Alumni Notes Urban Planning alumni provide leadership in El Monte and Cincinnati; a '96 MSW and triple Bruin oversees the L.A. County Office of Education

El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero MA UP ’01, JD ’01 and City Manager Alma Martinez BA ’01, MA UP ’13.


El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero MA UP ’01, JD ’01 and City Manager Alma Martinez BA ’01, MA UP ’13 reflected on how their UCLA Luskin education helped shape their respective paths and prepared them for careers in government office.

The two alumni apply the skills they developed as graduate students in urban planning to make collaborative decisions to solve problems and maximize the well-being of the residents of their San Gabriel Valley city.

After earning degrees in sociology and political science from UCLA as an undergraduate, Martinez returned to earn her master’s in urban planning at UCLA Luskin.

“I knew I wanted to work with the faculty in the department,” Martinez said. As an undergraduate, then-faculty member Leo Estrada, who died in 2018, had encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning, and he became an important mentor during her time in the program.

Looking back, Martinez’s Luskin School education “taught [her] to look at planning and development from a holistic point of view — not only how they affect the city itself but the surrounding communities as well.”

She keeps that holistic perspective in mind as she makes decisions as city manager that she knows will affect thousands of people.

Martinez said the interdisciplinary nature of the UCLA Luskin program gave her “the ability to shift priorities and understand the immediate needs of the community and approach it from a point of view of proactiveness and compassion.”

Quintero received his undergraduate degree in political science from UC Riverside, where he served as student body president

and president of the statewide University of California Student Association.

“I knew I wanted to have a life of public service,” Quintero recalled.

Being able to earn a dual degree from UCLA Luskin and the UCLA School of Law made for an appealing combination when he sought out graduate education.

“While the joint degree was a challenging academic experience to balance, the faculty were amazing and helped me get through as a first-generation student,” he said.

Looking back, Quintero said the joint-degree program made him a more well-rounded student.

“The experience and training that I received at UCLA were essential to what I believe to be good decision-making,” he said.

Quintero was elected in December 2009 as mayor of El Monte. He and Martinez have been working closely together since Martinez was elected city manager two years ago.

“I’ve always aspired to have a strong, collaborative relationship with the city manager, and I finally have that,” Quintero said. “I have a city manager that I can collaborate with at a very high level, and I enjoy our intellectual conversation.”

Having a city manager with a similar academic background creates “a wonderful environment for collaboration.”

Any advice for current UCLA Luskin graduate students?

“Be bold, develop relationships and pursue their passion,” Quintero recommended.

Because planners populate many different departments of city organizations, he recommends that students “go out and find what niche they would like to be involved in. Cities need good and experienced planners who can shape policy at a much higher level.” — Zoe Day


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA Luskin alumni across the world stepped up to lead their communities through an unprecedented crisis. It’s just that Debra Duardo’s community happens to be bigger than most.

Duardo is a triple Bruin. She received her undergraduate degree in women’s studies in 1994, then got an MSW at UCLA Luskin in 1996 before going on to a Ph.D. in education in 2013.

As superintendent since 2016 of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), Duardo has oversight of 80 school districts and more than 2 million preschool and school-age children. LACOE is the country’s largest regional educational agency. Her 30-year career in the Los Angeles Unified School District included positions in health and human services and academic counseling.

During the health crisis, Duardo’s proactive communication was credited with preparing Los Angeles schools to respond quickly in the face of a rapidly shifting landscape. She had the foresight in February to lay contingency plans for school districts to transition to online learning and continue essential services, doing so at a time when fewer than five cases had been confirmed in Los Angeles County.


The charge for every graduate of the Luskin School is the same: Be a change agent and bring solutions to your community’s most pressing issues. For Sara Sheets MA UP ’97 that has meant supporting urban community development in her home state of Ohio for over 20 years.

First making her way to Los Angeles via Teach for America, she taught elementary school for two years. The experience of educating students who lived in underserved neighborhoods beset by a lack of quality housing, rampant crime and unequitable access to food and transportation inspired Sheets to change course. UCLA Luskin’s focus on social justice and community development drew her to enroll as a Master of Urban Planning student.

Upon graduation, Sheets took her UCLA Luskin training and hands-on experience back home to Ohio.

Initially, she worked in community development, seeking to revitalize once-neglected areas of Cincinnati. Currently, she is a loan officer at the Cincinnati Development Fund, supporting real estate lending in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in attempts to bring affordable housing and new businesses to those parts of town that have been struggling.

She said she is especially proud of Cincinnati’s tremendous growth in the decade after the 2008 Great Recession.

More recently, in the face of COVID-19, that growth was threatened, and Queen City tenants have been counting on Sheets’ leadership and creative thinking more than ever. She is working extensively with small business owners and other borrowers in Cincinnati to help them pay rent, pay their workers, and keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic.

Her initiative quickly turned into a statewide effort to support other businesses and borrowers across Ohio, including with groups like the Cincinnati Development Fund.

“Even though it has been 23 years since graduation, I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend UCLA,” Sheets said. “I remember feeling consistently inspired by my professors — Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Jackie Leavitt, Allan Heskin — as well as my fellow classmates who came to UCLA with rich personal and professional backgrounds and a deep commitment to equity.”

Although Sheets said she often misses Los Angeles, “I also love the benefits of living in a smaller city and being able to contribute in large and small ways to my community.”

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