3 Alumni Are True Change Agents When recruiting for gender, cultural and ethnic diversity, founders of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors start at UCLA

By Les Dunseith

Working together from a restored 1920s office building in the heart of a city they are helping to revitalize, three graduates of the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning program are fulfilling a shared vision of diversity and innovation.

Their goal? Change the world.

“UCLA, when we went there — and I think it is still the case today — is really about integration,” says Jennifer LeSar MA UP ’92, one of the founding partners of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors. “You are not just a transportation planner or an affordable housing person or an environmental planner. You understand the integration of it all.”

The company, which provides strategic counsel to public agencies, foundations, business associations and civic organizations, reflects the partners’ deep respect for each other, a bond that first formed about three decades ago for LeSar and her close friend and company co-founder Cecilia V. Estolano MA UP ’91. Through professional interactions, they later met their third business partner, Katherine Perez-Estolano MA UP ’97, and her values were closely aligned.

“We knew that there were diverse people of color who were anxious to make a difference,” says Perez-Estolano.

ELP Advisors and its sister firm, San Diego-based LeSar Development Consultants, makes a point of recruiting smart, talented people who reflect the gender, cultural and ethnic diversity of Southern California.

“Every time I would go and meet with other people who had their own companies, their top folks were all white men,” Perez-Estolano remembers. “And I thought this is not the world that we are planning for.”

Their vision crystalized at UCLA — they cite faculty members such as Martin Wachs, Joan Ling MA UP ’82 and Goetz Wolff as key influencers — and their commitment to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs remains a vital aspect of their personal and business interactions today. All three are active in alumni activities, and Estolano and Perez-Estalano have both served as Luskin Senior Fellows. They coordinated a visit by a delegation of planners from Panama a few years ago. Their firm also hosted a reception for Professor Ananya Roy when she first came to UCLA in 2015.

And the close association with UCLA has benefited the company as well. Three of ELP Advisors’ six full-time employees are also UCLA Luskin alumni, and the firm has employed a steady stream of interns from the Luskin School since its founding in 2011.

LeSar notes the “amazing talent pool at UCLA.” Estolano says their firms are a direct reflection of the “particular way that UCLA teaches students how to be urban planners. In order to be an activist planner, you have to have strong sense of civic purpose.”

Estolano continues:  “The idea of building a company owned by three women with multiple core competencies in Southern California, the most diverse place in the country, based upon the graduate educations and work experience that we have had, and an ability to hire staff  out of the institutions from which have come, was our vision then and still is to this day.”

Their many professional accomplishments contributed to the three founders’ decision to join forces at ELP Advisors. But there is a personal side to it, too.

Katherine Perez, a former Deputy to Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, and Cecilia Estolano, the former chief executive officer of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, married in 2013. LeSar’s spouse is San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, who served as Assembly Speaker from 2014 until March of this year.

The three also believe that their backgrounds mesh particularly well. “If you look at Katherine’s career, and my career, and Cecilia’s career, we have all worked in different sectors,” says LeSar, who also has an MBA from UCLA and is an expert in community development and real estate finance. Estolano, who is a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, has expertise in sustainable economic development and urban revitalization. Perez-Estolano, who in 2013 was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the board of directors of the California High Speed Rail Authority, brings knowledge of transportation and stakeholder engagement.

They have a professional contact list — “a giant Rolodex” as Perez-Estolano notes it once would have been called — that few companies can match.

It has helped them land clients such as Los Angeles County, the Metropolitan Water District, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Goldhirsh Foundation. The latter is a great example of the firms’ strengths, Estolano says.

The Goldhirsh Foundation “wanted to completely change their approach” to philanthropy and orient it toward making L.A. the best it can be by 2050. The resulting 2050 Report “really put us on the map,” Estolano recalls. “And the folks we hired to do a lot of the analysis, gather the data and design the report, they are just top-flight. And they are still working with us.”

ELP Advisors takes pride in solving solutions that have stumped others.  “We are just scrappy,” Estolano says, “and resourceful. We are smart people, and we have  broad-ranging interests. So, if a client has a difficult problem and they really can’t figure out how to get at it, sometimes they just give us a call and ask us what we think. And I say, sure, we know how to do that. We can figure it out!”

Success hasn’t always come easily, however. For one, they started ELP Advisors while the Great Recession was still dragging down the economy and hindering new projects. Then, just a few months after ELP Advisors opened for business, Gov. Brown dissolved the state’s redevelopment agency.

“We formed at a time that, in hindsight, was the worst possible,” LeSar recalls.

But they quickly adapted, putting their knowledge to good use to help clients adapt to the new reality they were facing. “So,” Estolano says, “we made lemonade out of lemons! What we thought would be a negative for us ended up creating a base for our company to expand.”

LeSar adds, “We learned some hard lessons, and that’s OK. You know, most small businesses don’t survive. Most women-owned businesses don’t survive. Most businesses of color don’t survive. And I don’t really know any other businesses today that are quite like ours.”

Each partner brings talents that complement the others. They say their success is based on hard work and smart choices. And it’s also based on staying true to their principles: Inclusion. Diversity. Gender equality. Community engagement.

“You live in our city, you live in our neighborhood, and you have a right to participate in these processes,” Perez-Estolano says about the firm’s commitment to getting involved at every level. “We had people who would understand how they could actually change the outcome by getting involved, participating on local city commissions, by running for city councils, by running for county offices or state offices. That was, to me, the pipeline of future leadership.”

A recent example of this commitment to the community is a project spearheaded by Estolano and Tulsi Patel MURP ’14, a senior associate at ELP Advisors. The L.A. Bioscience Hub and its Biotech Leaders Academy launched in summer 2016 to promote entrepreneurship training for community college students from underrepresented groups. The pilot program, funded by a grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation, introduced 10 students of color (six of them women) to professional opportunities related to a growing biosciences sector in the East Los Angeles area.

It’s another example of the three UCLA graduates’ commitment to open doors for people who might not otherwise get a chance to succeed. It also shows their dedication to the value of education, which underlies everything they do, including their advice to current and future UCLA Luskin students about what it takes to succeed.

“I think the core skills are in writing, research and quantitative analysis,” LeSar says. “And be a creative thinker!”

For Perez-Estolano, being adaptable is important. “The world changes rapidly today,” she says, “and you have to embrace that as a planner.”

Estolano advises today’s students to take full advantage of their educations at UCLA Luskin. “Your classmates are going to be your greatest network,” she says. “Do not turn your back on the school. Your school can be a huge asset for you, and even if you can only do a little bit, always give to this school.”

“It’s about changing the future,” she says. “If you have a commitment to keeping the school strong — to honor its mission — it will continue to graduate people that will change the world.”

 

From left, Leah Hubbard, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano MA UP ’96, Jennifer Lesar MA UP ’91, Cecilia Estolano MA UP ’91, Richard France MA UP ’10, Cynthia Guzman MURP ’12 and Tulsi Patel MURP ’14. Photo by George Foulsham

Melinda Morgan Named Social Welfare Alumna of 2014 The two-time UCLA Luskin Alumna Melinda Morgan will accept her 2014 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year award on April 26th

Two-time UCLA Luskin Alumna Melinda Morgan (MSW ’89,  PhD ’98) has been named the 2014 Dr. Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year by the Department of Social Welfare for her commitment to helping military families.

For over six  years, Morgan has served as site director of the Camp Pendleton FOCUS Program. FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) is a resilience training program for military families, children, and couples implemented in 2008, in collaboration with the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. The program, now part of the UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center, is in operation in over 20 sites around the world and has provided services to over 500,000 service members and their families.

Morgan teaches as a field instructor for the University of Southern California San Diego Academic Center for Military Social Work and supervises interns placed at FOCUS. In addition, she works as a consultant for the National Military Family Association as an embedded team member in Operation Purple Camps for military families throughout the country.

Prior to receiving her MSW and PhD from UCLA, Morgan was a probation officer working primarily with Latino youth gangs and worked as a psychiatric social worker During her program at UCLA, Morgan maintained a private practice in psychotherapy, and was a co-investigator and assistant professor for UCLA’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology researching neurophysiologic correlates of women’s mood disorders. For the majority of her academic career, Morgan also raised four children as a single parent.

While one of Morgan’s favorite things to do is go on kayaking trips in the Sea of Cortez, she gladly will forgo a beach trip for the annual MSW Alumni Reception on Saturday, April 26 where she will accept her 2014 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year award.

 

 

Debra Duardo Named Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Debra Duardo, a 1996 Master of Social Welfare graduate from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and LAUSD Student Health Director, has been selected to receive the Joseph A. Nunn Award

By Joe Luk

Debra Duardo, a 1996 Master of Social Welfare graduate from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, has been selected to receive the Joseph A. Nunn Award, honoring her as the department’s Alumna of the Year. The award will be presented to Duardo in a ceremony on Saturday, April 20.

The Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year award recognizes outstanding social work professionals who have contributed leadership and service to the school, university, and/or community, and who have otherwise distinguished themselves through commitment and dedication to a particular area of social work.

Duardo is currently the executive director of student health and human services for Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the United States. As the executive director she is responsible for the administrative oversight of support services and district programs designed to address the physical health, mental health, and home and community barriers that prevent student academic success, including student medical services, school nursing, pupil services, dropout prevention and recovery, school mental health, community partnerships, and Medi-Cal programs.

In this role she manages a $100 million budget and over 3,000 employees including directors, specialists, pupil services and attendance counselors, psychiatric social workers, nurses, organization facilitators, and healthy start coordinators.

After graduating from UCLA with a major in Women Studies and Chicana/o Studies in 1994 Duardo earned her Master of Social Welfare degree at UCLA in 1996 with a specialization in school social work. Since that time she has earned her school administrative credential and is currently completing her Ed.D. in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. Following completion of her MSW, Debra started her career serving as a school social worker and the Healthy Start project director at Wilson High School.

She advanced to being the LAUSD Healthy Start District Administrator. Since that time she has served as assistant principal at Le Conte Middle School, the director of dropout prevention and recovery for LAUSD, and director of pupil services for LAUSD.  Through all of these positions she has maintained her focus on the important of health and social services for children and families.

The Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year award was established to honor Joseph A. Nunn, former director of field education at the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA. Dr. Nunn brought leadership and service to UCLA and the Social Welfare program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for over two decades. Dr. Nunn received his B.S., M.S.W. and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA. After working as a probation officer for 15 years, he became a member of the field education faculty in 1980, and except for a three-year, off-campus appointment, remained at UCLA until his retirement in 2006. During his last 15 years, he served with distinction as the director of field education and, simultaneous for the last decade, as vice chair of the Department of Social Welfare, where he supervised the field education program.

UP Doctoral Students Receive Rishwain Social Justice Entrepreneurship Awards Two urban planning doctoral students were recognized for their outstanding contributions to community based social entrepreneurship

The Center for Community Partnerships has announced the winners of the first Rishwain Social Justice Entrepreneurship Award:   Urban Planning doctoral students Ava Bromberg and John Scott-Railton were recognized for their outstanding contributions to community based social entrepreneurship, serving the community in ground-breaking ways.

Ava Bromberg created a Mobile Planning Lab, a converted camper designed to take urban planning issues to low-income residents in South Los Angeles. Working with the Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice and the United Neighbors in Defense against Displacement, she created the project “Visions for Vermont,” which helps to engage residents in land use plans by providing a mobile, neutral, and local setting for neighbors and city planners to go over models, maps and data, and to discuss the future development and growth of their communities. Her project has given a voice to residents to show city planners the concerns and comments of the neighborhood in order to create sustainable development.

Halfway across the world, in Dakar, Senegal, John Scott-Railton has been working to solve “collective action” problems in villages as they seek to deal with unseasonable rains and devastating floods that are related to climate change. Using inexpensive handheld technology, John has partnered with Senegalese universities, climate scientists and their students, non-profit organizations, and community members to apply sophisticated mapping techniques, hybridized surveys, and linked satellite mapping to the village level toward developing more effective, long-term parcel-based solutions. As Railton continues his fieldwork, he plans to redouble efforts to steer local officials towards a pilot program in which community members and the government share responsibility for mitigating flooding.

A ceremony was held in Royce Hall to honor the recipients for their social justice entrepreneurial work with opening remarks by Dean Franklin D. Gilliam Jr. of the School of Public Affairs and a keynote address by Professor Jonathan Greenblatt, Anderson School of Management.

For more details see the recent article at the website for the UCLA Newsroom.

Examining the Legacy of Slavery and Racism In an effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students' future careers, the School of Public Affairs hosted a film viewing and discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

By Robin Heffler
As part of a School of Public Affairs effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students’ future careers, some 170 students, faculty, and community members recently viewed a film and engaged in a lively discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

Hosted by Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, participants gathered on Jan. 19 in the screening room of the Acosta Training Complex to see an abridged version of the documentary film, Traces of the Trade.

In the film, which aired on PBS in 2008, producer and director Katrina Browne tells of her shocking discovery that the De Wolfs of Rhode Island, her prominent, Caucasian ancestors, were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Together with nine other De Wolf descendants, Browne retraces the slave-trade triangle — from Bristol, Rhode Island to slave forts in Ghana to a family plantation in Cuba and back to Bristol. Along the way, they struggle with the politics of race, how to “repair” the centuries-long damage of slavery, and their own Yankee culture and privilege.

After the screening, Browne reflected on one cousin’s insistence that he would have gone to Harvard even if he wasn’t from a privileged family. “When the wind is at your back you don’t notice it,” she said. “You don’t realize the forces supporting you as you move forward, but you do when you’re faced with obstacles to success.”

African-American co-producer Juanita Brown noted that “We must recognize that race is complex, and that black and white is only one element. We invite you to see this conversation as the jumping off point for conversations about other people and races.”

Program participants engaged in one-on-one discussions about the film, as well as a question-and-answer session.

“No one wants to associate with the oppressor because of the guilt and shame involved, but we need to acknowledge history and how it plays out in the present,” said Amy Smith, a first-year social welfare graduate student, who had just spent the day discussing white privilege in her class on “Cross-Cultural Awareness.” “And, since racism is a problem that affects everyone, everyone should be part of the solution.”

Associate Professor Laura Abrams, who along with Joy Crumpton and Gerardo Laviña leads the “Cross-Cultural Awareness” class in the Department of Social Welfare, saw the issues raised by the film as important for social workers. “In a helping profession, it’s easy to see clients as having made bad choices rather than seeing their lives as structured by disadvantages and inequalities related to race, class, and gender,” she said.

Gilliam, who served as an early advisor to the film, said the event was the second of a planned series of programs focused on social justice issues. Last year, the UCLA School of Public Affairs had an exchange with the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, with each school hosting conferences on how to talk about race in the context of graduate education in public affairs.

“We want to do a better job of giving students the analytical tools to examine issues of social justice, which they will need to deal with the people they will be helping when they graduate,” he said.

Gilliam said plans include developing a curriculum, research opportunities, and a summer institute related to social justice. Together with Student Affairs, he also would like to hold social-justice dialogues with undergraduates, who then would dialogue with Los Angeles-area high school students.

Heffler is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer and former UCLA editor

Public Policy Students Return from U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen Two public policy students were commended by the Los Angeles City Council for developing recommendations on how Los Angeles can face and minimize the impacts of climate change

By Joe Luk

Recently returning from the international conference in Copenhagen on climate change, two public policy students, Alexa Engleman (JD/MPP) and Dustin Maghamfar (JD/MPP) along with four of their Law School classmates were commended by the Los Angeles City Council for their work in developing recommendations for the City of Los Angeles.  These recommendations will be used in the City’s advocacy initiatives for state and national legislation to reduce global warming.

As reported in the Daily Bruin:

Dustin Maghamfar, a fourth-year law and public policy student, was one of the six students who attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and he said the delegation of students was very fortunate to have taken the trip. “It’s an incredible honor and immensely flattering,” Maghamfar said of the recognition given to the group.

Read the complete article here.