From Dramas to Drops, Hit-Maker Robert Palmer Watkins is a Man of Many Talents

Robert Palmer Watkins is a man of many talents. An established actor in TV and film, he’s recently branched out to music, working with acclaimed producer B Martin.

Watkins is a busy guy, but took time out of his schedule for a lively chat with host Brian Calle on the L.A. Weekly weekly podcast to talk about what it’s like to straddle two artistic worlds, and how he’s been able to achieve the dream of so many Angelenos.

“I grew up with three sisters that were always throwing me on stage or into their dance numbers or into their skits… whether I wanted to be thrown into them or not,” laughs Watkins. “I liked filming sketches and stuff around the neighborhood with my friends… I just was always an artistic kid.”

An artist at heart, Watkins found his calling in high school theatre.

“I loved it – the energy from the audience and just being on stage, being a part of something that’s almost like a sport,” explains Watkins. “You’ve got a group of people that have to put on a show, and they all have to rely on each other ’cause if the ship sinks, everybody’s going down together. You’re only as strong as your weakest man… I just loved that camaraderie in that feeling.”

He had been making movies and short films with his friends ever since he could get his hands on a video camera, so his teenage transition to stage acting was a welcome adaptation of his skill.

His advice for young artists?

“Go for it now, like what are you waiting for?” asks Watkins. “If it’s a career or dream that totally seems crazy with your given circumstances… pull [yourself] aside and go… ‘it is crazy but like it’s what you’ve got to do.’ You know, you feel it [when it’s right].”

It was this steadfast certainty of his potential that enabled him to overcome worried family members who were concerned he was following an unrealistic path.

“They were just a little concerned about me getting a degree and they really wanted me to at least go to college first. They didn’t want me to become like a child star on drugs and, you know, go off the rails,” confides Watkins.

They encouraged him to go to college before pursuing his dream, something the star is thankful for today.

“I got this agency casting thing when I was like 14 and had like 10 different agents from L.A. saying ‘we need him here now! We need him here now, he’s perfect for Disney or Nickelodeon.’ And my parents said no, and I’m glad they did, to be honest. I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”

It did indeed, with Watkins starring in iconic shows like General Hospital and the upcoming The Walking Dead: World Beyond.

“[Working on General Hospital] opened a ton of doors for me, got me out there and working and got my name floating around,” says Watkins. “I booked a four-year contract to play Dillon Quartermaine who’s also a legacy character from the show.”

The soap world is different from any other type of television show, requiring serious dedication and commitment to your character.

“That first week I was given the amount of scripts that they wanted me to [memorize] and I had a panic attack,” remembers Watkins. “How am I going to remember all these lines? Somehow I did it.”

“I’ve had like eight episodes I needed to learn in two days, so I booked a shitty motel room and locked myself in there until I started filming, just rehearsing my lines,” he continues. “I got through it but the pacing was insane. It did kind of teach me that you just gotta go with it. You might fail but you gotta get out of your way, get out of your head.”

He’s now been creating music, with his first single “Waiting” dropping today. He collaborated with B Martin and Ronin on the piece, working with his label Purpose Driven Artists and KMG, powered by Orchard Music.

“I’ve always loved music,” explains Watkins. “I’ve always been into singing.”

And he does it well.

Tune into the L.A. Weekly weekly podcast to learn more about this drop, as well as intimate details of how a young kid made it in Hollywood, pursuing both of his dreams to fruition.     ❖

Listen to the L.A. Weekly weekly podcast on SpotifyCumulus Los Angeles or wherever you get your podcasts.


Vanessa Hudgens and Oliver Trevena Leverage Their Platforms to Encourage a Healthy and Eco-Conscious Lifestyle

“Don’t be afraid to be different,” she continues. “I think that it’s really easy to conform – and less scary [to do so] – but we’re all made differently, our interests are all different, the way we approach life is different, and I think the more that you can embrace your individuality and your weirdness and the things that make you you, the easier it is for you to succeed in life in general.”

Her close friend and business partner, Oliver (Oli) Trevena, has been more than willing to help her achieve just that. Oliver, who has 152K followers on Instagram, is a connector. The man knows everyone, and is able to bring people together to encourage social activism and make plans happen. The successful entrepreneur/investor is also an actor – his movie Rising Hawk is streaming now.

How did the two meet? Where all great friendships are made: Lance Bass’ house.

“One day we met at Lance Bass’ house,” explains Oliver. “That’s it really. And yeah, we connected there and then you know, a couple of times after that [the friendship] just clicked. [We] got closer because life happens … with the struggles. I think real friendships grow stronger [through struggles] and that was it for me. She’s seen me through everything.”

“Boyfriends come and go but Oli’s been there,” chimes in Vanessa.

From their friendship and their shared love of earth-friendly activism, their venture Caliwater was born.

“I think those best moments in life happen [when there is no] kind of game plan or you know, thinking about it. It just happened and then we worked our asses off,” says Oliver.

It all started with a prickly pear margarita.

“I was in New Mexico and I was on a road trip and I am such a margarita aficionado,” Vanessa laughs. “This prickly pear margarita came out and I remember just seeing the color and being like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s beautiful (A) and then it tastes phenomenal (B).’ Then I was like, ‘I gotta do some research on this.’ I looked it up and realized they’ve been using prickly pear for centuries for all of its health benefits.”

“I’m a sucker for a good life hack… and I also don’t drink water. My friends are always like, ‘Vanessa, you gotta drink water’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t like it though.’ I’m so happy because now I have something that I actually love and is hydrating for me which is the most important thing,” she continues.

Cactus-made Caliwater is good for more than just hydration.

“Immunity, antioxidants, it’s obviously great for hydration, low sugar, low calories,” lists Oliver.

“Antiviral properties, lowering blood sugar levels, it’s just kind of a miracle worker,” follows Vanessa.

“Yeah, it’s kind of one of those things that the world is aware of, but it hasn’t gone mainstream. Kind of like coconut, you know the same way coconut water had this massive resurgence,” says Oliver. “When you talk to people in Latin America and [other warm climate countries], they [use it frequently], like you know: ‘Someone’s got a tummy ache, give him some prickly pear.’ I think just the mainstream hasn’t clicked, so that’s where I feel like there’s a real gap in the market for this.”

The health benefits are many, but it’s not just a tasty drought-friendly drink that’s great for staying hydrated. It’s also a perfect mixer, and a healthy alternative beverage to water for those that are picky.

“It’s a great mixer,” affirms Oliver. “I mean, that’s the idea behind this drink. But we’ve found [out from] investor friends, [that] their kids have been drinking this and they love it. We’ve got everyone from a 5-year-old that loves it to a 60-year-old that loves it and then people that don’t drink or do drink. The idea of this company was providing something that really can be drunk by everyone.”

A labor of love, Caliwater isn’t just a sustainable company influencing better health, it’s also actively involved in bettering the lives of children. Five cents of every can of Caliwater sold goes to No Kid Hungry, a charity working to help feed hungry kids. With millions of children experiencing food insecurity due to the effects of the pandemic, Caliwater’s support of ending childhood hunger is more important now than ever.

“They make sure that kids are fed. At school, they will make sure they get breakfast, lunch and send them home with dinner if they need it. Kids shouldn’t have to worry about how to get through the next meal, so they just make it happen,” explains Vanessa. “I love that.”

Vanessa and Oliver recently hosted the Caliwater launch party at Mojave Moon Ranch in Joshua Tree, the #CaliwaterEscape. Following all COVID restrictions and safety regulations, the launch brought together some of the biggest media influencers to not only spread awareness about the health benefits of cactus and Caliwater, but to raise awareness about No Kid Hungry’s mission.

The event combined Vanessa’s classic Coachella style and major influence with Oliver’s innate ability to connect people and make dreams happen. For Vanessa, Oliver introducing her to Caliwater and letting her take the reins has been a dream.

“I think the fact is, at the end of the day, if you’re passionate about something you figure out how to manage your time and Caliwater is something that I’ve been so invested in and so excited about,” she shares. “You know for me it’s fun, like I love being crafty, I love trying new things. If I’m into it, I’m going to make it happen.”

“And it’s authentic,” Oliver agrees. “I mean, we both genuinely like it. Even if this was another company, and I tried this drink, I can genuinely say that I’d be buying it and drinking it.”

For these influencers, health is a top priority: their own health, the health of their followers, the health of their communities, and the health of the planet.

“I see Vanessa influencing everyone to be a good person,” ends Oliver. “She inspires me all the time, she always shows up for people, always there for people.”    ❖

Learn more about Caliwater’s cactus water with a conscious mission, where it is available, its founders and their upcoming ventures by listening to the L.A. Weekly weekly podcast on SpotifyCumulus Los Angeles or wherever you get your podcasts and visit Follow on Instagram @caliwater


Chris Sullivan Tells His Story and Talks About the Series Finale of ‘This Is Us’

Chris Sullivan is an actor’s actor. Widely known as Toby Damon on NBC’s wildly successful drama This Is Us, he’s a master of his craft, from Broadway to television.

Chris took time off from his family vacation (a family on TV and real-life) to sit down with Brian Calle and chat about his past, how he’s made it in Hollywood, and the upcoming series finale of This Is Us.

“The journey started in L.A. back in 1998. I went to Loyola Marymount University to study theater and graduated from LMU in 2002,” begins Chris. “I hung around Los Angeles for a couple of years, trying to make it happen, and ended up doing a lot of theater, actually. I ended up getting cast in a Broadway one-man show called Defending The Caveman that was a touring show.”

After being on the road for a few years, he landed in Chicago where he lived for half a decade. It was there that he continued to hone his artistic craft, and also met his wife. From there, the two moved to NYC to pursue Chris’s Broadway career. His talents got him recognized, and the opportunity to audition for the show This Is Us presented itself. He now finds himself settled in Los Angeles with his family, as the show brought him back to the West.

This Is Us has become a cultural phenomenon, one of the most beloved shows to hit the airways in modern day. He is now a very recognizable face (and arguably even more so a recognizable voice) thanks to his work portraying the lovable Toby.

Getting to where he is today hasn’t been easy. From constantly moving around for work to endlessly auditioning, his accolades are well-deserved.

“Ninety-five percent of all the things I have auditioned for I have not gotten,” he admits. “It was a slow build.”

“That Broadway touring show was a break in the sense that I did somewhere between 500-600 performances of that show,” he continues. “Over the course of the years, as my theatre mentor says, I got my Ph.D. in stage time.”

That time gave him the confidence he needed to push his craft over the edge. At what point did he realize he wanted to be an actor? What lured him into following this dream?

“I had a lot of energy growing up that needed direction, that needed funneling into something productive, and so theatre became a really interesting emotional activity for me,” answers Chris. “The emotional expertise of theatre, the creative collaboration, the sense of family that comes with a theatrical production … was always very romantic to me and I just loved it. I loved the process.”

Being an actor is one thing, being a theatre actor is another. The ability to successfully tackle both is incredible. To be a working actor in Hollywood, let alone Chicago and New York is a huge feat.

“Television in a lot of ways is rehearsing in front of the audience. You get several takes to try several different things, so it’s almost like every take is a rehearsal, and in post [production], the editor and the director get to decide which performance fits the overall piece,” says Chris of the transition from theatre acting to television acting. “Making that transition is difficult, it’s different styles of acting.”

Little jobs turned into bigger jobs, and now here he is. Through the little jobs he was able to figure out how it all works in television, including knowing he had to make the hard choice to pause theatre in order to make room to grow in his career and get in front of the camera.

It was the right choice, as it brought him to the set of This Is Us, the number one show on television in its time. From its inception, the show has been a groundbreaking hit, being renewed for large sums of seasons in an industry where the promise of even a single season following a pilot is rare.

It was recently announced that This Is Us is coming to its natural conclusion. Too popular to be canceled, the story is simply reaching its final arc.

“Dan Fogelman has had the ending of this series set up and planned out since the beginning. In fact, he’s already shot scenes from the final episode. We are going to go out in the exact way our creator wants us to, and we are going to go out strong and tell the exact story that we want to tell,” confides Chris.

“Now that the end is near it is just going to be soaking up each moment [for me] and really arriving and appreciating the work that everyone — the cast, the crew, post-production, our production staff — the number of people who work so hard to make this show happen is staggering. This will be a season of gratitude and appreciation.”    ❖

To hear more about Chris’ work, including the upcoming series finale of  This Is Us, tune into the weekly podcast here: SpotifyCumulus Los Angeles, or wherever you get your podcasts.


X-Factor The Band UK Judge and Chart-Topping Singer-Songwriter Lil Eddie Serrano Shares His Story as a Former Homeless Youth

If there is one lesson to be learned from Edwin Serrano’s story, it’s that talent and a drive to succeed can get you anywhere.

On this week’s episode of the L.A. Weekly weekly podcast, the singer, songwriter, and producer sits down for a conversation about his journey from growing up homeless in New York to producing for some of the biggest names in the business.

“It’s a blessing,” says Edwin, who goes by Lil Eddie professionally, of his career. “It’s definitely been a long journey to [this] kind of success.”

Lil Eddie has worked with Usher, Janet Jackson, Pink, Nelly Furtado and Paula Abdul to name a few. He also developed and helped form Fifth Harmony and Latin music’s biggest boy band CNCO which earned him a Senior A&R position for Syco/Sony Music in 2019.

“I’m just scratching the surface of what the ultimate goal is for me,” he shares.

While he has achieved incredible heights in his professional life and continues to climb, he had to overcome significant challenges and lows to get to where he is today.

Born in Brooklyn, he experienced a traumatic fire at an early age that left him and his family homeless for five years. Without other family to turn to – his father was a “New York gangster” and his mother was shunned for staying with him – they had to fight to survive on the city’s streets.

“I was actually homeless. Living in shelters, living in cars, living on the streets. I remember eating off the streets, waiting until 12 o’clock till restaurants close and eating out of garbage bags … yeah it was a hard life,” confides the resilient artist. “Then we moved to Spanish Harlem, and then there was this audition to join this choir called the New York Boys Choir.”

His brother joined, and that opened up a whole new world of possibilities for Lil Eddie. He followed his older brother into the group and realized that singing, performing, was his passion.

“In that choir, I got to do amazing things, like sing for the Pope and sing for the Billboard Awards … all these amazing things,” he says. “Being in the choir was like opening Pandora’s Box … no matter how much I came back to nothing it gave me that desire to want to want more. I started to see the world and realize there was more than the four walls that I felt trapped in.”

That desire to want more, and his prestigious position in the choir, is what ultimately led him to his career in music today. Ambitious to the core, Lil Eddie graduated high school at 15, started college that same year, and got signed at a young age. His professional work took him to Japan, where he had a #1 album, and on a tour through Germany. Traveling for work helped put things in perspective for the young star.

“It helped me realize there’s so much more than just America in itself and releasing music in America, there’s a whole world of currency and livelihood, and ways that you can make your livelihood doing music,” he says. “We are architects, more than just singers and songwriters, we are creators and we can do way more than just write a song or sing a song.”

He had some help along the way, as his talent got him noticed by industry big wigs like Sean Combs (Diddy) himself, who would go on to mentor Lil Eddie.

“Diddy was very very instrumental in my career, because when I was young, he really put me to the test and on the spot,” says Lil Eddie. “He was so profound.” Always giving advice, the artist credits the famed producer for keeping his head in the game.

For Lil Eddie, music is more than just a game, it’s his life’s blood.

“I always tell people I feel like music found me,” he shares. “My music is heart music. It’s music from the heart … what I feel, what I’ve experienced.”

From overcoming homelessness to working alongside Simon Cowell, tune in to this week’s episode to be inspired. Listen to the podcast on SpotifyCumulus Los Angeles or wherever you get your podcasts.   ❖


Valeria Hinojosa Is Rebranding Sustainability To Ensure Purposeful Change

On this episode of the Weekly podcast, host Brian Calle has an in-depth discussion with blogger, mental health advocate and environmentalist Valeria Hinojosa about how she got on her path to change the world, and ways others can do the same.

“It’s actually a funny story … I used to be a private banker. I think that career awoke something in me – I’ve always had this connection with nature, coming from Bolivia where we are pretty much surrounded by nature – when I came to the U.S. I graduated and immediately got accepted as an intern at a bank and that transitioned into a full-time position and I didn’t even have an opportunity to process what I had chosen as a career. It wasn’t until my third or fourth year as a private banker that I realized that I was disconnecting from this passion I had with nature. I was losing myself, I was losing my essence.”

“I was dealing with depression without realizing what depression was,” she continues. “I wasn’t focusing on my spirit, and my spirit was screaming nature, and that’s how my blog came to life.”

The platform initially came to life as a way of venting her frustrations and hopes, but eventually turned into something much more: a way to connect with a  like-minded community also passionate about nature. In the process of building her blog, she came to know about sustainability and climate change.

“The more I learned the more I wanted to share it with the world, and that’s pretty much how WaterThruSkin came to life,” explains Hinojosa.

“I created WaterThruSkin because I wanted it to be more than a platform, I wanted it to be a movement. I wanted to be transparent and reenergizing like water, but I also wanted it to have the power to penetrate skin and reach souls, soul deep,” she elaborates.

From there, she transformed her life into one of environmentally conscious sustainable living. She used her platform to help others do the same, one step at a time.

Photo Credit: @mariafornieles IG (Maria Fornieles)

For her though, it was a bit more than a step. More so, a leap.

Transitioning from a steady paycheck and a rising career in the world of banking to building a website and brand from the ground up was a gargantuan, and mostly unheard of, task.

“That was my first step, just taking the risk, taking the leap of faith,” shares Hinojosa.

From there it was a lot of writing, a lot of pitching, and even more researching. Hinojosa maintains the integrity of her brand by rigorously researching sponsors and partners, to ensure they meet the earth-friendly criteria she has set.

From her work as an environmentalist and eco-activist she was led to discover another passion of hers: conscious entrepreneurship. What is conscious entrepreneurship? It’s creating companies that are solving everyday problems that have nature and people in mind.

How does one follow in her footsteps, resetting their life to actively living sustainably?

“I think the biggest first step is just understanding that there is no perfection when it comes to being a better human, and the second one would be the power we have as a consumer and as a human, we are setting the demands,” she answers. “So once we start reshaping those demands we can start reshaping industries.”

Separating true eco-friendly companies from those just trying to profit off of sustainability marketing can be difficult, so the activist suggests a litmus test for how you make environmentally-friendly changes: Staying true to yourself.

The intersection of capitalism and sustainability has given more power to the everyday consumer. But Hinojosa cautions against uninformed acceptance of “eco” brands.

“I think our biggest mistake as consumers is the fact that we gave too much power to the companies. We never questioned them. We just started buying their products, we believed in their marketing campaigns, and that’s where our society kind of got lost. We started trusting way too much. Now it’s our time to take that power back,” asserts Hinojosa. “Start educating ourselves, start reading labels, start reading the mission statement of the companies. Are they paying their employees a fair wage, where are their companies and their warehouses, where are they working, what materials are they using – those are things that we never even consider.”

It’s time for that to change. To learn more about Hinojosa and WaterThruSkin, visit them on Instagram @waterthruskin. Get tips on how to live life suitably, as well as advice on how to build your own platform, listen to the podcast here: Spotify, Apple Podcasts or at Cumulus Los Angeles.


Teofimo Lopez: The Takeover Continues

At the young age of 23, Teofimo Lopez has already taken the boxing world by storm but he has a lot more he is determined to accomplish both inside and outside of the ring. From his own tequila brand, to a highly anticipated Triller fight, to other entrepreneurial ventures, The Takeover, as he is dubbed, is ready to, well, take over.

With only 16 fights under his belt, Lopez made a name for himself by becoming the only undisputed lightweight champion in boxing history. There have been many legendary lightweights in the sport such as Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Manny Pacquiao to name a few, none of which have been able to unify the division and hold all four major belts in this weight class. If that isn’t impressive enough, the young champion is already venturing into the entrepreneurial realm to ensure that even after he leaves the boxing world he still continues his legacy.

The undisputed champion sat down with host Brian Calle and special guest host Adrian Contreras and producer Bryan Escalante to give The Weekly podcast listeners an in-depth look at how he is conquering the boxing world and what he plans next.

What is his secret sauce? “Be like water and adapt,” Lopez says.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lopez learned the true meaning of hard work and sacrifice early on. Raised by two Hondourian immigrants, Lopez witnessed first hand what it meant to give it your all for a better life. It was at the age of six when Teofimo Sr. first laced his son’s gloves and began to train him. His father had already been training at the gym and had Teo join him as soon as the boy was of age.

“My father believed in me before anyone else did and made me a believer too,” says Lopez.

Lopez’s father/trainer is known in the boxing world as loud and outspoken, while Lopez carries himself with a swagger of modesty and humility. He doesn’t mind his dad talking him up though.

“My father’s always had that fire and it’s never gone dim so I try my best to match that energy,” says Teo. His father talks, but Lopez backs it up in the ring.

It hasn’t been an easy road for the champ though. He struggled with asthma his entire life and has found himself in the ICU three times because of it. He even once had a serious asthma attack during a fight that later landed him in the hospital. “I remember fighting as an amateur and having an asthma attack inside the ring,” he says. “I remember inhalers being thrown inside the ring from all angles. Everyone in the crowd who had seen me have my attack threw their inhalers to try and help.”

He credits his mental strength for helping him overcome any adversity along the way. “It’s always been mind over matter as far as the way I see obstacles to overcome,” Lopez shares. And his July 14, 2018 fight with William Silva is illustrative of his point. Lopez broke his hand in the very first round of the bout. He kept fighting through it and won the fight in the sixth round by way of TKO (technical knockout). Most people would have stopped the fight, but not Lopez. He keeps going because he believes there is more at stake for him than just the fighting.

“There is a bigger purpose behind this and I know boxing is just a platform given to me to really show my life purpose,” he said. “In order to achieve your goals you have to not only see it, but have the emotions as if you already have it.”

And that is his mentality going into each fight. In his last fight, he was a bigtime underdog going up against the top-ranked Vasyl Lomanchenko. Virtually every boxing expert and analyst believed Lomanchenko would be too much for the young fighter. They all assumed Loma’s Olympic pedigree and experience would overwhelm him. Yet Lopez overcame the odds and beat him. This was the fight that shot him to superstardom.

Outside of the ring, Lopez is focused on how he can grow and do more. He recently partnered with One With Life Organic Tequila along with fellow boxers Ray Mancini and Larry Holmes. It’s a passion project for the boxer and just one of the many he has in the works.

Teofimo’s next fight will take place on June 5th in Miami, Florida against George Kambosas. The fight will be broadcasted on PPV presented by Triller. Insiders expect this to be the fight of the year.

What’s next? Even with his numerous accolades, he is nowhere near stopping anytime soon. “Too much success isn’t enough success,” he told us. “There will always be more to take over.” ❖

For the whole conversation with Teofimo Lopez listen to the full podcast on Spotify, Apple PodcastsCumulus Los Angeles and anywhere else you get your podcasts.


Making Science and Technology More Inclusive with the American Science Corps

Once upon a time, America was all about science. Since the excitement of the 50s and 60s – winning the space race and landing on the moon – however, there’s no doubt been a decline in the public’s interest and trust in the scientific community.

Today’s guests on the L.A. Weekly Weekly Podcast aim to change that, with the formation of an American Science Corps. Co-founders Dr. Aaron F. Mertz and Dr. Abhilash Mishra sit down with host Brian Calle to shed some insight on their plan to make the scientific community more inclusive to all.

“Over the past year, Abhilash and I have been exploring how we can make science and technology more inclusive, and how we can increase public trust in science. The big idea is to start a Peace Corps, but for science in America. It’s called the American Science Corps, or ASC for short,” introduces co-founder Doctor Aaron F. Mertz, the Director of Science and Society Program at The Aspen Institute.

“We envision it as a government-administered, government-funded program that would employ thousands of early-career scientists in underserved urban and rural communities across America,” he continues. “The big goal is to elevate science as a central part of American culture. I think during the earlier eras in American history when science was that way – think of Sputnik, the space race – a lot of this period rallied people behind curiosity for science.”

How would ASC accomplish this task?

“We believe that the ASC service members would design and implement community-based initiatives that improve public participation in the scientific process, would increase public trust in science, and help invigorate our country’s competitiveness in innovation and technology,” answers Mertz.

The founders explain that ASC has two goals. One of which is for scientists to go into spaces that they’ve traditionally shied away from.

“Think of places of worship, state and county fairs, farmer’s markets and town halls – where they could actually go and conduct hands-on civic science workshops that allow them to build public trust in science outside of a traditional university setting,” says co-founder Dr. Abhilash Mishra, Executive Director, Xu Initiative on Science, Technology, and Global Development at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

The second goal? To have the ASC service members be deployed for re-skilling and lifelong learning of Americans who haven’t had the opportunity to go to college, or haven’t had an opportunity to study science or understand the subject deeply in high school but need to re-skill to remain competitive in a technology-driven economy.

“Imagine having the ASC members running boot camps in rural communities and low-income communities. We believe that we need to be able to deploy that kind of talent, that skill, to be able to achieve re-skilling and lifelong learning, and I think the ASC is one way of doing that,” says Mishra.

Both Mishra and Mertz stress the importance of these conversations taking place outside of the normal “comfort zones” of scientists.

“Areas where scientists usually don’t go? That’s actually where they can get to reach people that don’t get to [typically] interact with science or scientists,” adds Mertz.

How did the two founders meet to create this ambitious project? Twelve years ago when they were both studying at the University of Oxford as Rhodes scholars. They both went on to get doctoral degrees in physics.

“Even back then we were both very interested in how to get more members of the public involved in the process of science, even though we were fully engaged in our lab work at the time,” details Mertz.

Abhilash Mishra and Aaron Mertz

“I got my Ph.D. in astrophysics at Caltech in L.A., and I was very interested in using astronomy as a tool to spark scientific curiosity among non-scientists. I was always thinking about how we can bring more people into science and engineering and I realized that a traditional academic career would not allow me to do that kind of work, so alongside my Ph.D. I founded and led a STEM education program in India where I grew up,” explains Mishra.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“That experience really gave me a front-seat view of how faulty policy can prevent a lot of people from entering into science,” he says.

Like Mishra, Mertz made the leap from the laboratory to full-time work in science outreach and science engagement as a director at the Aspen Institute.

Why do the two so firmly believe that public trust in science has eroded?

“One of the trends that is driving this distrust is the exclusion of the vast majority of Americans from elite scientific institutions,” says Mishra. “So even though American universities and technology companies have become global leaders in innovation, they have also, over the past forty years, become extremely exclusive.”

For example, at the top 10 to 20 Ivy League or Ivy League-adjacent universities, the number of people who come from the top 1% of income distribution is larger than the number of students who come from the bottom 50%, explain our guests.

“The inequality in these institutions is just massive,” says Mishra. “When you have this kind of dissociation of vast segments of the population which is unable to access opportunities, unable to access avenues, unable to interact with scientists, you would see a natural distrust in science emerging.”

Speaking of the diploma divide and the disassociation from the scientific process, the founders believe that the formation of an American Science Corps (ACS) can begin to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the public. To learn more about ASC’s vision for the role science should play in American culture in the coming years, listen to the podcast here: SpotifyApple Podcasts or at Cumulus Los Angeles.   ❖

Aaron F. Mertz, Ph.D., is a biophysicist, a science advocate, and the founding Director of the Aspen Institute Science & Society Program, launched in 2019, which endeavors to generate greater public appreciation for science as a vital tool to address global challenges and to foster a diverse scientific workforce whose contributions extend beyond the laboratory. Previously, Mertz was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow in stem cell and tissue biology at Rockefeller University. He has held leadership roles in advocacy for women and LGBTQ+ people in STEM fields. A term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Mertz earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Washington University in St. Louis; a master’s degree in the history of science, medicine, and technology from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar; and a doctorate in physics from Yale University.

Abhilash Mishra is a scientist, entrepreneur, and educator working on problems at the intersection of technological innovation and social inequality. Abhilash is the founding director of the Xu Initiative on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago. He is also the founder of EquiTech Futures, a talent incubator and research lab for inclusive innovation. In his work, Abhilash combines tools and insights from computing, data science, economics, and behavioral science to develop solutions that can make scientific and technological innovation more equitable and inclusive. His policy work includes designing programs that can improve STEM education outcomes among underserved students, a proposal for American Science Corps to bolster public trust in science and technology, and developing technology re-skilling programs for young adults. Abhilash is trained as a physicist. He holds a masters degree in physics from the University of Oxford where he was a Rhodes scholar and a doctorate in astrophysics from Caltech.