Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award — the university’s highest honor for teaching — at an Oct. 15 ceremony at the Chancellor’s Residence.
Leap joined eight other faculty members and five teaching assistants who were recognized for their impact on students, innovative teaching methods and involvement in the community.
“Jorja was recognized for her engaging teaching which motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “We are deeply proud of her efforts.”
Leap, who joined the UCLA faculty in 1992, was nominated by her social welfare colleagues, who invited former students and community partners to offer letters of support. “The response was tremendous,” said Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare.
In a video tribute aired at the ceremony, Leap said her teaching philosophy revolves around this principle: To those whom much is given much is required.
Leap said she reminds students that, whatever path led them to UCLA, they now have access to world-class resources, teaching and often financial support. They must pay that forward by making their work relevant in the communities surrounding them, she said.
“In my research methodology course, I will take my doctoral students out in the community … to observe the way people live. And then we talk about how does their research inform policy, how does it move the needle? How does their research inform practice, how does it change the way people treat each other, how does it change our laws, how does it change our healthcare, how does it change economics?” she said.
She counsels her students, “Don’t do the easy thing; do the hard thing. Don’t do what’s natural; do what feels scary.”
Leap is executive director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute.
Her research examines gangs, high-risk youth, prison culture and the reentry of the formerly incarcerated into mainstream society. She also serves as an expert witness on gangs and trauma for death penalty cases and other court proceedings.