The Cotsen Institute Welcomes Its New Manager Bronson Tran

Bronson Tran joined the Cotsen Institute as Manager and Chief Administrative Officer on March 23, just after the entire campus closed and research and teaching had to continue remotely. He is currently at home, which he shares with his wife and two-year-old daughter. His responsibilities, according to director Willeke Wendrich, will be “to steer the Cotsen Institute through all the financial and organizational waves,” overseeing and coordinating staff activities; covering everything from hiring personnel, maintaining the building, implementing university policies, aiding in strategic planning and development activities, as well as overseeing finances, grants, payroll, and benefits. In the following interview, Tran describes how his extensive I/T and project management skills honed at UCLA will be helpful in these endeavors.


Roz Salzman: Welcome to the Cotsen Institute. What should people know about your role as Manager?

Bronson Tran: I am responsible for the budget of three different units: the Archaeology IDP, the Conservation IDP, and the Cotsen Institute. But, based on my previous experience here at UCLA, there are a lot more aspects that come with management. Most importantly, you have to manage relationships: relationships with staff, faculty, partners, donors, and volunteers. There are a lot of moving parts.


RS: What are faculty, staff, or students going to come to you for?

BT: It will usually be related to personnel matters or funding, but the latter depends on who is asking for the funding and what the funding is going to be for. The administrative committee of the Cotsen Institute works with the director on strategic initiatives and funding decisions. I am working closely with our fund manager Tanja Hrast and with Randi Danforth, who takes care of personnel matters on top of her responsibilities as director of the Cotsen Institute Press. Managing the budget is an important part of my work: looking at what we spent in the past, and what we can afford this year. I am working closely with the chairs of both IDPs while preparing the budget for next year, in terms of their needs for faculty, lecturers, TAs, among others, to get funding from the Social Sciences Division. But this job is about more than funding. I anticipate questions about personnel or even just how the program works or about events of the Cotsen Institute. If there are issues where faculty, staff or students cannot find the answers, they can come to me. If it is something that I can take care of, I will, or I may delegate it to someone closer to the issue. It is obvious that I will have to remain adaptive.


RS: These are extraordinary times. What have your first experiences at the Cotsen Institute been like?

BT: Well, I have not yet set foot into my office. Fortunately, everyone that I have been working with remotely has been great—really fantastic. I cannot wait to meet them in person and actually work with them, but these are very strange times. Right now, I am just picking things up as I go along. We had a staff meeting my first day on the job, and I did not have access to anything. I could not get into my computer at work, because it was not turned on, so I could not access it remotely. I did not have access to look at the financial systems or the payroll. So the first week was just about obtaining access and talking to the rest of the staff about what was pending, what was pressing, what I needed to do. Then suddenly, I have this whole to-do list that kept growing every day until the access issues were resolved. Everyone was very, very forgiving, and no one really expected me to just jump in and solve these problems right away… I am quite fortunate that people were understanding of that.


RS: You had a bumpy educational path before coming to UCLA as a transfer student. 

BT: I was born in San Francisco and graduated from high school there. Even then, I knew I wanted to do I/T. So I decided to skip college and go to a trade school, which I did. But that school went bankrupt after less than a year. I wasted a year and got a really tough lesson on having backup plans. I had put all my eggs in one basket, and one day I went to school and the doors were closed. There were just a bunch of journalists interviewing students. The rest of the year I worked, then decided to go back to school the traditional way and enrolled in De Anza community college. I found that I really enjoyed English literature. Who knew? I wrote for the school paper and eventually transferred to UCLA to study English, where I graduated with a degree in English.


RS: How did you transition back to I/T from English literature?

BT: When I was getting my undergraduate degree at UCLA, I had a work-study job doing I/T support for Public Affairs. I/T just really makes sense to me. It still does. It is very logical. It comes very naturally and easy to me. I have always had an interest in electronics. As a kid, I was always taking things apart and sometimes putting them back together. I just wanted to see how they worked. After I graduated, I told myself that I had two places to find a job: in Los Angeles or back home in the Bay Area. I was fortunate to find a job at the Center for Digital Humanities at UCLA, doing what I was basically doing as a work-study student, but on a larger scale and full-time. I did not know what I wanted to do with English, other than that I enjoyed it—reading the literature, discussing it, learning about the human condition. But the I/T side allowed me to jump into a job and figure things out quickly. So I went the I/T route. When I was initially hired as a technology analyst by the Center for Digital Humanities, they had I/T support that they sent out to different departments. I was sent out to the English Department. From my undergraduate work, I knew the faculty, and it was all familiar to me. It is easy to gravitate toward something that is familiar.


RS: How did your work in the English Department evolve?

BT: After three years working with I/T assigned to the English Department, my boss moved on, and I got the position of I/T manager of the department. That is where growth for me as a manager really began. Everything from delegating to taking on more responsibilities; accepting accountability and ownership of everything. I learned a lot about myself and about management in that role. This was in 2010 when the economy was still bad. So we had to do a lot more with less. That is when I got into project management, personnel, and a lot of areas you would not expect an I/T manager to be active in. We were short-staffed and asked to do more. So I accepted the challenge. I also have a strong sense of curiosity. In I/T, if something breaks, I need to fix it for you, and if there is a need in technology, I need to find a solution. But I soon found out about day-to-day things; what various managers actually did in the English Department. I received a small budget for I/T, and I had to work closely with the fund manager about projections, expenses, things like that. I learned about the personnel issues in academia; it is much more than just Human Resources. That was probably the most surprising lesson. Previously, I had no idea of how complicated the issues were. During my tenure, we had maybe five different department managers, so I got to see a lot of different management styles: what worked, what did not work, what I liked, what did not appeal to me. I learned from the good and the things that I did not agree with or would have done differently.


RS: Did you have any interest in archaeology before you joined the Cotsen Institute?

BT: When this opportunity came up, I was really excited to apply for it. The job itself sounded interesting and like everyone else, I think archaeology is cool. At this point, I really do not know more than most people. Discovering new “old” things sounds exciting, but I do not know what it takes to organize an expedition or preserve an artifact, or anything like that. It will be an ongoing learning experience.


RS: What activities outside of work and chasing a two-year-old do you enjoy?

BT: I am a major car enthusiast. I love, love, love cars. I have worked on some components like the suspension and some engine work, although I have never rebuilt an engine. I had a great taste of racing cars on a track a few years back. A high school friend, who transferred to UCLA the same time as I did, shares my interest. But we never knew what it would take to get a car on a track, to get a car ready. One day in 2016, we decided to bring our cars to a track in Fontana and went through the whole preparation check list. I had an older Lexus, and he had a Honda. We had a blast. We realized it did not take that much effort to get your car legally on a track. We quickly learned that there are more important things than speed. You need to get your suspension tuned, you need good tires. If anybody were to ask me today what is the most important thing to prepare for a race, I would say appropriate tires and getting familiar with the car on the track before making any modifications. My friend and I figured out that it was not that costly to get things set up for a race, so for the next couple of years, we started organizing our own racing events. We would rent a race track and invited friends and friends of friends, and it just became a thing. All the money went back into the event. Tickets included track time and food as well; one of the things we hated about the other events was the overpriced food. I think of it as being successful even though everything went back into the events. We had to stop because it actually got too busy, and we both had full-time jobs. And then I found out I was going to be a father. I am excited and blessed with all the new challenges in my life, including my new job at the Cotsen Institute and working at home with a toddler.

You may contact Bronson at

Published on April 20, 2020.