By Ramin Rajaii
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
Charisma Acey MPP '98 UP Ph.D. '09 has been hard at work putting her knowledge to the test.
After being one of the first people to graduate from UCLA’s public policy program, Acey was posted to Zimbabwe as part of Catholic Relief Services, an official international humanitarian agency in the U.S. During her stay, she was involved primarily in development work, specifically that of human rights programming, micro financing and prevention of HIV/AIDS.
It was through her work that Acey realized the difficulty of translating knowledge she gained in the classroom.
“This was certainly an eye-opener. Working in communities, I saw that there was a real disconnect between policy on the international and national levels compared to what occurred on the ground,” Acey explained.
“Even though a country can have a national poverty reduction strategy, policies at that level may not be impacting people on the ground.”
As part of her next step abroad, Acey traveled to Angola during the 2002 civil war in that country.
Here, she helped establish therapeutic and supplemental feeding centers for internally displaced people (IDPs). To do so, she worked with the United Nations to set up kitchens and shelters as accommodation for these individuals.
“[These experiences allowed me to] see how things operated on the ground instead of solely relying on the birds-eye view gained in learning policy, although I appreciated both perspectives,” she said.
In 2009, following her voyages abroad, Acey returned to UCLA to finish her Ph.D. in Urban Planning, during which she still made time to do some Nigerian field work.
“During my stay in Nigeria,” Acey explained, “I hoped to gain a way to understand what happens on the ground. How did people cope with the lack of resources and how was governance directly implemented?”
By combining her experience in the field with her advanced academic training, Acey viewed these issues with the objective of modifying policy to address deficiencies.
Currently, Acey is an assistant professor of City and Regional Planning at Ohio State University.
“We’ve been doing great things in Ohio,” Acey said. “We initiated a study-abroad program in the Ashanti region of Ghana, where students have been doing policy work following their education in the classroom. We have been using technology to assess housing, working on small-scale renewable projects, and ultimately hope to have a direct impact on peoples’ lives.
“Students have returned transformed from these experiences,” Acey continued.
This fall, Acey will return to California as a member of the faculty in City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley.