Student Voices

Student Voices

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Mon, 01/07/2013 - 5:19pm
Luskin Students ... In Their Own Words


Laila Elimam, Public Policy
Monday, December 16, 2013 

Elimam, along with two other UCLA Luskin students, recently visited New York City as part of the Senior Fellows fellowship program. While there the Luskin students met with Howard Wolfson, counselor to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and other members of the Mayor's staff.

Luskin Students ... In Their Own Words


Laila Elimam, Public Policy
Monday, December 16, 2013 

Elimam, along with two other UCLA Luskin students, recently visited New York City as part of the Senior Fellows fellowship program. While there the Luskin students met with Howard Wolfson, counselor to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and other members of the Mayor's staff.

Howard Wolfson met us with a firm handshake and a pleasant smile, asking us about our backgrounds and interests. He told us about his background – both professional and personal – with exceptional candor, adding that his opinion of the Mayor was critical at the time he was approached to work on his re-election campaign, but that their relationship had grown remarkably since they started working together. Howard’s direct and easy-going nature was refreshing. He spoke to a Councilmember on the phone during our meeting and jokingly remarked that we were watching him at work.

Before meeting Mr. Wolfson at City Hall, we attended Mayor Bloomberg’s speech at an ABNY event in Brooklyn, where he articulated his administration’s achievements during the last 12 years. Mayor Bloomberg’s speech was full of pride, but also emotion and gratitude, acknowledging the contributions of his staff members. He added that work would not be slowing down during the last twenty-seven days of his term and that New Yorkers would continue to accomplish great things in the future. As Mayor Bloomberg spoke, I reflected upon my personal knowledge of the City’s growth during the past decade and was reminded of the reasons for applying to be Howard Wolfson’s mentee in the first place. In my experience as a Public Policy student, I have repeatedly referred to New York City for best practices. Throughout our visit, we learned about innovative proposals from talented and personable individuals, who have chosen to be in the public sector because of their passion for their work and improving the City. 

Following Mayor Bloomberg’s speech, we met with Leah Marcus, a member of Howard’s staff and our wonderful guide. Leah took us back to City Hall on the Lower East Side, housed in a beautiful 19th-century villa, with French windows, high ceilings, and majestic chandeliers. I contemplated the symbolism and seemingly divergent values of the old architectural masterpiece and the novelty of the Bullpen, the shared office space where the Mayor and his staff sit in open cubicles with computers. We then met with Ryan Whalen, Howard’s Chief of Staff, who provided us with a comprehensive overview of how the City government works, setting the stage for the rest of our meetings.

Next, we met Tim Sullivan, Chief of Staff of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Bob Steele, who presented several of the projects they have been working on. One of the highlights was the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, an engineering and applied sciences school being developed on Roosevelt Island. The idea for this higher education institute resulted from conversations with public and private stakeholders and became realized through this initiative. We asked Tim a few questions and completed our first day with a tour of City Hall, where we saw the City Council in action.

Our second day began with a meeting with Kristin Misner, the Chief of Staff of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (HHS), Linda Gibbs. Kristin enthusiastically told us about the City’s programs targeting homelessness, aging, and child’s services, among others. The Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence (CIDI), which coordinates data between agencies and helps facilitate research, is also under HHS. The CIDI is an example of a smart city initiative, where government is taking advantage of available data and resources to build capabilities and improve efficiency.

We then walked over to 311 NYC, where we took a tour and met with the Executive Director, Joseph Morrisroe, who explained to us the details of 311 NYC’s operations and its evolution since he took over. The tour revealed the complexities that go into 311 NYC to make it as responsive as possible. Joseph also added that the 311 NYC data is all publicly available and provides an excellent and useful resource for the NYPD.

This provided the perfect segue for our next meeting with the Deputy Mayor of Operations, Cas Holloway and his Chief of Staff, Lynn Cole, who oversee the NYPD and Fire Department, among several more agencies. We asked questions about how they handle pressure and react rapidly to uncertainties. Cas was very responsive to our questions, telling us that he learned not to stress about the little things and rather, focus on the importance of knowing how to coordinate and respond to unknowns as quickly as possible. 

Our meeting with Cas concluded our second day at City Hall. We said goodbye to Leah, snapped a few more photos in front of the building, and continued on our way to explore and enjoy the City. 

The group smiles with 311 NYC Executive Director Joseph Morrisroe

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office

Public Policy student Nicholas Blair speaking from Mayor Bloomberg's podium


Craig Pulsipher, Public Policy & Social Welfare
Monday, December 9, 2013 

Thanks to a generous donation from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, I recently had the opportunity to attend The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute’s Candidate and Campaign Training in Denver, Colorado. The Candidate and Campaign Training is held several times each year to provide comprehensive, nonpartisan training to current and aspiring openly LGBT candidates, campaign staff and community leaders.

The three-day training was an incredible opportunity to develop valuable campaign skills and network with other professionals. Training sessions were conducted by veteran campaign professionals and addressed a range of topics including how to develop an effective campaign message and what it’s like to be an openly LGBT candidate. Additionally, training participants were divided into teams and required to develop a campaign plan for a fictional openly LGBT candidate. Although my team members and I slept very little during the week, our hard work ultimately paid off and we were chosen as the winners of this year’s competition.

One of the highlights of the training was hearing from several openly LGBT elected officials including Joel Burns, a City Council member in Texas who gained national recognition after his remarks about suicide among LGBT youth went viral. Burns talked about the challenges of running for office and his ability to raise awareness about important issues because of his position as an elected official.

After the training ended, I was able to attend the LGBT Leaders conference. The conference brings together openly LGBT leaders from across the country to discuss key issues facing out leaders and their communities. I’m so grateful to have been able to attend both the training and LGBT Leaders conference. The skills that I acquired and the people that I met will be invaluable resources as I move forward in my career. 



Emily Scheines, Public Policy
Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 

Mona Pasquil sat down to have an informal conversation with the Luskin students as part of her first day as a senior fellow with the Luskin Leadership initiative. She began by going around the room and asking all the present students about their backgrounds and policy interests. She then spoke about her own background and career trajectory and took questions from those who were present.

Ms. Pasquil is a 3rd generation Filipina immigrant. Her mother was the daughter of farm laborers in Central California and her grandfather had been recruited from the Phillipines as an army scout. She grew up a precocious and determined woman, who noticed that there were very few women who looked like her in government. She set out to change that. She has had a storied career, working with Gray Davis, the Dukakis presidential campaign, and going on to work as a policy director for both Clinton and Gore before coming home to California to work under Jerry Brown. Life as woman in politics is not always easy and it’s even tougher as a woman of color, but the two most important ways to get through it are: (1) don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and apologize when you do (2) work harder than everybody else and (3) grow as thick of a skin as you can because there will always be someone threatened by you who gets nasty and wishes they had your job.

In her current role as appointments manager for the State Government, she is increasingly concerned with women, actively trying to get them into positions of authority and serve as a mentor as often as she can. We are losing women in the legislature. California districts either have no women running for office or two women are running against each other and splitting the vote. She strongly recommends smaller scale elections or appointments first- a water board or a city council. The decision though, has to be about you and your family and your community. For women specifically, Mona has found that they often don’t believe they are qualified for certain positions, which is untrue. It is ok to take on a challenging job. She gave us the example of recruiting for the position of San Francisco Attorney-General Counsel. The woman who she eventually talked into it is Tivya Barnes.

She ended with answering some questions, including comments on how to balance being persistent and outspoken with being humble and respecting authority. (Be strategic with your moments and choose when to speak out). She also spoke a little more about how Jerry’s Brown’s California is different than others, including a focus on frugality and placing more thought towards the long term consequences of political action. Ms. Pasquil was friendly, inspirational and very open with the students about her own experience and how she can be helpful in the future.


By Soledad De Gregorio, Public Policy
October 2, 2013

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the first conference cohosted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the World Bank.  The conference brought together top education researchers and policy makers from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss teacher policies.  The participating countries were Peru, Argentina, Chile, Mexico Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay and Jamaica.  Speakers included Professors Tom Kane and Felipe Barrera from Harvard, Professors Eric Hanushek and Susanna Loeb from Stanford, Doug Lemov the Director of Uncommon Schools, Chancellor Kaya Henderson of DC Public Schools, Andres Alonso former superintendent of Baltimore Public Schools, Emiliana Vegas chief of the education division at the IDB and Barbara Bruns lead education economist at the World Bank. 

The format was unique.  In the effort to encourage frank dialogue, the conference was “off the record” (I can’t cite participants directly), and attendees were divided into a core group and an observing group.  The core group consisted of academics, researchers and policymakers (mostly ministers and secretaries of education) from countries at the forefront of teacher policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, meaning that they have implemented or are in the process of implementing major teacher reforms.  The observing group included countries interested in learning from the experience of the more experienced countries, and World Bank and Harvard researchers.  The conference was divided into three main sessions, each one covering one aspect of teacher policies: recruiting, grooming and motivating.  Sessions began with a short twenty-minute presentation from an expert researcher followed by a ten-minute exposition by Barbara Bruns about the current landscape of the topic in Latin America.  The main part of each session was open discussion among policy makers and academics.

I was part of the organizing team from the World Bank, and to be honest, we were all a bit nervous to see how the discussion would play out.  The main objective was to generate sharing of experiences and for policy makers and academics to learn from each other and form partnerships for future policy planning, implementation and evaluation.  Latin America is doing great things in terms of education policy, but unfortunately, many reforms are not accompanied by rigorous evaluation that would allow and provide feedback for making adjustments and for planning future policies.

From the first session we were able to see how eager all the participants were to share their points of view.  Policy makers openly presented their experiences and challenges, some even asking directly for advice on certain aspects.  Academics were also interested in learning more closely about the struggles policy makers have and how they can help.  The discussions turned out to be very lively.

Academics stressed to policy makers how important a close monitoring of the policies is to be able to make the necessary adjustments in a timely manner and to make sure the investments are used most efficiently.  Policy makers were receptive to the evidence from other countries because they expressed that in order to obtain the necessary political support to undergo policies they need supporting evidence.  There was consensus about the importance of good standardized tests as a measure of how systems are performing, and the caution to use them for what they are planned in each case, and not in another way that could encourage cheating or undermine political support. 

There was initial disagreement on the time frames.  A researcher said changes take at least 20 years because reform is "a marathon, not a sprint", and a policy maker pushed back saying "We don't have 20 years, we need changes now".  Participants agreed on another metaphor: that reform is a relay race, where things need to be done immediately, but with focus in the long term. 

Some of the main points I take away include:

1)    Recruiting and retaining the best teachers will not solve the problem of low teacher effectiveness in Latin America and the Caribbean.  We have to come up with effective training programs and professional development. 

2)    The evidence presented shows a huge variation of use of classroom time within schools, which is positive because there is potential for synergy at the school level.  All schools have great performing teachers that can mentor teachers needing more help.  It is important to identify great teachers and give them the necessary resources to help their peers. 

3)    Participating countries are all working on the same problems and can inspire each other.  Policy makers expressed that the debate was timely as many are in the thick of discussions for major reforms at home. 

4)    Education policy makers were keen to transforming their country's education systems; they were aware of the challenges and were well versed in their country's data.  A number of cases around the world have shown that a right leader at the right time (like Kaya Henderson) can generate drastic changes improving their systems dramatically. 

5)    When the windows of opportunity open up, researchers need to be ready and offer to work together to generate evidence.  Building data systems that can support different policies is ideal.  

Spending three days with this group of extremely smart and experienced people was incredibly stimulating.  I am eager to follow up and see how each country incorporates the dialogue into their policy reforms.  We are already getting requests for materials and country visits to further the discussion.  Major reforms are coming and the time is perfect to accompany them with rigorous evaluations.


By Justin Kumar, Social Welfare
September 30, 2013

As I went about my Monday night, doing things that many students try to find time to do – laundry, last minute readings and scrounging up whatever leftover food I had to eat a full meal – I was struck by words that appeared to be on every news channel: Government Shut Down. Adjacent to these words appeared a ticker, and as I watched the hours turn to minutes, I thought: “Oh yeah, that! The government is shutting down! And for the first time in 17 years!  But… what does that mean?”

I watched intently as politicians went on the various networks and pitched their claim, ranging from “Obamacare is socialism!” to “We’re not going to allow any defunding of Obamacare!” But what struck me was not the rhetoric – let’s face it, we’ve all heard it over the past few months, and it’s getting old – but rather, a certain poll. As CNN continued its coverage, I noticed a ticker on the bottom of CNN’s screen, which read “Poll: 65% of Americans think Republicans are behaving like spoiled children… 38% of Americans think President Obama is behaving like a spoiled child…”

I laughed so hard I almost choked on my makeshift dinner.  I thought “Behaving like a spoiled child? Really? Someone took the time to create a poll, and instead of asking ‘Do you support Obamacare?’ or ‘Do you believe a government shutdown is the best thing to do?’ or even ‘Will the government shutdown directly affect you?’, they ask ‘Which of our representatives most reminds you of that kid in the mall who screams and cries when he doesn’t get a toy he wants?” This sentiment was echoed by Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, who got into a shouting match with Piers Morgan on CNN. When asked by Morgan about the government shut down, Kremer channeled her inner James Joyce and said, as eloquently as she could, “Harry Reid is acting like a spoiled brat!” One might be surprised to hear such things from a political figure, but let’s not forget one of the spearheads of the fight against Obamacare – Senator Ted Cruz. Yes, the man who shares the first name of a lovable teddy bear starring in a movie with Mark Wahlberg has been one of the chief opponents of Obamacare, and he’s fought tooth-and-nail against it. Earlier on Meet the Press, Cruz discussed Obamacare, his reasons why it was truly the worst thing for the American people, and why alternatives were much more feasible. And one could not help but be inspired by him, particularly when he argued: “If you want to get health insurance, the easiest way to get health insurance is to go out there and get a job.” Yes, Mr. Cruz! Exactly! Because jobs are so bountiful and easy to come by nowadays, and every job you receive necessarily must have benefits such as healthcare, otherwise why would you work there? Unless you’re one of those people who, you know, really needs a paycheck and can’t afford to wait for a job that offers healthcare, so you take whatever temporary or part-time job that comes your way and thank your lucky stars that your family won’t be hungry that week. But if you are, shame on you for raining on Senator Cruz’s parade!

Alas, the Republicans and Tea Partyers have given us much to ponder in the upcoming days, but if you think the Democrats were above the shenanigans and tomfoolery that their opponents displayed, well, you just don’t know our Congress. After the announcement of the shutdown, Senator Harry Reid stood on the floor of the Senate and gave a poignant speech, stirring emotions and plucking at heartstrings. He truly made some good points, until he stopped and said “I’ve kept a note in my wallet for 25 years, and it’s old and frayed at the edges…” Now… while I’m sure we can all respect Harry Reid for being a Senator and speaking his beliefs, we have to admit the irony in a senior United States Senator calling anything “Old and frayed at the edges.” Still, the note was moving. It had quotes from prominent Republicans speaking out against Social Security and Medicare, and at the end of his reading, Senator Reid concluded that “Obamacare has a chance to be just like Social Security and Medicare.” Yes, Mr. Reid! Well said! Obamacare, the saving grace of our country, can be just like two other programs that… well… are flawed, losing funding, and seemingly failing… Hmmm…

Now, I know our representatives are under pressure. I know they have many people to answer to – their districts, their lobbyists, their constituents, and, of course, their party. But something to remember is that they are salaried employees, meaning they get paid no matter what happens. However, what about the 800,000 people who work in government jobs across the country? What about our military service members, who would not be paid during the shutdown and who would need to wait until after October 15th for their first paychecks to be issued? They are the people who are really affected by this. They are the ones losing work hours and winning furloughs. And all the while the people representing them, our Congress, continues to ignore those around them and fight incessantly until they get what they want. Maybe that’s why our Congress is being compared to spoiled children, and maybe that’s an analogy they deserve.