The 2018 UCLA Luskin Diversity Fair drew more than 100 prospective students. Photo by Mary Braswell

A Schoolwide Investment in Students of Color UCLA Luskin showcases its strengths at 2018 Diversity Fair

By Mary Braswell

Eliza Franklin-Edmondson came to UCLA Luskin’s annual Diversity Fair to gather information about the School’s programs and priorities. She went home with so much more.

“I’m leaving here so full,” the prospective Urban Planning applicant said. “Being here and seeing the myriad of disciplines that give back to communities that are told that they have no value. … I’m leaving knowing that I have my purpose in life, my calling.”

For the third year, Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning invited prospective graduate students from all backgrounds to hear what sets the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs apart: a social justice ethos that is strengthened by a commitment to diversity. Key speakers included the chairs of each department, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

“We are all united at Luskin by wanting to make our society and the world a better place for everyone,” Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams told the audience of about 125 prospective students.

The fair’s moderator, second-year planning student Dora Armenta, said she came to UCLA Luskin because it invests in students of color.

“We choose students that reflect our cities, that are diverse in backgrounds, experience, interests and skills,” Armenta said. “And because of these students, the program gets a little better each year.”

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning is highly ranked and has one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, chair Vinit Mukhija said.

“We are the only program that is able to bring together excellence and diversity in urban planning,” he said. “Our program is made richer by that diversity, and it makes teaching in this department exciting for me and my colleagues.”

Public Policy students at UCLA Luskin develop deep analytical skills but also step into the real world, chair JR DeShazo said. They partner with clients to conduct research projects in fields such as health care, education, criminal justice and transportation, among many others, he said.

“In Public Policy, we really focus on understanding the programs and the policies that are supposed to meet the needs and provide the protections and services to our communities,” DeShazo said.

Social Welfare also pairs theory with practice, focusing on society’s most vulnerable populations, Abrams said, adding, “At UCLA, you get a set of interesting opportunities that really represent the breadth and the depth of the profession as a whole.”

Prospective student Laura Elaine Daza came from the Bay Area to attend the fair because “I want to be a decision-maker in my community.” As an immigrant, first-generation student and tenant rights advocate, she said, “I think it’s important to go to a program that reflects the communities that we come from and that provides you with the skills to give back to your community.”

The Dec. 1, 2018, Diversity Fair included financial aid counseling, a workshop for applicants preparing a statement of purpose, and a conversation with alumni who shared why they chose the Luskin School.

“I fell for the rankings,” said Rodrigo Garcia MURP ’15. “And I knew there was a big social justice component at Luskin whereas other schools that I was applying to didn’t have that component.”

“UCLA felt more like home,” said Sofia Espinoza MPP ’18, in contrast to other schools where “they dressed in suits and tried to schmooze you.” Espinoza said she appreciated the personal attention she received from Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity (PPDE), which guided her through the application process.

PPDE was a co-sponsor of the fair, along with the Luskin D3 Initiative, Luskin Leadership Development, Social Welfare Diversity Caucus and Planners of Color for Social Equity.

The alumni panelists spoke of the skills they developed at UCLA Luskin and offered advice for how to maximize the graduate school experience. At the top of the list: Get off campus and out of the Westside.

“If you really want to do community work, then be in the community,” said Sheila Nem MURP ’15. “Get to know the landscape and really build those connections.”

“Be comfortable exploring opportunities that maybe you don’t even think are your interests,” said Diane Terry MSW ’04 Ph.D. ’12, urging the audience to jump into projects and research outside their disciplines. “That skill set, that perspective that you would get just from being out there, is going to be useful in some space at some time in your future career.”

UCLA Luskin offers the best of two worlds, said Hector Palencia MSW ’08, who is a field faculty member in Social Welfare. “The university is constantly alive,” a world-class research institution rich with opportunity, he said, but the Luskin School feels like a close-knit family.

“There are a lot of good programs out there. But how many of their faculty actually know their students well enough, by name, and how comfortable are the students to come back and look at this place like home?”

Isaac Bryan MPP ’18 cautioned the students that their time at the Luskin School would fly by.

“Land your solid GPA, learn your skill sets, but really build yourself a power base of relationships and connections to the city,” Bryan said. “Because here in Los Angeles I firmly believe that if you can solve a problem here and be a part of working on it, you can really take that anywhere. And that is something about UCLA Luskin that is really unique. So get busy.”

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Diversity Fair 2018

Hector Palencia Elected to Key NASW Committee The Social Welfare field faculty member will help identify leaders for the California chapter of the social workers organization

Social Welfare field faculty member Hector Palencia MSW ’08 has been elected to a key committee of the National Association of Social Workers’ California chapter. Palencia will serve on the Committee on Nominations and Leadership Identification for Regions G, H and I, an area including Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. In this role, Palencia will help identify leaders in the field of social welfare and select candidates for the chapter’s top positions. Palencia, a licensed clinical social worker who also holds an MA in systematic theology, specializes in working with gang members and other marginalized youth.

Chinese Delegation Learns About Social Work in K-12

Social Welfare Field Education faculty members Gerry Laviña MSW ’88 and Hector Palencia MSW ’08 hosted a group of social workers and school administrators from China on Oct. 23, 2017. The delegates were interested in the implementation of social work practices in primary and secondary schools in California and the United States. Laviña, UCLA Luskin’s director of field education, shared insights from his role as a field liaison for social welfare issues within area school systems, including the Los Angeles Unified School District. Palencia talked about his extensive practice experience as a school social worker. 

Gerry Laviña MSW ’88 and Hector Palencia MSW ’08 of the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty hold mementos presented to them by the visiting delegates from China.

Social Workers Come Together for ‘This Incredible Conference’ At student-organized event, professionals and scholars gather at UCLA Luskin to hear experts discuss issues of vital importance to the Latina/o community

By Les Dunseith

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, and the second floor hallway of the Public Affairs Building at UCLA is abuzz with activity as professional social workers join UCLA Luskin students and faculty for a daylong series of lectures and workshops designed to help them do the best work possible for Latina/o populations in Southern California.

“People come from all over for this conference,” said Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare, as attendees began to file into a large classroom to begin the 15th annual Social Services in the Latina/o Community Conference on May 13, 2017. “They look forward to it.”

One group, from Ventura County, even arrived two hours early. By the time Dean Gary Segura delivered his keynote address shortly after 9 a.m., a total of about 100 people were on hand. Other participants would continue to arrive as workshops proceeded throughout the day. The student-organized conference has become so successful, in fact, that advance registration had to be capped at 220 this year.

A 1988 graduate of UCLA Luskin’s MSW program, Laviña noted during his opening remarks that such popularity wasn’t always the case. When it began a decade-and-a-half ago, the conference “was struggling, struggling, struggling,” he said. “But now it’s this incredible conference — all for free — because of the hard work that the students have done.”

Christina Hernandez, a second-year Master of Social Welfare student and one of the three co-chairs of the Latina/o Caucus, said the conference is the culmination of a yearlong process that starts with the writing of grant applications soon after the academic year begins. This year, a total of about $7,000 in grant funding was obtained.

The six-member board of the Latino Caucus includes two first-year MSW students whose participation is designed to help them be better prepared to lead the caucus and its annual conference next year. It’s a tradition that Hernandez said benefited her personally, as it did her co-chairs and fellow MSW students, Sandra Cervantes and Corina López.

“In my first year, I saw the time commitment that was required for the conference,” Hernandez explained. “So going into this year, I knew that I had to give it my all in order to make it a successful conference.”

As the date drew nearer, the students worked with Laviña and their other faculty advisers, Sergio Serna and Hector Palencia MSW ’08, to issue a call for proposals from potential speakers on various topics. The number of applicants exceeded the time and space available, which led to a culling process.

“We select proposals that seem most appropriate,” said Hernandez, who also noted that the organizers seek a balanced program of workshops, in part because many professionals earn continuing education credit for licensing purposes by attending. For instance, “two really good candidates” proposed workshops on law-related topics, but only one of them made this year’s agenda.

That session, “Trauma-Informed Immigration Law for Social Workers,” was one of nine workshops that took place during the day, which included a lunch break that featured a performance by Aztec dancers. A sample of other workshop topics included “Critical Race Theory in Social Work Practice: Going Beyond Competency” and “Queer Latinx: Policy & Critical Discourse.”

Although workshop topics were highly varied, one theme that got a lot of attention was the symbolic and practical impact of Trump administration policies on the vital work being done by the social workers who interact on a daily basis with members of the Latino community.

The rhetoric from Washington has left many social welfare students and professionals — not to mention their clients in disadvantaged and immigrant communities — feeling fearful and angry.

In his keynote talk, Segura detailed examples of anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout history, noting that Latinos have often felt like unwelcome outsiders because of America’s prevailing Euro-centric culture and view of history.

“It is a reflection of our lives as being principally valued for our labor rather than our personhood,” Segura said, “persistently marginalized for our phenotype rather than any actual transgressions, and conceived of in the eyes of those who hold power as a community that is less than equal.

“At the Luskin School of Public Affairs, we like to say we create change agents,” Segura said during his talk. “I sure hope so. Because we so badly need change. Fight like our lives depend on it. They just might.”

Serna and Laviña offered similar thoughts during their own remarks.

“This act of being of service is an act of resistance to injustice and oppression,” Serna told the crowd. “We are sending a message of hope and solidarity to the communities we serve, while raising a fist to those that desire to restrict us and remove funding to deter us from our purpose.”

Laviña, his voice sometimes breaking with emotion, talked about the importance of taking the high road, especially amid political and policy uncertainty.

“In this time of anger and standing up, I think we need to rely not just on ‘othering’ people. Because we have all been the ‘other,’” he said. “So I hope that today you leave with tools and knowledge and, most importantly, an increased sense of community. Because we cannot do this work alone.”

Discovering Social Welfare — En Español Field Education faculty create UCLA Luskin’s first Spanish language course

“Creo que una clase de este tipo es importante por que muchas veces pensamos en los problemas de la comunidad Latina pero no los enfrentamos en español, es decir no le hablamos a la comunidad Latina en español por eso tenemos este curso.”

Social Welfare master’s student Adrian Cotta was answering a question about why he was enrolled in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ inaugural Spanish language course. In English, Cotta’s answer would have been: “I think a class like this is important since oftentimes we think of issues that the Latino community face but we don’t address them in Spanish, which is the language of this course.”

In a community where Latinos are about 50 percent of the population, Spanish skill is invaluable for social welfare students. Luskin Social Welfare Field Education faculty members Sergio Serna and Hector Palencia MSW ’08  are doing more than teaching Luskin students the language, however. They are implementing a Spanish course geared specifically toward communication in the social welfare field.

Prior to the start of spring quarter, Serna and Palencia interviewed a pool of applicants in order to ensure that students could understand and converse in Spanish. Their goal was to create a class where students could learn and practice Spanish in the context of social welfare.

“This is a seminar for our Social Welfare students who are at the intermediate or advanced level of Spanish,” Serna said. “There are nuances to the language and culture that we’re trying to transfer to students with this class.”

Having worked in the social welfare field for more than 10 years, Serna and Palencia designed the structure and content of the course with their own experiences in mind. The course emphasizes development of practical knowledge — teaching the words and phrases most applicable to social work, as well as training students to overcome communication challenges that Serna and Palencia experienced firsthand.

“We’ve had our boots on the ground, working in social welfare,” said Serna. “We’re clinical faculty, so a lot of material comes out of the knowledge we gained in the field.”

Cotta applied for this course in order to learn Spanish social welfare terminology that he could apply to his internship at LAMP Community, a Skid Row-based nonprofit.

“I saw at my internship in the Social Welfare program that there are many language barriers,” Cotta said. “There are a lot of Spanish-speaking people there. I want to be more comfortable using social welfare terms in Spanish.”

Each week, guest instructors come in to teach and discuss their areas of expertise with the class of 18 students.

“Social welfare is a large field with many different avenues, so the technical part about it can vary,” Palencia said. “We brought people specializing in different areas to lead discussions with students using the language.”

Rather than following a traditional lecture format, the class uses an intimate roundtable setting to encourage conversation and discussion between students and the instructors.

“This class is more of a conversation, which eases the stress and anxiety of being in a new, awkward situation when practicing language.” Palencia said.

In the future Serna and Palencia hope to expand the diversity of the course content by including students and instructors from Public Policy and Urban Planning.

Luskin students who are interested in applying for the course can contact Serna at srserna@luskin.ucla.edu.

Hector Palencia

Mr. Palencia graduated with a B.A. in English and a Religious Studies minor from the University of California, Irvine. From there he was granted an M.A. in Systematic Theology (with honors) from Berkley’s Graduate Theological Union, with another Masters degree in Social Welfare from U.C.L.A.

Mr. Palencia put his graduate studies to work in the field of gang resistance diversion programs, Mr. Palencia has numerous professional qualifications in addition he has presented on Social Welfare and Gangs, Criminalization of Homelessness, Working with Trauma in Youth, and Gang Round Table Discussions.

Mr. Palencia’s work history demonstrates a compassion borne out of his spiritual endeavors and a capacity for working with marginalized young offenders. He comes to UCLA from El Rancho unified where he served as one of the mental health liaison’s responsible for district wide mental health services which included coordinating services with partnering agencies as well as responding to crisis and working specifically with tier three students. For 4 years, he was with the East Whittier City School District overseeing middle school diversion programs, created partnerships with community agencies to meet needs not being addressed for students, and he became successful in writing numerous grants including the Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant initiative. In his career, he has worked in hospice and as drug and alcohol counselor handling at-risk youth case loads.