Note: This story appeared as a "Spotlight" on June 26, 2012
Most Urban and Regional Planning students complete their degree by working on a capstone project, a rigorous group report conducted in collaboration with an external client, designed to simulate the intensity of preparing a planning report for real-world stakeholders. The capstones are a chance for students to apply their theoretical training to find solutions to challenges found across Los Angeles, and require creativity, critical thinking, leadership and a lot of work.
For Jessica Durrum, one capstone project allowed her to apply her skills toward an area of her interest, but she wanted to do more. So she did two.
Jessica, who earned her master's in Urban and Regional Planning and received the 2012 Dean's Award for Overall Excellence in June, produced a report on the right to health in South Los Angeles as part of UCLA Luskin's Community Scholars program. She also reported on the potential of integrating mobile vendor cooperatives in microlending programs run by the Community Financial Resource Center of South L.A. In both projects, she put her training to work for a local nongovernmental organization, giving back to the community while earning on-the-job experience.
Experience is something she's familiar with. Before she came to UCLA Luskin, Jessica worked for Centro Presente, an immigrant-rights organization in Boston, and she played a central role in its transformation from a nonprofit service provider to a member-based organization. She has volunteered with Doctors for Global Health in Oaxaca, Mexico, organizing women to promote health throughout the city. During her time as a graduate student, she has conducted research on the impact of the foreclosure crisis on communities of color and on U.S.-Mexico cross-border labor solidarity, and worked with small businesses to adopt more sustainable practices. Through it all, she earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
Jessica will next put her skills to work in her new role as a researcher at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, working on their Clean and Safe Ports campaign to create good jobs, healthy communities and a clean environment in the neighborhoods surrounding the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.