Making the Most of the Student-Mentor Connection Annual Senior Fellows Leadership breakfast puts spotlight on a successful partnership

By Mary Braswell

A student and mentor brought together by UCLA Luskin’s Senior Fellows Leadership Program shared stories of their rewarding yearlong partnership at an Oct. 24 breakfast launching the initiative’s 23rd year.

The gathering at the UCLA Faculty Center gave this year’s class of 45 Senior Fellows a chance to meet the graduate students they were matched with and hear insights from Tom Epstein, president of the California Community Colleges board of governors, and Irma Castañeda, a second-year master of public policy student.

“The best thing about being a fellow here is you get to work with so many smart, conscientious and diverse students,” said Epstein, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow since 2015.

Castañeda said she applied for the program last year to broaden her understanding of career options in the public policy field.  She accomplished that and much more, she said.

“I’m a first-generation college student and a first-generation professional, and I was navigating this space as a new student,” she said. By the end of the year, Epstein had helped her to build a professional network in Los Angeles and Sacramento and land a summer internship tailored to her interests in higher education.

At their monthly check-ins, Epstein and Castañeda talked about classes, career goals, internships and job prospects. Epstein also provided email introductions to key figures in his field and invited Castañeda to a meeting and dinner of California Community Colleges governors.

The life of a graduate student can be filled with coursework, campus activities and outside jobs, Castañeda said, but “it’s really important to prioritize this experience.” The Senior Fellows Program offers a rare gift — sustained one-on-one access to a leader in the public, private or nonprofit sector — and students should make the most of it, she said.

She also encouraged her classmates to take full advantage of the resources offered by UCLA Luskin’s Career Services team, led by Executive Director VC Powe.

View more photos from the Senior Fellows breakfast on Flickr.

The first step, Castañeda said, is to ask questions — lots of them.

She learned this during her search for a summer internship that would help her learn more about the community college system. Finding none, she consulted career counselor Donna Lee Oda, who helped her edit her resume, craft a cover letter and pitch herself as a summer intern candidate.

Epstein connected her with the deputy chancellor of California Community Colleges, who created a research internship just for Castañeda. She spent the summer conducting analysis for the governmental relations division and presenting her findings at a legislative briefing at the state Capitol.

“It was something that I wouldn’t have imagined, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if I hadn’t asked,” she said.

Epstein said he is grateful for the chance to serve as a Senior Fellow, recalling that an internship while he was at UCLA Law launched a rewarding career. He thanked his own mentor, Zev Yaroslavsky — then a young city councilman and now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin — who was present at the breakfast.

Epstein’s career journey took him through politics, healthcare, insurance, media and the environment, in addition to higher education. He has worked in the White House, state government and the private and nonprofit sectors.

Students mentored by Epstein through the Senior Fellows program are now working at the California Endowment, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the California Department of Finance, Green Dot Schools and L.A. Care. One is a doctor with Kaiser Permanente and another is a teaching assistant at UCLA, he said.

Epstein addressed the public policy, social welfare and urban planning students gathered at the breakfast. “I’m grateful for your commitment to public service,” he said, “because our country needs you.”

This year, 37 returning Senior Fellows were joined by eight new mentors:

Warren T. Allen MPP ’03, founding member and attorney with WTAII PLLC

Nahtahna Cabanes MSW ’13, vice president of strategic partnerships with L.A. Works

Ken Chawkins BA ’85, business policy manager with the Southern California Gas Company

Elizabeth Forer CEO, Venice Family Clinic

Louise McCarthy MPP ’04, president and CEO at Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99, BA ’97, executive vice president of Community Coalition

Sarah Smith, senior director of education for the International Rescue Committee

Nancy Sutley, chief development officer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Yaroslavsky on Future of Single-Home Neighborhoods

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, was featured on an episode of 89.3 KPCC’s “AirTalk” about the future of California housing policy. The state’s affordable housing crisis has increased the pressure for bills like SB50, which would increase the density of housing in single-family neighborhoods close to transit lines. The bill was shelved in the last legislative session, but a second iteration is returning with provisions that Yaroslavsky called “very minimal and cosmetic.” The need for affordable housing is dire, he said, but “there hasn’t been a thorough discussion about what the SB50 bill does.” According to Yaroslavsky, “New construction in California is not going to produce affordable housing — it produces high-end housing, market-rate housing.” He criticized SB50 for failing to “demand anything in return from the landowners” and suggested setting aside 40 to 50 percent of new units for affordable housing. “If you rezone all the single-family homes in California, you’re not creating more affordable housing but you are destroying communities,” Yaroslavsky said.


Image of mini-mall in Southern California

Mini-Mall Model Troublesome, Yaroslavsky Says

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to Curbed LA about the development of mini-malls in Southern California. Yaroslasvky said that mini-malls were popular with the public but not so popular from a planning standpoint. “I viewed the new mini-mall model as troublesome,” he said, noting that mini-malls broke up the pedestrian character of streets by providing parking in front of the businesses. Yaroslavsky said Proposition U, a 1986 initiative he sponsored when he served on the Los Angeles City Council, limited commercial development but was not in response to the reemergence of mini-malls. Rather, it was in response to massive buildings. “People were fed up with the changing scale of new buildings in commercial zones adjacent to residential neighborhoods,” he said.


 

Yaroslavsky on Race to Succeed Ridley-Thomas

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Wave about the upcoming race to succeed county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Term limits will force Ridley-Thomas to give up his 2nd District seat on the powerful Board of Supervisors. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in a March primary, the top two vote-getters will face off in November. Of the eight candidates who have emerged so far, the three with the highest chance of winning the election are Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, state Sen. Holly Mitchell and former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, according to Yaroslavsky. Perry, who has already raised more than $500,000 for the campaign, has “surprised some people with the amount of money she’s raised,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a horse race.”

Yaroslavsky on Frustrations Over Combating Homelessness

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with KCRW’s Press Play shortly after President Trump criticized California cities for the spread of homelessness during a trip to the state. Yaroslavsky took issue with Trump “coming in here and lecturing to us about what’s wrong with our housing policy,” saying several of the administration’s actions are responsible for pushing citizens onto the streets. He also said the root of homelessness is income inequality, not the availability of housing units. “The bottom line is this: We have an affordable housing crisis. We don’t have a market-rate housing crisis.” Yaroslavsky argued against loosening rules on zoning and development. “The proposals that have come out of Sacramento to eliminate the single-family homes and the duplex zones and the quadruplex zones in the city and allow seven-story massive apartment buildings with no parking is not the answer,” he said. “The people who are squeezed in this housing environment are people who are of low and moderate income, and that’s 40 to 45 percent of the city.”

Yaroslavsky Weighs In on Democratic Debate

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, provided in-studio commentary on KCAL9 following a debate of the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates. Vice President Joe Biden, who bore most of the criticism during the three-hour debate, “has had his challenges with syntax, so to speak, but he hung in there,” Yaroslavsky said. Biden’s poll numbers are slowly falling, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s are on the rise, he said. But he cautioned that no one should take front-runner status for granted. Candidates with low polling numbers who fared well in the debate included Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, he said. “They all had an opportunity to reintroduce themselves to the American people, and they did well,” Yaroslavsky said. But he added, “It’s a crapshoot right now.”


 

Yaroslavsky on Labor-Tech Faceoff as a Campaign Barometer

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Associated Press about a faceoff between Big Labor and Big Tech that has become an issue in the Democratic presidential primary. Several major Democratic White House hopefuls have expressed support for a California bill backed by labor and opposed by tech giants such as Uber and Lyft, the article said. The bill would make it harder for tech companies to classify workers as independent contractors, who are not entitled to minimum wage or workers’ compensation. “It says something about where the candidates think the primary voters are on this issue,” Yaroslavsky said. They “may believe that labor can be more helpful to them than the high-tech companies can be to them in a caucus state or a primary.”


 

Yaroslavsky on Tug-of-War Over Rehired Deputy

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to KCAL9 News after a judge overturned L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s decision to reinstate a fired deputy. The county Board of Supervisors had sued the sheriff’s department, contending that the deputy, who was let go over accusations of stalking and domestic violence, should not have been rehired. “This is not about some policy decision. This is not about whether you should put more police on the streets in Valinda or more in Willowbrook,” said Yaroslavsky, a former county supervisor. “This is about whether the sheriff’s department is going to hire or reinstate deputies who violated their oath of office.” He added, “If you’re a taxpayer or a voter in Los Angeles County, what the sheriff is doing is exposing your pocketbook to huge lawsuits, huge liabilities that the taxpayers are going to have to pay for.”


 

Yaroslavsky on County Election Chief’s Grand Plan

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the L.A. Times about the county’s election chief, who is spearheading an overhaul of the voting system. Since Dean Logan became the registrar-recorder and clerk for Los Angeles County in 2008, he has advocated for replacing an antiquated balloting system. The new $300-million system known as Voting Solutions for All People will face its first test in March, when it is introduced countywide for the presidential primary election. Voters will use the new machines at a smaller number of multipurpose “vote centers” that will replace the roughly 5,000 traditional polling places. Yaroslavsky, who served on the county Board of Supervisors from 1994 to 2014, expressed confidence in Logan. “He’s got an engineer’s mind with an artist’s vision,” Yaroslavsky said. “If you’re in an airplane that has a problem in midair, he’s the kind of guy you would want as the pilot.”


 

Yaroslavsky and Newton on Power of Endorsements

A Long Beach Post article on upcoming local elections called on two UCLA Luskin experts to weigh in on the power of political endorsements. The public is thirsty for authenticity, and that can be more meaningful than prominent backers, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky said. “The landscape is littered with insurgent candidacies that have prevailed and surprised a lot of people,” said Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles city councilman and county supervisor. Unions that offer endorsements often mobilize their members to campaign for candidates, which could make a difference in a low-turnout area, public policy lecturer Jim Newton added. But the impact of endorsements is limited, he said. “It really is an instance where voters have the last word,” Newton said. “In the end, voters can say ‘no’ to that.”