthless cancer can be. It was a time to remember those lost to cancer, to honor the survivors and current fighters and to applaud the people who stood by and continue to stand by their sides. Most importantly, it was an opportunity to come together as a community towards one common goal: celebrating more birthdays.

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Campus news

Mojo Asks Students: Racist Stickers on Campus

Jessica Zhou/Daily Bruin
Jessica Zhou/Daily Bruin

Editor’s note: Some of the images included in this post contain explicit language. We have decided to run these images because we felt it appropriate to thoroughly cover this campus incident.

Racist stickers referencing Freddie Gray appeared around campus and on the Afrikan Student Union’s bulletin board on Thursday, and students quickly denounced the stickers on Facebook and by marking the stickers themselves. Many students said that the situation was reflective of poor campus climate, and some added they felt it is an issue the Undergraduate Students Association Council should address. Here are some student thoughts:




“If they attack the black community at UCLA, they are attacking everyone at UCLA. We stand together as one whole family. If they attack on family, they attack all of us.” – first-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student Rubi Gomez


“I saw one of the stickers and my first reaction was being upset because I don’t think they understand the full institutionalized consequences. The problem is not ‘if you follow the law, you’d be alive’ but more of a targeted race issue. Also, being anonymous makes it a hate crime and it’s clearly an attack.” – fifth-year geography and English student Kristen Chan


“If only Freddie Gray had followed the damn law, he’d still be alive.” (Jessica Zhou/Daily Bruin)


“We go to a school that is not very politically active. Maybe at Berkeley people would be more motivated about this. … The only thing people got upset about was the tuition hikes, and then we went on break and then everyone forgot about it.” – first-year undeclared student Eleanor Hunts


“A lot of things with anti-Semitism have been going on around campus, and we’re known for our racially diverse campus so it’s disturbing to see that we have come to this level. I feel like it opens your eyes to certain things you didn’t truly understand the extent of.” – second-year sociology student Leah Falcon


“They are not peaceful protestors. They are uncivilized, violent criminals. #ShootAllLooters” (Jessica Zhou/Daily Bruin)


“It’s not shocking people feel that way because there are racist people everywhere. It’s the fact they go to the lengths to do that that shocks me. As a UCLA student it makes me rethink the whole ‘picture perfect public school with lots of diversity’ image we try so hard to attain.” – first-year psychology student Brian Green


“It’s disgusting, and in general this issue doesn’t just affect the group being targeted. It affects everyone. Seeing things like this makes me question humanity but also forces me to rethink about the ‘educated’ people we are surrounded by in a high profile university.” – first-year business economics student Devanshi Mehta

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