Dr. Paavo Monkkonen returns to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs after earning his MPP here before earning his Ph.D. at Berkeley. After teaching at Hong Kong University, he is now teaching urban planning courses, specifically 208 C in Fall 2012. The course is required of all Ph.D. students who have passed their field examinations but have not yet advanced to candidacy, and all M.U.R.P. students completing their thesis capstone option. Monkkonen took some time to sit down and answer some questions about himself and teaching at UCLA.
Question: You have a MPP from UCLA Luskin – how much pride do you have coming back and being able to teach here?
Answer: A lot of pride! It is wonderful to return as a faculty member to UCLA Luskin. I had a great experience as a student here so when the possibility of a job here came up I was very excited about it.
Q: Your father also was involved at UCLA Luskin – what was his role here? Were his experiences here so great that it was an easy decision for you to study here?
A: My father was a founding faculty member of the Department of Policy Studies and helped start the undergraduate minor in Public Policy. His primary position was in the Department of History but he was very fond of the Luskin community and spent a lot of his time at his office in the Public Affairs Building. I know he truly enjoyed teaching students from the school because of their commitment to public service.
Q: What experiences did you have as a student at UCLA Luskin and how can that help you now that you're teaching here?
A: For one thing, I am fortunate to have an idea of the wide range of knowledge and expertise that can be found at UCLA Luskin through the classes I took and projects I was involved in while I was here. Also, my experience as a student helps me know what is possible for after graduation. I keep in touch with classmates who work in a very wide variety of places and positions.
Q: How is teaching in Hong Kong different than in the US?
A: The students there are quite good and Hong Kong University has been shifting towards a more US style of education in recent years. While I was there I even got to participate in the big change from a three-year to a four-year undergraduate degree by developing a general education course on cities and globalization. Teaching about cities in Hong Kong was also a great experience because it helped me realize more deeply how many assumptions are implicit in concepts and terms we use frequently in the field, often without consideration of how place dependent they are. The implications of basic ideas like urban, density, or planning are very different in East Asia.
Q: How much does public policy and urban planning intersect?
A: The two fields intersect very much. There tends to be a differences in methodological approaches between the fields, but most professors of urban planning deal with policy and most topics studied by professors of public policy are relevant to cities and urban life. I think students benefit greatly from learning how the two fields approach problems.
Q: What drew you to your field of expertise?
A: I first became interested in international development while living in Mexico City and my original intention when I started the Master of Public Policy Program was to work in the field in the area of microfinance. However, through the classes at UCLA Luskin, my summer internship, and a research position with Professor Vinit Mukhija, I became much more interested in the possibilities of a career doing research and studying issues connected to housing policy and economics, property rights, and the spatial structure of cities. Being a professor in a professional school is a great opportunity to combine research and practice.
Q: What excites you about teaching at UCLA Luskin?
A: The students. I think it is hard to find such motivated and capable students anywhere, and having great students makes teaching rewarding. Their motivation and ideas are inspirational.
Q: How do you feel your expertise and teaching can help UCLA Luskin?
A: I hope that my combination of local and international experience will be helpful for students, both in terms of the content of what I study and as an inspiration to look abroad for work and research possibilities.
Q: How has your experience prepared you for this opportunity?
A: In retrospect, it seems many of my life's experiences have prepared me for my current job. After my undergraduate degree, I worked in a non-profit advocating for housing for people with disabilities. I then taught English as a foreign language in Spain and Mexico, which taught me a lot about learning and gave me experience in the classroom as well as in an international setting. Afterwards, of course, my many years of graduate education. In addition to classes, I was fortunate to work as a research assistant and collaborator with many great scholars in my area, starting here at UCLA Luskin and then at UC Berkeley.
Q: What is the best part of your job as a professor and researcher?
A: I love my job because I love learning and because of the variety of tasks I get to engage in, from research to teaching to practice. The best part of research for me is starting a new project and being able to answer a question in a way that is surprising or unexpected. Helping students learn and explore their interests never fails to teach me new ideas and ways to see the world. Finally, seeing my research work influence a decision-maker or applying my training to assist governments as a consultant is extremely satisfying.
the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Founded in 1994 and dedicated in 2011, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is a leading institution for research and scholarship in the areas of public policy, social welfare and urban planning. Based in the global metropolis of Los Angeles, UCLA Luskin develops creative solutions and innovative leaders that confront challenges in immigration, drug policy, prison reform, transportation, the environment, and other areas vital to the continued health and well-being of our global society.