A Q&A With Urban Planning Alum Jonathan Pacheco Bell


A Q&A With Urban Planning Alum Jonathan Pacheco Bell

Jonathan Pacheco Bell (Urban Planning, 2005) is now over seven years removed from his time as a student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He is also well into his career as an urban planner, having worked for the County of Los Angeles as a Planner in the Land Use Regulation Division since 2006. But Bell does not let his career success prevent him from staying involved as a UCLA Luskin alumnus. In fact, Bell was recently recognized as Alumnus of the Year, 2013, for all he has done to give back to the School. Below, Bell discusses why he stays involved, how he stays engaged, and shares advice for current Luskin students and recent graduates.

Question: How are you involved in Luskin Career Services?

Answer: I put the job ads out there on behalf of the people who do the interviews and the hiring. I’m on the back end. Students can definitely reach out to me, and I can be a point of contact throughout the interview process.

Q: You are also involved with the Urban Planning Alumni Council?

A: Yes, I joined the council around 2007 when it was very nascent. It was just a few people, and it was very informal. We’ve since expanded our numbers, and also our presence in the community. We’re very involved with the school, and with the students, and with projects beyond the school. The alumni council gives tours of the City. We take people around, and the students are put in contact with alumni members that live in certain geographies, especially if they’re going to live or work around there after graduating. I’m one of the main contacts for the Pasadena area. But my main goal as an alumni council member is to refer opportunities to Career Services and to the graduate department here.

Q: Why did you decide to join the council?

A: I originally joined because when I graduated in 2005, there was essentially no network, and it was hard for me to find employment. Had Career Services been in place when I was a grad student, I would have been better prepared, and also better networked. I would have had a network entering the job market. When I got on board with the County, I kept in mind all the Bruins that came after me. Especially when the economy took a dive and the recession set in, I knew how hard it would be for them to find employment. And what I told myself was, ‘I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to another Bruin… I’ve got to do whatever it takes.’”

I have one piece of advice for all graduating students: if a Bruin ever asks you for help, always stop what you are doing and lend that helping hand.

Q: How has Luskin Career Services helped you?

A: The most helpful thing has been recruiting candidates from UCLA Urban Planning, and that’s because my job and internship referrals always find their way to excellent students here… This helps me achieve one of my main goals, which is to ensure that all of our Luskin Urban Planning graduates have jobs, and are not just employed, but happily employed. That’s one of the goals of the alumni council as well: to make sure that our graduating students have jobs and are happy.

Q: Do you plan on continuing to use the services in the future?

A: Absolutely. We’ve gotten outstanding candidates, and several new hires, who found out about our job opportunities and internships at the County through Career Services. The network is working, and Career Services is working too! I’m definitely going to keep doing what I’m doing with the referrals: blasting them through the website and getting them on the listservs.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? How will Career Services help you get there?

A: One of my big questions when I was here at graduate school in Urban Planning was, “How can we bridge the divide between Urban Planning theory and Urban Planning practice? It’s the classic “theory/practice” gap. It happens in many professions, but is especially evident in Urban Planning. The question is even more relevant to me today as a practicing Land Use Regulation Planner. Land Use Regulation is “where the rubber meets the road.” Theory informs zoning code development, but oftentimes the theory and the implementation are completely different. The ideas aren’t implementable. This theory/practice divide was on my mind when I was a graduate student, and several years later, it’s even more on my mind. It’s never going to go away. Career Services will play a role because it will keep me connected with graduate students, alumni, and faculty here at UCLA. What I envision is that over the next decade, we are going to continue to combine research and practice to bridge this divide. And part of that comes down to what we’re doing here now with the alumni outreach to current students. The current students are more in the theoretical mindset because it’s graduate school. But I want them to be aware of the issues that they are going to face if they go into municipal planning. I want to get them up-to-speed on some of the politics and problems of everyday life that you don’t usually think about when you are in graduate school for Urban Planning. So that’s going to be my goal continuing over the next decade: we’re going to continue working together.

Q: How would your experience at Luskin have been different if Career Services had existed when you were a student?

A: Had Career Services been in place, I think I could have been better prepared, and I would have had a network entering the job market because I would have been able to reach out to an established alumni contact list. I wouldn’t have been swimming in the ocean by myself. We didn’t have the infrastructure back then, but we have it now. I want all the current students to know how important it is to actually use Career Services.

Q: What advice do you have?

A: “If a Bruin ever asks you for help, always stop what you are doing and lend that helping hand.”

I want all the current students to know how important it is to actually use Career Services. It’s right across from the Urban Planning Graduate Department Office. So pop across to the office. You have to come in. You have to! And avail yourself of all the services we provide.

Q: Why do you donate to Luskin?

A: I think the cost of an Urban Planning degree has doubled since my days here because of the professional fees that were tacked on. In my first quarter, Governor Schwarzenegger increased my tuition, and that forced me to move out of my apartment in downtown back to my mom’s house. So I know the feeling of having to pay increasing tuition fees. I give back by donating to do the small part that I can to help fund scholarships for our Urban Planning students here, and to try to do as much as I can to keep the department solvent. Let’s hope there are no more professional fee increases because that drives students to other schools who offer a lot more money, but are of lower quality in terms of the education.

Q: What about your experience as an Urban Planning student makes you want to give back as an alumnus?

A: I see the good that we do. I see it in the quality of the planners we produce… They’re outstanding professionals in the non-profit sector, in the private sector, in the public sector, and on the international stage. We have really, really solid people here. Impressive people. And I want to stay in close contact with them.