Graduating Students Seek Out Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

By Stan Paul

Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.

Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.

“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.

As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.

“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.

“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”

Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.

“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”

For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

Applied Policy Projects

In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.

The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.

Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.

“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

Careers, Capstones and Conversations

Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.

Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

MSWs Test Research Methods

In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.

“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.

“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”

Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.

Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”

“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.

Aspiring Urban Planners Seek to Mitigate Gentrification Impacts in Pacoima Researchers study alternative living spaces in a community about to launch major development and infrastructure improvements

By Les Dunseith

For Silvia González studying for a doctorate in urban planning at UCLA is about more than learning how cities and communities can be better designed. It’s about promoting economic and environmental justice and housing equity, causes she is personally connected to.

González and her family grew up 20 miles north of UCLA in the working-class communities of Pacoima and San Fernando, spending several years in a garage converted to a living space without permits on a property owned by her aunt. Her family eventually moved out, and “later it was torn down, after inspectors found out.”

That result is “exactly what we don’t want to happen” in Pacoima, González said. “If it’s affordable housing, then how do we keep it?”

Fast forward to the past academic year, when González served as a graduate instructor for a comprehensive research project in which 16 urban planning master’s degree candidates in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs spent nearly six months studying ways to make sure a pending major redevelopment effort in the community does not lead to displacement of the people already living there.

The research and final report were produced for a nonprofit organization known as Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies. The research effort was a byproduct of $23 million received by Pacoima as part of a statewide grant process that is providing funding for development and infrastructure projects to achieve significant environmental, health and economic benefits in the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who also served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

Pacoima is one of many places in Southern California in which many lower-income residents scrape by amid a housing affordability crisis by taking up residence in converted garages and other outbuildings, or in portions of homes that have been added or converted as places to be rented. One subgroup of the UCLA Luskin class utilized aerial images and walked the streets of Pacoima to catalog the presence of these types of living spaces, which are known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

In the geographic area they studied, the team found that almost half of all properties included a secondary dwelling — often without the permits and inspector approvals to be considered legal. According to the project report, about three-quarters of the tenants pay less than $1,000 per month in rent. Almost half live in an ADU on a property in which the main unit is occupied by a relative.

On May 28, the team went to Pacoima City Hall to present its findings, which also detail the personal impact of housing instability on Pacoima’s residents. In their summary report, the researchers wrote that their research questions had presumed that the condition of individual housing units would be the defining characteristic of the tenant experience.

“We were wrong,” they wrote. “Tenants face a variety of good and bad conditions, but the most important factor influencing their quality of life was the relationship between the landlord and tenant.”

González said that Pacoima Beautiful and its partner organizations are committed to finding solutions to address possible gentrification and housing displacement before it happens in Pacoima. As grant awardees, the organizations are required to prepare and implement a displacement avoidance plan. González also works for UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which had assisted Pacoima with the grant application and is now taking the lead in developing that plan. Pacoima Beautiful is responsible for managing it.

“I really love the way that it came about,” González said. “The decision to address displacement before it happens came from the community. The community is interested in taking advantage of the housing options that are already there and building on that.”

The research effort included one-on-one interviews, focus groups and site observations, with volunteers from the new UCLA Luskin undergraduate public affairs program helping with some tasks.

Some of the findings were surprising.

“I think everyone has these assumptions around accessory dwelling units … that they are only for the short term or for temporary housing, which we found actually wasn’t true,” Bremner said. The majority of residents living in ADUs in Pacoima do so for many years, the study found.

When they looked at how space is used, Bremner said researchers expected that the shared communal spaces common to ADUs would promote bonding among residents, but that was not the case. For example, a youth from a family of five reported sleeping on a sofa in the living room of one dwelling and rarely interacting with the 10 people in other families living in two other ADUs on the property.

This interviewee was among a number of high school youths who spoke to the researchers, and those survey participants provided detailed descriptions of their living arrangements.

“I think the stories of the youth were very impactful,” said González, who noted that most cope with the burden of schoolwork and the pressures of teenage life while living in stressful, overcrowded conditions.

The urban planning team also analyzed the willingness of property owners to sell or lease all, or part, of their land for the purpose of creating community land trusts, which acquire and hold land in the interest of promoting affordable housing by removing properties from the speculative real estate market.

As urban planners concerned about housing equity, the UCLA team tended to view the idea of community land trusts as a good approach. But, González said, the homeowners were “apprehensive about being a part of a community land trust in the way that we were pitching it, which was a community land trust that owns accessory dwelling units.”

Property owners were not interested in the idea if it meant the homeowner would be responsible for dealing with the tenants.

“But if there’s an organization that will deal with the tenants— that will be responsible for them — then [property owners] wanted to participate,” González said.

The comprehensive project was just one step in a long process for Pacoima, but both Bremner and González believe the results will prove valuable.

“From Pacoima Beautiful’s perspective, I think it changed their approach to organizing,” González said. “They are an environmental justice organization. And now seeing how important that housing is to their community, I think it’s going to change the way that they approach the project. And it is going to change the way they do future projects.”

Alumni Accolades Career changes and other updates from the alumni of UCLA Luskin

Jane Christenson MA UP ’02 has joined Placer County’s executive management team as assistant county executive officer.

Stephen Cheung MSW ’07 has been named executive vice president of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), in addition to his role as president of World Trade Center Los Angeles.

Saira Gandhi MPP ’14 has been named investment management analyst at Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS).  Gandhi is a former UCLA Luskin Bohnett Fellow in the Office of the Mayor of Los Angeles.

Khalilha Haynes MURP ’18 has been named an associate at Estolano LeSar Advisors.

Nate Hughes MPP ’01 has been named senior manager for business development and client management at CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting Services.

Laurel Hunt MURP ’14 has been appointed vice chair at Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation (ARCCA).

Amalia M. Merino MURP ’13 started a new position as associate planner for the Woolsey Fire Rebuild and Recovery Unit, City of Malibu, at 4LEAF Inc.

Julie Munjack MPP ’09 has been appointed Pacific Northwest regional director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Paul Sorensen MA UP ’05 has been promoted to principal at the transportation consulting firm Cambridge Systematics.

Takao Suzuki MA UP ’04 has been appointed to the Affordable Housing Advisory Council by FHLBank San Francisco.  Takao is currently director of community economic development for the Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation in Los Angeles.

Naomi Tacuyan Underwood MPP ’08 is the new executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association. She joins AAJA from the Washington, D.C.-based Faith & Politics Institute, where she served as director of programs.

In Support Fellowship recipients meet with benefactors; new partnerships expand opportunities for student learning

SHAPIRO FELLOWS SHARE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE AT APPRECIATION LUNCH

UCLA Luskin’s Shapiro Fellows shared their impactful experiences and plans for the future at a lunch with Peter Shapiro, whose family has provided generous support to students from all three of the School’s graduate programs. UCLA alumni Ralph and Shirley Shapiro have maintained a lifelong commitment to helping the Bruin family. Their son Peter is president of the Shapiro Family Charitable Foundation, which supports organizations that advocate for the arts, education, environmental issues, religious causes, children’s health and human rights.

Monica Salinas, center, with Gabriela Solis and Julio Mendez-Vargas.

RECIPIENTS OF MONICA SALINAS FELLOWS MEET FOR LUNCH

Monica Salinas hosted recipients of her fellowship over lunch at her home in March. Established in 2005, the Monica Salinas Fellowship is awarded to students who have an interest in public policy issues affecting Latinos. Of particular interest are the contributions and achievements of the emerging Latino community as it plays an increasingly important role in our country’s social, economic, cultural and political life. The 2018-19 fellowship recipients are Gabriela Solis, a dual MPP and MSW student,
and Julio Mendez-Vargas, an undergraduate Political Science major and Public Affairs minor. The students, who are on track to graduate in June, have worked closely with the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

Old Ph.D. Suite

 

New Ph.D Suite

PH.D. SUITE RECEIVES NEW COMPUTER LAB

Thanks to generous support from The Ahmanson Foundation, a newly modernized computer lab is nearing completion for doctoral students at UCLA Luskin. The project provided the perfect opportunity to redesign the old lab space and customize it to better fit the needs of our students. The refurbished lab is now equipped with brand-new computers, specialized software and upgraded furniture. Its open layout is conducive to students working individually or collaboratively. An adjoining office space was converted into a conference room to accommodate private meetings and has videoconferencing capability.

Dannielle Campos, senior vice president with Bank of America, welcomes summit participants.

INAUGURAL ‘LUSKIN SUMMIT’ ADVOCATES FOR A LIVABLE L.A.

The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs marked its 25th anniversary with the inaugural “Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.” — made possible by support from sponsors Bank of America, the Los Angeles Rams, The California Endowment, Guidehouse, the Southern California Leadership Network and ABC7, which also served as the media partner. Leaders from government; business; academia; and the civic, nonprofit and philanthropic spheres gathered at the summit for a cross-sector conversation centered on the latest UCLA Luskin research. “We do hope you learned more about the great work at the Luskin School and that you’ll be our advocates out in the community, helping us make an even greater impact,” Dean Gary Segura told supporters at the close of the summit. “We ask that you become engaged with the Luskin School in a variety of ways: host students as interns or hire our graduates, fund summer internships or full-year fellowships, learn more about our faculty research and support it, and connect us with others who want to learn more about our great work and the progress we are leading.” Segura concluded, “Philanthropy truly makes our work possible and we have so much more we want do to.”

Michael Dukakis, center, with this year’s internship recipients.

DUKAKIS MEETS WITH STUDENT FELLOWS

This spring, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis met recipients of the Michael S. Dukakis Internship award to hear about their experiences. Dukakis spearheaded this privately funded internship program to provide students with first-hand public service experience in government. As power shifts from Washington, D.C., to the state and local level, the need for talented public servants has never been greater. The internship program provides stipends for students serving in nonpartisan internships in government, with a special emphasis on California.

Michael Loper, center in blue shirt, at Estolano LeSar Advisors.

ESTOLANO LESAR ADVISORS ESTABLISH SUMMER INTERNSHIP AWARD

Luskin alumnae and business partners Cecilia Estolano and Jennifer LeSar established a summer internship award for deserving students in urban planning. Each summer, one graduate student will receive a stipend while developing professional skills working at a nonprofit organization that offers critical services in areas such as affordable housing, sustainability, transportation, land use, or workforce and economic development. The first recipient of the award was Michael Loper, a dual MURP and MPH candidate, who interned at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council last summer to help communities achieve food justice and social equity. Estolano LeSar Advisors invited Loper for lunch at their office in downtown L.A. to share his experience.

 

 

 

Dean’s Message Our professional programs uniformly train students to make families, communities and institutions better, safer, healthier, more responsive, more functional and more effective

Making a difference…

I left traditional social science to come work in a public affairs environment because I had grown frustrated at the slow pace with which esoteric findings in those disciplines find their way into public discussion and social reform — if, indeed, they ever do. This is not to say that this work never reaches a broader audience, but the frustrating truth is that too big a share of that work has no impact outside the journals and libraries in which it is deposited. Part of that is the unfortunate distance between academia and the “real world,” but part of that rests with the choice of “problem” and the approach to research preferred by those disciplines and scholars. That is, some of this failure to have broader influence is on the professors and institutions themselves.

Contrast that with the work of UCLA Luskin. On April 24, the Luskin School hosted its first-ever regionwide summit, themed “Livable LA.” Around 350 policy professionals, civic leaders, business leaders, scholars and elected officials gathered to discuss solutions to many of Los Angeles’ longstanding challenges. Each panel featured Luskin research, and each panel was addressed to making change — using the findings of our work to effect practical change in Los Angeles and beyond, making the lives, families
and communities in our region better.

It is this spirit that animates our work and UCLA Luskin, and it is this mission that we bring to our classrooms and our communities. Our professional programs uniformly train master’s degree students to make families, communities and institutions better, safer, healthier, more responsive, more functional and more effective. Our doctoral students research real problems of real people. Our undergraduates will all spend time working directly in the community. And our faculty members engage the real world and all its challenges as the foundation of our research. It is why we are here.

In these pages, you will read of a trip by UCLA Luskin social workers — faculty and students alike — to the immigrant detention camp in Dilley, Texas. That effort — to bring comfort, support and social services to families who have endured unspeakable hardship — represents the very best of who we are and what we do at UCLA Luskin. I am unbelievably proud of their efforts and humbled by their sacrifice to help these desperate people.

Make a difference,

Gary

The Practical Benefits of Experience Bringing practical lessons into the classroom isn’t just a tradition at UCLA Luskin — it’s part of the mission

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin this year continued to expand its efforts to merge scholarship and practical experience by adding to its roster of former-political-leaders-turned-educators when Kevin de León joined the Luskin School as distinguished policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst. The former president pro tempore of the California State Senate is teaching a course in public policy that emphasizes his first-hand knowledge of the state’s complex inner workings.

In his time in Sacramento, de León spearheaded legislation on issues including climate change, immigration and retirement security policy. He also pressed for a clean-energy economy and advanced issues of importance to Latinos.

His course featured a number of guests speaking on a wide range of California topics.

“It is my hope that you can get something out of this class that will help you plan out your future,” de León told his class on the first day. “I want you to have an understanding of the legislative process, how it works, how we craft an idea … how we bring this together —   specifically how we put an idea into legislative bill form.”

Coursework focused on the political and procedural strategies used to overcome opposition to reform, building upon de León’s success in pushing policies to increase energy efficiency, reduce the use of petroleum and promote renewable energy.

“As one of the most effective legislators ever on climate policy and environmental justice, Senator de León offers students insights into successful policy adoption strategies,” said JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

As DeShazo noted, Public Policy has a long history of attracting visiting faculty members with deep experience in government. Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis has returned to UCLA Luskin for more than two decades, setting an example and “passing the torch” to political leaders like de León.

At UCLA Luskin, alumni are another important source of guidance for current students. For instance, alumni practitioners and other professionals have been mentoring graduate students at the School for more than two decades. In other instances, a former student has gone on to assume a role that he or she once studied.

Take the annual Legislative Lobby Days in Sacramento. The two-day program organized by the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers allows students to meet with legislators and serve as advocates regarding timely and pressing state issues.

Anthony DiMartino MSW ’13 participated in Legislative Lobby Days in Sacramento during both years of his graduate studies. Today, DiMartino is one of those being lobbied thanks to his role in the State Capitol as the legislative director for a number of public safety initiatives on behalf of State Assembly member Shirley Weber, who represents a district in inland San Diego.

Toby Hur of the Social Welfare field faculty was the placement director for DiMartino, leading trips to Sacramento as he continues to do now. “I absolutely loved coming up here and talking to staffers — like me now — about issues that are affecting the state,” DiMartino said.

DiMartino is working on a number of initiatives on public safety, including the high-profile issue of use of deadly force. “I’m a staffer for AB 392, which is looking to change when police can use deadly force — [setting] a higher standard,” DiMartino said. “That is probably, right now, the most talked-about, controversial bill in the state. And people are watching it nationwide.”

The guidance provided by Hur made a positive impact on DiMartino.

“He balances being nurturing and supportive — but also hands off enough — that he allows you, the student, an opportunity to figure some things out for yourself,” DiMartino said. “You never feel alone when Toby is in your corner.”

Richard France MA UP ’10 is a principal at Estolano LeSar Advisors, a planning consultancy co-founded by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumnae Cecilia Estolano, Jennifer LeSar and Catherine Perez Estolano. Photo by Les Dunseith

Another onetime student who is now on the other side of the student-educator equation is Richard France MA UP ’10. France is a principal at Estolano LeSar Advisors, a planning consultancy co-founded by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumnae Cecilia Estolano, Jennifer LeSar and Catherine Perez Estolano.

France has previously co-taught two urban planning courses with Cecilia Estolano and in the fall will be teaching on his own in a class about transit-oriented communities.

Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of Urban Planning, noted that France’s employer is known for social justice while also recognizing the political and economic realities of land markets. France’s course will help students “understand how progressive land use policies can be developed and implemented. Richard’s approach is both practical and progressive,” Mukhija said. “We are delighted to have him back.”

In the classroom, France will be able to draw upon a growing portfolio of real-world experience. He has authored an assessment of the health of the region based on indicators of human development. He has worked with the American Red Cross on disaster-related strategies for vulnerable communities in Los Angeles County. He has coordinated a study to improve bike and pedestrian access.

As a student, France was a member of Planners for Social Equity, and as an alumnus he has returned to join several alumni panels, including attending the Luskin School’s annual Diversity Fair.

“The school is very receptive to looking at different models and different ways of engaging alums and also figuring out ways that alums can generate ideas and generate ways to give back to the community,” France said. “The Luskin program itself enabled me to explore different topics.”

France said his student cohort and the wider network of UCLA Luskin alumni are among his “biggest assets” since graduation. The benefit of interacting with educators with ample practical knowledge isn’t just about what they know — it’s also who they know.

“The resources that instructors and professors provide because of their connections out there in the professional world will probably help inform and guide [each student’s] career, especially if you stay in Los Angeles and California,” France said.

A Nexus of Latin Cities New initiative Ciudades finds common ground in urban spaces across the Western hemisphere

By Mary Braswell

They came from Sacramento in the north, Mexico City in the south and points in between, drawn to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs by a common pursuit: increasing access to high-quality housing in urban areas where opportunities abound.

It’s a worthy goal, shared across borders but beset by a lack of consensus on how to achieve it. So planners, professors and government officials from throughout Mexico and California gathered to share their insights on moving forward, invited by one of UCLA Luskin’s newest ventures, the Latin American Cities Initiative.

The workshop visitors — along with urbanists throughout the region — have much to learn from one another, said Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, and founding director of the initiative, known as Ciudades.

“Los Angeles is home to millions from across Latin America,” Monkkonen said. “Because of this shared history and present, and because of the potential for urban learning across the region, we established Ciudades to deepen our connections and intellectual exchanges.”

Launched in early 2019 with the support of UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura, the initiative is just the latest example of the School’s global ambitions and outreach.

With the international city of Los Angeles as a home base, faculty have spearheaded research into HIV-infected youth in sub-Saharan Africa, mass protests in Ukraine, sex markets in Indonesia and degradation of the Amazon rainforest, among many other pursuits.

The School’s Global Public Affairs program brings graduate students into the mix, preparing them to navigate an increasingly integrated world. GPA students choose from a wide array of concentrations, including political dynamics, health and social services, the environment, development, migration and human rights.

Ciudades zeroes in on the Western Hemisphere. The binational, bilingual workshop on urban housing was just the type of cross-pollination of ideas that the initiative was created to foster.

In cities across Mexico and California, low-density sprawl has limited access to jobs, transit, retail and parks, creating roadblocks to prosperity. But federal and state programs to remedy this with denser urban development have met with resistance from municipalities, which often face political blowback.

Bridging this divide was the aim of the Ciudades workshop. Planners, academics, students and officials from all levels of government, including the cities of Tijuana, Ensenada, Compton and Los Angeles, came together to share data, resources and cautionary tales. Among them was Haydee Urita-Lopez MURP ’02, a senior planner with the city of Los Angeles.

“I’m just very happy today that we’re able to collaborate at this academic and practical level,” Urita-Lopez said, inviting her colleagues to continue the conversation in the weeks and months ahead. “We share an integrant political, social and cultural history. … Geopolitical lines on a map have not erased our cultural ties.”

Ciudades focuses on urban spaces in the Americas, but the topics it embraces are unlimited. Local democracy, public finance, indigenous populations and historical preservation will steer the dialogue in a knowledge network that reaches across disciplines as well as borders, Monkkonen said.

He envisions field visits by faculty and students from each of UCLA Luskin’s graduate departments, Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning. Grants and internships will promote Latin-focused student research.

Monkkonen’s studio courses in Baja California provide one model for learning: Students identify a problem, define the scope of their analysis, then conduct interviews, site visits and scholarly readings to develop practical solutions.

Ciudades also brings voices from across the Americas to campus. Over the 2019 winter quarter, students and the public heard from experts on social mobility in São Paulo, indigenous groups in Cancun, sustainable development in Bogotá and many other topics as part of the weekly Ciudades Seminar Series.

“Academia and professional practice can benefit a lot from greater levels of communication,” and that interplay creates a spirited learning environment, Monkkonen said. When students speak with practitioners, both sides ask questions that professors may not have thought to ask, he added.

The connections that Ciudades is forging will make UCLA Luskin a draw for graduate students, planners and policymakers from across the region, Monkkonen predicted. Looking ahead, he envisions quarter-long exchange programs with universities in South America and Central America.

“Our student population is so Latin-descended, and many want to study in the places their parents are from,” he said.

Monkkonen has been interested in the Spanish-speaking world since he can remember. Enrolled in a Culver City elementary school that offered one of the first language immersion programs, he became fluent as a child. As a young man, he taught English as a second language in Spain and Mexico. His wife is from Mexico and his daughter is a dual citizen. Monkkonen is a permanent resident of Mexico and is currently applying for dual citizenship.

Much of Monkkonen’s long-term research is based in Mexico, but he has also conducted studies in Argentina, Brazil and across Asia. UCLA Luskin, he said, is an ideal laboratory for urban studies in the region.

In March, Ciudades posed the question “Is L.A. a Latin American City?” Author and journalist Daniel Hernandez and UCLA’s Eric Avila debated the question at a forum moderated by Monkkonen.

The answer, they concluded, was both yes and no.

Los Angeles “is developing in a way that only benefits the people who already have money,” a familiar pattern in Latin American cities, Hernandez said.

Avila, a professor of Chicano studies and urban planning, said the city’s population and built environment are very Latin but “Los Angeles is not a Latin American city in regard to the historically sustained efforts to whitewash and erase the Spanish and Mexican past.”

The panelists touched on racial hierarchies, environmental justice, gentrification, food, art and identity. It was merely one of many conversations Ciudades intends to spark.

“We hope that this initiative is just the beginning of something larger that deepens ties across South, Central and North America,” Monkkonen said.

Zoe Day contributed to this report.

Guiding Tomorrow’s Difference Makers Potential internship providers can help ensure that UCLA Luskin's new undergraduate major remains strong as it grows

By Les Dunseith

Inside stately Royce Hall on a recent morning, more than 100 UCLA undergraduates listened intently as their professor spoke about one of the key documents of American democracy — the Federalist Papers.

“The greatest threat to liberty in the eyes of James Madison is faction — that is, the natural tendency of humanity to see their own interests as important and to work together with others who share those interests to try to get their way,” the professor said. “Now the problem with factions is that, while we might see things that they do wrong, if you’re going to have anything that looks like liberty, people have the right to advocate for themselves. Right? You can’t say you can’t go out there and try to make your lot better. That’s hardly liberty.”

It’s a lesson that draws from the past to provide context for the factionalized politics of today. It’s also essential knowledge for a class of aspiring public servants. The person laying this foundation? It’s a man whose influence was essential to creating the educational opportunity his students now pursue — Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The course — Public Affairs 50: Foundations and Debates in Public Thought — taught by Segura in spring quarter was just one of many signposts that the new undergraduate major in Public Affairs is taking shape. Other core courses are being taught, and scores of pre-majors are filling the seats. A class of incoming freshman has been recruited. Transfer students are arriving too. Construction has begun on a dedicated undergraduate office space in the Public Affairs Building. Additional staff are being hired.

But there is still much to be done.

Jocelyn Guihama, director of administration and experiential learning, is hard at work building out the experiential learning component of the major. Time is short. By winter 2020, she expects about 65 Public Affairs juniors to be planning senior-year internships.

To create those opportunities, Guihama is pursuing leads and hammering out details for mentorships in government, in public service agencies and in the many advocacy organizations that help shape policies.

Those partnerships are occurring thanks to supportive people throughout Los Angeles, including some connections close to home like UCLA Luskin alumnus Kevin Medina, program coordinator for the LGBT Campus Resource Center at UCLA. He got his job upon graduation in 2016 with master’s degrees in social welfare and public policy.

Guihama and Administrative Specialist Justin De Toro stopped by his office recently to discuss key assistance Medina is providing to the new major. Guihama noted that Medina had been instrumental in connecting her with a “very large organization in Los Angeles” as a possible internship sponsor.

“I definitely engage with our community in person, as well as through our digital resources,” Medina explained. “We usually have a resource or career fair for LGBTQ and social justice organizations that exist in Los Angeles. We also engage with folks constantly for their paid internship opportunities — for career development for our students.”

Discussions are also underway about placing future Public Affairs students as interns at UCLA’s LGBT Campus Resource Center.

“We know that there are so many centers on campus doing work that is relevant to our students’ interests,” Guihama noted. “So, we hope to connect students to experiential learning opportunities both on and off campus, where students can develop an understanding of what it takes to create social change.”

In his job, Medina provides personal counseling to people “who are at various stages of coming out or [exploring] various relationships to their personal intersectional LGBTQ identity.” His point of view is not far removed from the concerns of many undergraduates.

For example, Medina stressed that “desirability of location is an important advantage of UCLA in terms of quality of life — particularly for folks with multiple marginalized identities. Where am I going to feel safe? Where am I going to find a community?”

For him, that sense of community extends to UCLA Luskin, and Medina is excited to play a role in helping the new major grow. Guihama hopes others — both recent graduates like Medina and the many older UCLA alumni who work in the Los Angeles area — will follow his example.

The experiential learning opportunities are envisioned as an essential step in the undergraduates’ educations, which will culminate with capstone projects.

“The internships have to allow students to test what they’ve learned in the classroom,” Guihama explained. “The senior capstone experience is not only about being out in the community. It’s taking those experiences back to the classroom, reflecting on them, and then building a capstone project with and for the organization that has hosted the student.”

Potential partners may contact Guihama by email or call (310) 569-4491.

Her Personal Journey Forged a Path for Others Founder of outreach to women in the sex business is named alumna of year by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare

By Mary Braswell

Harmony (Dust) Grillo clearly recalls those moments when she knew she could change the trajectory of her life.

At a group home where she lived briefly in high school, a counselor told her he was going to college because “‘I’m going to be the first black president of the United States.’” He was not Barack Obama. But his words made her rethink her opinion that school was a waste of time.

“I remember really being moved by his belief in himself and his audacity,” Grillo said. “And I made a decision that day that education could be a life raft for me, to get me out of the situation that I was in.”

That situation was forged by a childhood of trauma. Since the age of 5, she had suffered sexual and emotional abuse. At 13, she was left to care for her 8-year-old brother for three months, with nothing more than $20 and a book of food stamps. In her teen years, she became entangled in toxic relationships with men in her neighborhood.

By age 19, she had $35,000 in debt. Her boyfriend persuaded her to earn money as a stripper, just for a couple of months. Three years later, she was still in the business.

Grillo had not given up on her education. With a 4.0 GPA from Santa Monica College, she had been accepted at UCLA. By day, she was a studious psychology major. By night, she was “Monique” at a strip club near LAX.

Then came the next pivot that changed Grillo’s life. A friend encouraged her to come to church, where she heard over and over that she was made for a purpose.

“I was in the club one night, and it just dawned on me that this couldn’t be what I was put on this planet to do,” she said.

Grillo walked away from the strip clubs, the controlling boyfriend and the belief that she had no power over her life. Her calling, she decided, was to use her pain to help others heal. And then came another turning point.

She was on track to earn a Ph.D. in psychology but switched to the MSW program at UCLA Luskin.

“People who can afford psychologists don’t tend to be the kind of clients that I felt drawn to. That’s why I switched over to social work,” she said.

Just as she began her graduate studies in 2003, Grillo launched Treasures, an outreach to women caught up in the sex business. The timing was perfect, she said. She used research assignments, literature reviews and behavior analysis to expand her understanding of women in the commercial sex industry, as well as her own past.

“I began to recognize that, oh, this thing that I keep seeing, these women who again and again feel like they just can’t take that next step forward, oh, it’s learned helplessness,” she said.

At the Luskin School, Grillo earned a spot in the competitive CalSWEC program, which funds graduate education in exchange for service in the Los Angeles County child protective services.

“Harmony had this kind of light about her, this energy,” said Laura Alongi Brinderson, who has been with CalSWEC since 2001 and now serves as its coordinator. “She really had compassion and empathy for people who walked a difficult road.”

Alongi has followed Grillo’s career as it branched out from direct outreach to program development, fundraising and “how to keep an agency running.”

“Part of our mission at Luskin is to encourage leadership, and she really has established herself as a leader in her field. She has created a national hub for this type of work,” Alongi said. “It’s been incredible what she’s been able to do.”

Since Grillo received her MSW in 2005, Treasures has blossomed. From their base in the San Fernando Valley, known as the capital of the porn industry, the staff of four has trained a multitude of volunteers from 120 cities on six continents.

“It can be overwhelming,” said Grillo, who is also kept busy with a husband, 10-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, as well as the recently published second edition of her memoir, “Scars and Stilettos.”

Her faith-based nonprofit interacts with women in strip clubs and the porn industry, on online forums where sex is sold, and in juvenile detention centers. Its signature outreach is a small gift bag with donated cosmetics and resources. No pressure, Grillo said, just information.

For women who choose to leave the sex industry, Treasures offers many services, including a survivor-led support group, financial assistance, even a wardrobe closet. This spring, the closet was filled with elegant dresses that women could wear to the nonprofit’s annual fundraising gala.

In May, UCLA Luskin honored Grillo’s accomplishments by naming her the Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumna of the Year.

“When I’m looking at the trajectory of my life, and I’m looking at those defining moments along the way, I see people who had an opportunity to influence my life” — an important reminder for those in the field of social work, Grillo said. “Maybe they never knew what kind of impact they were having. But they had an impact.”

Nelson Esparza MPP ’15 Named Public Policy Alumnus of the Year New member of the Fresno City Council is honored at alumni reception and luncheon

Public Policy hosted its 21st annual alumni reception and luncheon on May 18, part of UCLA’s campuswide Centennial Launch. Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, who recently won election to Fresno’s City Council, was honored as 2019 Alumnus of the Year. Esparza thanked his UCLA Luskin professors, staff and peers, adding, “When one of us gets elected to office or serves in a position and does good in the community … that reflects greatly upon all of us.” Two first-year students were awarded fellowships made possible by an alumni fund. Irma Castaneda was recognized as “an extremely driven, organized and selfless person who is often looking for ways to help others, especially first-generation students and those who are not well-represented and advocated for in both the MPP and higher education overall.” Devon Schechinger was honored for bringing together classmates in social gatherings aimed at “making our communities and our environment healthier and safer. … She has the quiet determination of an effective change maker.”

UCLA Luskin has followed Esparza’s journey as a public servant:

 

‘My experience at the Luskin School was just invaluable. It wasn’t just the nitty-gritty of the public policy that we got into in the classroom. It was the leadership aspects that I was able to engage in with my peers inside and outside of the classroom.’ — Esparza after winning election to the Fresno City Council in 2018

Read more: UCLA Luskin Alumni Emerge as Local Leaders With Election Wins

‘The Board of Education is especially personal because I am the students of my district. I faced the same barriers and obstacles that students in my district are battling every day.’ — Esparza after winning a seat on the Fresno County School Board in 2016

Read more: A Crash Course in Politics

View photos from Public Policy’s alumni reception on Flickr.

Public Policy Alumni Reception and Luncheon