“All of the recent research demonstrates that you get better education, teaching and research with diverse working groups,” said Christine Littleton, UCLA’s Vice Provost for Faculty & Diversity Development.
She was addressing a group of recent graduates and young professionals who expressed interest in earning higher degrees in the field of urban planning. This year’s Association of Collegiate Scholars of Planning (ACSP) Pre-Doctoral Workshop for Students of Color was hosted jointly by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs Department of Urban Planning and the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy’s Urban Planning and Development graduate program. Twenty-six people from diverse backgrounds participated.
The four-day workshop was robust with panels on urban planning, the basics of PhD study, what it means to earn a PhD in urban planning, and research. The group also went on a tour of Los Angeles that went from MacArthur Park through the Los Angeles Fashion and Produce Districts, and to the Pico Aliso public housing project and Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. Peppered throughout the workshop was time to network with current doctoral students and faculty.
“This workshop has been a great opportunity,” said Natalie Hernandez, who earned her BA in Urban Studies focusing on environmental sustainability and currently works for the state of California in Sacramento. “I’ve met really cool people who are in the field already, and I don’t know if I would have been able to meet all of them in one place if it wasn’t for this workshop.”
Hernandez says she is certain she wants to earn a masters degree, but is on the fence about doctoral studies. Being able to sit down with faculty members like Evelyn Blumenberg, chair of the Urban Planning department at UCLA, and Manuel Pastor of USC, was meaningful quality time, Hernandez said.
Kimberly Arnold, who works as a research assistant at Drexel University and is interested in public health and how the built environment impacts the health of lower income communities, said the workshop was eye opening for her in many ways.
“I initially didn’t know a lot about urban planning prior to coming and it seemed a bit abstract to me,” Arnold said. “But after coming here and speaking with faculty, staff members and researchers in the field, it really opened my eyes to the fact that there’s a lot of overlap between public health and urban planning.”
The workshop helped Arnold to better define her research interest, and figure out that she can apply to urban planning programs and still have research help from public health faculty.
The most meaningful part for Arnold, however, was talking with faculty and current students about the process of applying to PhD programs, what to expect once in the program, and discussing different sources of funding.
“My undergraduate career was very difficult because they didn’t really value diversity and there weren’t a lot of support systems in place,” Arnold noted. “My graduate school had many more support systems and I was able to thrive there.”
UCLA has a strong commitment to diversity both on and off campus. During her lunchtime talk, Littleton explained that UCLA has demonstrated this by starting a search for a new Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to centralize and enhance diversity efforts on campus. Similarly, Luskin’s Department of Urban Planning has a stellar track record related to diversity with 48 percent of its students identifying as non-white.
The pre-doctoral workshop ended with a campus tour of UCLA and a closing reception with pre-doctoral workshop alumnus Matt Miller giving the closing address.
Miller told the group that he overcame the adversity of growing up in East Palo Alto, cited as the murder capital of California in the 1990s, and went on to earn degrees at Stanford and MIT. He is currently pursuing his PhD at USC.
“Planning is about making communities better – where we live, where we work, where we play, where we worship, and where we learn,” Miller said. He added that he still relies on the friendships and connections he made at the workshop last year for support.