After an academic reinvention, the UCLA Luskin undergraduate blazes a trail toward graduation amid a worldwide health crisis
reporting and visual direction by Hon Hoang
photography and caption information by Adah Perez
The First Public Affairs Graduates: One in a series of profiles
‘It was such a stressful time …’
Before COVID, a visit home from college presented a chance to just lie in bed and decompress. After COVID, she was forced to drop out of a lease and potentially might never go to Westwood again. Suddenly, home was not just her refuge, it was her academic workplace.
Feeling a need to pitch in financially amid the pandemic’s economic uncertainty, Perez started looking for part-time work.
“I never had an official part-time job in college — my scholarships would be able to cover most of my costs and I had some internship money to help,” she recalled. “It was such a stressful time, applying for jobs and being denied or not getting any call-backs.”
Perez finally got an offer of employment — the same day she learned that “my great-grandmother had died after battling with kidney issues for three years.”
So, completing the final months of her undergraduate degree program also has been a tale of perseverance amid hardship for Perez.
‘There are some people who are doing amazing work …’
The Trailblazer program itself “has had its ups and downs, just as any program that is starting off would have,” she said, noting that her educational experience often feels detached and distant, given the online circumstances. “I do admire and appreciate how much of an effort the staff makes to ensure that our voices were heard and considered” as the new major evolved.
Perez also appreciates the resilience and strength of her public affairs cohort.
“There are some people who are doing amazing work in their respective fields,” she said, noting that although the Trailblazer experience was drastically altered by the pandemic, the passion of the students never changed
Despite the obstacles, Perez has remained active and involved. She was part of an organization called Voto Latino that encouraged the Latinx demographic, if able, to register to vote and participate in the 2020 U.S. Census. She took part in the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Finance Committee, which supports clubs on campus in need of financial help. She interned for the 9th District office for the City of Long Beach. And she has served as a caseworker for the Mobile Clinic Project at UCLA, a student-led project assisting people who are experiencing homelessness throughout Greater Los Angeles.
In her studies, Perez has learned about policies that affect her and the communities around her. And she said she has witnessed professors who not only teach a subject but actively seek change outside their classrooms.
Trailblazer Adah Perez gravitated toward the public affairs degree because she wanted an opportunity to take whatever she learned in a classroom and apply it in the real world.
“This program has been that for me,” she said.