Paul Brentson ’69, anthropology
From peddling potato chips to toiling on the frontiers of animal medicine, Paul Brentson has followed a hopscotch career path. Part of UCI’s first freshman class, he originally considered the ministry but instead joined the Army after graduation, then sold Frito-Lay snacks, earned an MBA, and worked at a primate research lab before joining UC Davis as administrator of its renowned veterinary hospital, which treats everything from lizards to llamas. During his 26-year tenure at the center, he says, animal medicine’s focus shifted from farm critters to cats and canines. So part of Brentson’s job involved securing funding to purchase human medical equipment that could be adapted to perform MRIs, chemotherapy, dialysis, heart surgery and hip replacements on household pets. “It was a remarkable era in veterinary capabilities,” he says. Now retired, Brentson enjoys camping, kayaking, mentoring church youth and tending the orchard at his 3-acre home.
Edith Gelles, Ph.D. ’79, colonial American history
Planted in front of a microfilm reader in the early 1970s, Edith Gelles became transfixed by a collection of letters written by America’s second first lady, Abigail Adams. The trove of correspondence offered a rare female perspective on the Revolutionary War and early American history. Gelles – who grew up in Lake Placid, New York, then moved to Irvine in 1965 as the wife of a founding UCI faculty member and later became a Ph.D. student – had found her calling. After graduating, her detective skills and scholarship produced several biographies and books about the pioneering first lady, including last year’s expansive Abigail Adams: Letters, which was named one of 2016’s top 10 nonfiction volumes by The Wall Street Journal. Based at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Gelles is currently working on a new book and, in her leisure time, swimming with Rinconada Masters, an aquatic team she joined 34 years ago.
Ed Hernandez ’91, electrical & computer engineering
Motorized shoes, an electric tricycle and a prosthetic hand are a few of the objects built by teens in Ed Hernandez’s Tustin High School engineering classes. The hands-on lessons began in 2004, when Hernandez left the semiconductor industry to become a teacher. Disenchanted with corporate life, he wanted to make a difference by guiding future generations. In addition to demonstrating practical applications for dry math and science concepts, he advises students on how to avoid the pitfalls he encountered in college. Born in Mexico and the first in his family to finish high school, Hernandez came to UCI utterly unprepared for the university’s “academic cauldron.” Almost immediately, he was put on academic probation. But he buckled down, surrounded himself with smart classmates and saw his grades steadily improve. Today the self-described nerd makes his own golf clubs and electric guitars at home and racks up statewide teaching awards at work.
Ivan Williams, Executive MBA ’96
A demon from Hades and a middle-aged spinster are two of the characters this former oilman has helped bring to life. After 31 years in the petroleum industry – with interludes as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer during Operation Desert Shield and as a grad student at UCI – Ivan Williams detoured into moviemaking. He and his wife joined a pool of investors who finance films and Broadway plays. So far, their production credits include three movies (“Knights of Badassdom,” “Big Stone Gap” and “M.F.A.”) and a musical (“First Date”). They also helped bankroll a web television series, “Be Here Nowish.” Last fall, Williams left his job with an Australian energy engineering firm to devote more time to Hollywood. The projects in his queue include an animated Noah’s Ark film and a possible “Caddyshack” sequel. “We have to make sure we have the gopher,” he says of the latter.
Negin Singh ’08, drama
Brokechella, a cheapskate alternative to Coachella’s famous music fair, is one of Negin Singh’s brainchilds. (It’s now called Broke L.A.) So is the No Budget Film Festival, which screens made-on-a-shoestring movies, and the Living Room Tour, which stages plays in people’s homes. These and other projects are produced by cARTel: Collaborative Arts L.A., a multimedia event company that Singh began at UCI. Originally called the Ahimsa Collective, it sponsored experimental shows on campus. Singh, a Chicago native and Irvine High School alum whose Iranian dad and Indian mom launched the first Persian American beauty pageant, renamed and expanded Ahimsa after graduating and moving to Los Angeles. The results have won plaudits from local media outlets and a White House blog. The company’s newest endeavor entails creating “unconventional experiences and events” to help corporations and nonprofits promote their brands.
Jessica Lin ’10, economics and anthropology
As a San Diego Chargers cheerleader, Jessica Lin danced before legions of football fans, volunteered at charity events and posed alongside an F-101 Voodoo jet fighter for a calendar photo shoot. Nowadays, the Carlsbad-bred daughter of Taiwanese immigrants belongs to a different kind of spirit squad. As associate brand manager for Aliso Viejo-based Infinium Spirits, she has a hand in marketing imported tequila, whiskey, rum, vodka and various liqueurs. In her spare time, Lin practices yoga, runs a summer dance program for children with HIV and AIDS, brushes up on her Mandarin language skills, and makes weekly pilgrimages to UCI’s Anthill Pub & Grille for Tuesday night trivia contests.
Michaela Holland ’16, literary journalism
She can send you to Mars or transport you back in time – to a 1941 house where you can decorate a Christmas tree, tune in to FDR’s Pearl Harbor radio address or lift a ticking watch to your ear. As a 360-degree video producer for Life VR, the virtual reality division of Time magazine and its sister publications, Michaela Holland helps create immersive visual experiences of news events past, present and future. Viewers can watch via mobile app or HTC Vive goggles, which enable users to walk around a virtual reality environment and interact with what they see. Holland stumbled onto the field after UCI, where she had divided her time between campus journalism and professional dancing at Disneyland, SeaWorld and Legoland. Her work at Life VR has included covering President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 360-degree video, assisting on a “Star Wars” virtual reality experience for People magazine, and editing an immersive documentary on Mount Everest climbers for Sports Illustrated.