content from Luskin Forum magazine

Alumni Notes

NEW ACCOMPLISHMENTS FOR 2 ALUMNI IN TRANSPORTATION

Maddy Ruvolo MURP ’20 was appointed to serve on the board of a federal agency that promotes accessibility, especially in transportation, for disabled people. 

Ruvolo currently works at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. She has spent her career ensuring that disabled people can seamlessly navigate their neighborhood and surrounding areas. 

Ruvolo, 29, is younger than the Americans With Disabilities Act and told the San Francisco Examiner that fact illustrates “how long so many people in the disability community have been waiting for accessibility. We’ve made huge strides, but there’s so much work yet to do.”

In the same article, Ruvolo said she believes San Francisco has been exemplary at offering micromobility — transportation that uses lightweight vehicles, especially electric ones borrowed through self-service rental programs, as an inclusive option for disabled people. With this opportunity to work with the Biden administration, she wants to take that concept and apply it on a grander scale across the country.

woman poses with buses in background

Lupita Ibarra

Lupita Ibarra ’10 MURP ’12 was recently hired to lead the City of Montebello’s Department of Transportation. 

In her role, Ibarra oversees the day-to-day operations of seven local routes, one express route, a semi-fixed-route feeder service, and a dial-a-taxi service. 

Ibarra was previously the senior operations manager in the Transportation Management Center of San Francisco MTA, where she developed operator forecasts, carried superintendent responsibilities within the light rail operating division, and led the development of new initiatives that included route and systemwide studies of service levels, operations, demand and strategic planning. 

In a story posted by TransitTalent, an online site focusing on the transit industry, Ibarra says, “I am very excited to return to Southern California, where I grew up riding public transit … bringing with me a decade of experience managing major transportation systems in San Francisco. My goal is to improve the riding experience for our passengers, which we will achieve through improving the reliability and safety of the system, investing in a modern and sustainable fleet all while making [Montebello Bus Lines] a great place to work.”


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Culver City Mayor Daniel Lee

SOCIAL WELFARE ALUMNUS IS NOW CULVER CITY’S MAYOR

Daniel Lee MSW ’15 is serving his first term as the mayor of Culver City following a previous term as vice mayor.

He became the first African American member of the Culver City Council upon election in 2018.

Lee has said that his inspiration to be of service comes from his grandmother, who participated with Martin Luther King Jr. in the Montgomery bus boycott.

Lee, who earned his doctorate at USC in 2021, is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and California Air National Guard. He was formerly a filmmaker and actor, and, for 17 years, volunteered with El Rincon Elementary School students in an artist and communication program.

He has also been a social worker and a union-affiliated campaign worker. Lee’s current and past affiliations include the Board of Directors for Move to Amend, the Backbone Campaign, Mockingbird Incubator and the Clean Power Alliance.

In addition, Lee served on the Culver City Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee for seven years. He developed a civil rights curriculum that was implemented at the city’s Teen Center to increase young people’s understanding of their country’s history.


 

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Sasha Wisotsky Kergan

URBAN PLANNING GRADUATES RECEIVE STATE APPOINTMENTS

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has appointed two alumnae of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning to new positions with statewide impact. 

Sacramento resident Sasha Wisotsky Kergan MA UP ’10 has been appointed as the deputy secretary of housing and consumer relations at the Business Consumer Services and Housing Agency. This is not Kergan’s first time working at the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s Division of Housing Policy Development. Since 2017, she has held the positions of housing policy specialist, housing policy manager, and data and research unit chief. In addition, she was asset manager at the Oakland Housing Authority from 2015 to 2017. While at UCLA, she emphasized real estate development and finance in her studies.

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Lande Ajose

Oakland resident Lande Ajose MA UP ’95 has been appointed to the California Cradle-to-Career Data System Governing Board. Ajose has been vice president and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California since 2021. She was senior policy advisor for higher education in Newsom’s office from 2019 to 2021, where she chaired the Governor’s Council for Postsecondary Education. Throughout Ajose’s career, she has focused on improving the lives of Californians. She works in state government, private philanthropy and research institutions to do so. Her research interests include addressing issues of inequality through education and employment.


 

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Maria Rosario Jackson

URBAN PLANNING ALUMNA LEADS NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS

Urban Planning alumna Maria Rosario Jackson Ph.D. ’96 has been confirmed as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, becoming the first African American and Mexican American woman to lead the federal agency. 

“The arts are critical to our well-being, to robust economies and to healthy communities where all people can thrive,” said Jackson, a professor at Arizona State University who has served on the National Council on the Arts since 2013. 

For more than 25 years, Jackson’s work has focused on understanding and elevating arts, culture and design as critical elements of strong communities. 

She has served as an advisor on philanthropic programs and investments at national, regional and local foundations, including the Los Angeles County Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She serves on the board of directors of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, among other organizations, and her work appears in a wide range of professional and academic publications. 

She also taught a UCLA course on arts, culture and community revitalization. 

Jackson grew up in South Los Angeles and credits her parents with instilling a love of the arts in her family.


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Aurea Montes Rodriguez

MSW ALUMNA SPEAKS DURING UCLA CHANGEMAKERS SUMMIT 

UCLA Luskin alumna Aurea Montes-Rodriguez BA ’97 MSW ’99, participated in March 2022 in the UCLA Alumni Association’s three-day summit, known as Changemakers.

The summit is designed to empower attendees to gain the knowledge needed to champion diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Montes-Rodriguez is executive vice president at Community Coalition. 

She spoke virtually along with other UCLA alumni: John Ho Song ’85, executive director, Koreatown Youth and Community Center, and Henry Perez ’00 MA ’03, associate director, InnerCity Struggle. 

Montes-Rodriguez has worked at Community Coalition for more than 20 years. In 2017, she was named Social Welfare Alumna of the Year, an award that honors Joseph A. Nunn, a UCLA alumnus and former vice chair and longtime former director of field education for UCLA Social Welfare.

Born in Mexico and raised in South Los Angeles, Montes-Rodriguez developed a passion for creating change at the local level. She has been a key leader responsible for building Community Coalition’s youth programs to fight for educational equity, leading efforts to keep children in family care and out of the foster care system, helping to build organizing capacity in South L.A., and leading a capital campaign to transform the organization’s headquarters into a state-of-the-art hub for community organizing.

Alumni Accolades Job changes and other updates from UCLA Luskin graduates

Jane Davis MSW ’16 accepted a new position at UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services as a staff social worker.

Joshua Baum BA ’15 MURP ’18 is the new research analyst for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, performing a multitude of economic and planning research tasks to inform contract negotiations, legislative initiatives and other activities across the organization.

Kimberly (Clark) Macakiage MPP ’02 is the director of 1115 Medicaid Waiver and Accountable Care at Austin Travis County Integral Care. She also will be one of the panelists at the 2022 Texas State of Reform conference, serving on a session about financing models for addressing the social determinants in health and wellness.

Elisabeth (Furbush) Mitha MPP ’08 is now the recruitment consultant at Springpoint, a national nonprofit organization that partners with select school districts and networks to design and launch new secondary schools that bring all students to college and career readiness.

Cara Vallier MPP ’02 is in a new position as mayoral assistant for the city of Seattle. Vallier is one of many UCLA Luskin alums who work in municipal government. 

Triple Bruin Silvia R. González BA ’09 MURP ’13 UP Ph.D. ’21 is now the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative’s director of research. Previously, González was the founding assistant director at UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and has previously collaborated with UCLA LPPI before taking on the new position. She is a proud Latina first-generation Ph.D.

Jaime Nack ’98 MPP ’02, founder and president of three squares inc., created a program for the UCLA Alumni Association called Bruin Business 100. The program highlights the determination and entrepreneurial spirit of Bruins. In its inaugural year, Bruin Business 100 will recognize the outstanding achievements of Bruin entrepreneurs, expand and connect the Bruin network, and inspire further innovation.

Kimberly (Lewis) Mundhenk ’02 MPP ’07 now holds a new position as education research and evaluation administrator of the Accountability Development and Policy Analysis Unit at the California Department of Education. Mundhenk is one of the dozens of MPP alumni working in education policy at all academic levels and organizations, including local, state and federal government, plus school districts, nonprofits and even locations overseas.

Vidya Sundaram MPP/MBA ’06 is the co-founder and CEO of Family Engagement. In March, Sundaram joined fellow Asian American female education leaders at the SXSW EDU conference session “Asian American Women Leading in EdTech” to discuss how their voices are critical in creating the tools and services used in education today.

In Support Meyer Luskin sharing life lessons is among recent events, gifts and fellowship efforts

Meyer Luskin, benefactor and namesake of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, spoke to UCLA students about leadership skills and responsible entrepreneurship at a March 3 gathering held in person and via Zoom.

Luskin shared stories from a long and varied career in investment advising, oil and gas, rental cars, beauty schools and, ultimately, the recycling of food waste. Scope Industries, the company he has led for more than six decades, turns tons of bakery goods that would otherwise have gone to landfills into food for livestock.

“Meyer is a businessman who invented a business, and that’s not common,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said at the event. “Meyer had an idea, and his idea was to take something most people threw away and make it into something useful.”

Luskin’s talk included stories from his own UCLA education, which was interrupted by a tour of duty during World War II, and his experiences facing anti-Semitism as a young businessman. Luskin advised students embarking on their careers to examine their motivations, acknowledge conflicts of interests and uphold the highest ethics.

“You have to be retrospective about yourself,” he said. “You have to take time to think about what you’ve done and where you’re going and who you are and what you want.”

He encouraged those blessed with success in business to act responsibly and generously.

“The first principle is get good people, pay them well, think about them,” he said. “When you do something that’s right, it comes back and helps you. … It just works that way in a long life.”

Meyer and Renee Luskin also visited with many of the student fellows currently receiving their financial support while pursuing UCLA degrees, an opportunity that is a meaningful highlight for the Luskins and students that had not been able to take place face-to-face for two years because of the pandemic.


Panelists were Jarrett Barrios, Nina Revoyr and Ruby Bolaria-Shifrin, all of whom work in the philanthropic sphere.

SPEAKERS DISCUSS EQUITY, DIVERSITY DURING FIRESIDE CHAT

“Foundations and Racial Justice — Creating the Pathway for More Equitable and Inclusive Communities” brought together philanthropic leaders on March 31 for a virtual discussion of the critical role that foundations play in funding and working together for a more equitable and inclusive society.

Dean Gary Segura served as moderator. Panelists were Jarrett Barrios, senior vice president of strategic community and programmatic initiatives for the California Community Foundation; Nina Revoyr, executive director of Ballmer Group’s philanthropic efforts in Los Angeles County and California; and Ruby Bolaria-Shifrin, director of housing affordability at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

“If we always wait until we are sure,” said Revoyr about making decisions in unfamiliar circumstances, “we’re never going to do it.”

The event was organized by the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) committee of the Luskin School advisory board and schoolwide departmental leadership in support of UCLA Luskin’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion funds. 

The financial support provided to students from underrepresented backgrounds advances the goal of diversifying the fields of public policy, social work and urban planning, providing several types
of support: 

  • Funded internships with nonprofit community organizations that otherwise couldn’t afford to provide a paid internship. This is a double win: The student gets paid while gaining professional experience, and the community organization gets a funded temporary position.
  • Student fellowships, allowing students to devote more time to learning instead of having to hold down a job or being saddled with an unsustainable debt load.
  • Creation of these fireside chats to support opportunities for students to meet in small groups with professionals in the field. The goal is to discuss pressing social issues and the i mplication on their work within public affairs.

In addition, board members Laura Shell, Vivian Rescalvo, Lourdes Castro Ramirez and Jacqueline Waggoner hosted a salon focused on EDI fundraising on May 3 at Shell’s home. The salon is an extension of the EDI efforts by Ramirez and Waggoner highlighted in the previous issue of Luskin Forum.


Los Angeles city planner Ken Bernstein, right, gave remarks at a Senior Fellows event in the fall. Photos by Mary Braswell and Amy Tierney

MENTORS, MENTEES CELEBRATE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF SENIOR FELLOWS 

The Luskin School celebrated 25 years of mentorship and meaningful engagement through the Senior Fellows program on May 24. 

The mission of the premier leadership career training program is to engage prominent leaders as role models for graduate students from UCLA Luskin Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning. The program features policy, public service and community leaders who serve as mentors to guide Luskin students toward careers in the public interest.

The special occasion also provided an opportunity to honor and reflect upon the work of VC Powe, who was the heart of the program for years prior to her death in 2020. Her leadership, dedication and finesse in matching Senior Fellows to students was integral to its success. 

In recognition of the 25th anniversary and in memory of VC, the school also launched a successful fundraising campaign that raised over $25,000 to help sustain and grow this valuable program. The funds are being used to support programming and supplemental internship stipends
for students.


New scholarships for undergraduate public affairs students were established thanks to gifts from UCLA alumna and former congresswoman Lynn Schenk, left, and H. Pike Oliver, a UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumnus.

NEW SCHOLARSHIPS BENEFIT PUBLIC AFFAIRS MAJORS

Several well-deserving students were selected as the first recipients of two new undergraduate scholarships beginning in the spring quarter. 

Established by UCLA alumna and former congresswoman Lynn Schenk, the Congresswoman Lynn Schenk Capstone Scholarship in Public Affairs will support students completing the required experiential learning capstone opportunity during their senior year. UCLA Luskin undergraduate majors participate in a three-quarter experiential learning capstone program that integrates the classroom and community. This experience gives students the opportunity to build practical expertise while also deepening understanding of their coursework.

The second award was established by H. Pike Oliver MA UP ’73 as the H. Pike Oliver Scholarship in Public Affairs to support students from underrepresented communities with an interest in addressing complex interdisciplinary issues related to urban and regional development. Students pursuing the public affairs degree are deeply engaged in learning skills and gaining knowledge that will improve how people live and help communities thrive. 

Like Schenk and Oliver, donors can create scholarships through current-expenditure or endowed gifts, providing essential support
to students whose academic promise and career goals embody the mission of the Luskin School.


people seated in foreground listen to speaker at podium while a screen shows an image of Martin Wachs

Students, colleagues and friends gathered to honor the legacy of transportation scholar Martin Wachs. Photo by Mary Braswell

URBAN PLANNING CELEBRATES 50 (PLUS!) YEARS AT UCLA

Half a century after the study of urban planning got its start at UCLA, alumni, faculty and friends returned to campus to celebrate the program’s enduring focus on activism and equity. 

Throughout the spring quarter, several of the nation’s thought leaders on urban planning and environmental justice shared their scholarship in a series of lectures. The commemoration included reflections on the legacy of the late Professor Martin Wachs, a renowned educator, researcher and influencer of transportation policy and planning. 

The celebration culminated on May 14 with a keynote speech by Dolores Hayden, a scholar of the history of the American urban landscape, followed by a festive gathering in the UCLA Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden outside the Public Affairs Building that houses the Luskin School.

Alumni and friends are encouraged to support the Urban Planning department’s current top priority: student fellowships. By contributing to this fund, you help allow students to devote more time to learning instead of having to hold down a job or being saddled with an unsustainable debt load.

Dean’s Message

As some of you know, the Luskin School is a bit unusual compared with other institutions. 

The juxtaposition of Social Welfare, Urban Planning and Public Policy sets us apart from most other universities where schools of Social Work and schools of Public Policy are often standalone units, while Urban Planning rests in Design, Architecture or Environmental colleges. Policy and planning can occasionally be found together, but to have the three disciplines together makes the Luskin School something of a unicorn.

This is to our benefit, I believe. When I share our vision with donors, scholars and prospective students, I talk about our unique capacity to examine human well-being from different levels and units of analysis. At UCLA Luskin, we are interested in individuals, families and organizations; municipalities, metros and regions; states, nations and the globe. This is a strength. But to make use of this variety of perspectives, we require places — real and virtual — for faculty with these perspectives to share, cooperate and collaborate. This is the key virtue of our centers and institutes — to serve as a locus of dialogue and collaboration across the entire School.

The Luskin School is blessed to have sizable clusters of faculty interested in housing and homelessness, transportation, the environment, health and mental health, youth and child development, criminal justice and policing, international policymaking and its impacts, race, class and inequality, and so much more. What these various foci have in common is that each has faculty and student researchers in more than one department and, in some instances, all three. In order for the School to have its greatest impact, as a locus for pathbreaking research and to provide the best possible training for our students at every level, breaking down the organizational silos is critical.

In addition, nearly all UCLA Luskin centers/institutes have active participation from faculty outside of the School, within which the research unit provides a mechanism of collaboration and interdisciplinary dialogue. Today, faculty from dozens of departments and programs across nearly every division/school on the campus participate in one or more UCLA Luskin research center.

In this issue of Luskin Forum, we highlight some of the excellent work being done by these centers and institutes, and the ways in which that work advances the mission of the Luskin School. 

And there is much, much more to come.

Forward!

Gary

Faculty, Students United by Their International Interests  

A desire to bring about change in a world that sorely needs it drew three UCLA Luskin undergrads to the Global Lab for Research in Action.

Joey Lu, Karlinna Sanchez and Anjani Trivedi spent their senior year immersed in research aimed at improving the health of women and children around the world — the primary focus of the Global Lab, which was launched at UCLA Luskin in 2019. They translated scholarly texts into persuasive op-eds and policy briefs, and used their skills in digital media and design to increase the audience for the lab’s important work.

“I really like that the Global Lab focuses on under-researched, hard-to-reach populations and doesn’t treat them like people cast aside but like people we could learn from,” Sanchez said.

The Global Lab is one of several UCLA Luskin entities with a distinctly international focus. The Latin American Cities Initiative, established by Associate Professor Paavo Monkkonen in 2019, fosters cross-border collaboration among students, scholars and professionals in the planning and policy fields. Often referred to as Ciudades, the initiative puts an emphasis on discerning shared lessons from different urban cultures. 

Since 2014, Global Public Affairs has offered Luskin School graduate students a chance to study abroad, learn from top scholars from across the UCLA campus and earn certificates in any of several international concentrations. GPA is led by Professor Michael Storper, who was also instrumental in developing an Urban Planning dual-degree program that includes a year studying in Paris.

UCLA Luskin also broadened its geographic scope with two ventures helmed by Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Helmut Anheier: the transdisciplinary social sciences journal Global Perspectives, published by University of California Press, and the Berggruen Governance Index, a data-rich evaluation of the effectiveness of governments worldwide.

At the Global Lab, research on the well-being of vulnerable people around the world is led by Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah, the center’s director and an expert in microeconomics, health policy and international development. 

That research portfolio resonated with the trio of interns. 

Lu said a trip to Ghana after her freshman year opened her eyes to the powerful forces that keep some countries mired in poverty, and led her to triple major in public affairs, sociology and international development. 

Childhood trips back to her birthplace, India, exposed Trivedi to different lifestyles, heightening her interest in comparative economics and helping her think about her own place in the world.

Sanchez grew up in American Samoa, a U.S. territory that “everyone forgets about,” where their public school lacked tables and chairs and their classmates fell into apathy.

“I just see so much potential in my peers, in my population, but no one invests in them,” said Sanchez, who uses they/them pronouns.

The three were attracted to the Global Lab’s research but also its call to action. They worked closely with founding Deputy Director Janine N’jie David MPP ’14, and credited her with shaping a shared public affairs capstone project that would steep them in the research that intrigued them while tapping into their own talents to advance the lab’s mission.

The interns’ aim was to communicate the Global Lab’s work in compelling ways while refining its brand and digital presence. Over the year, the team revamped the lab’s website, stepped up its social media presence, created monthly newsletters and supported its events, taking care to measure the impact of each step of the communications strategy. 

In the end, Trivedi said, “it’s the people that have made this experience the most rewarding. This is a company culture where everyone is so passionate about what they do and they have this intrinsic motivation to create change.”

A New Hub at the Intersection of ‘Multiple Vulnerabilities’  

UCLA Luskin’s newest research initiative is deeply rooted in the community, with the aim of improving the well-being of its most vulnerable members. 

Launched in late 2019, the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice (HHIPP) connects scholars, policymakers and advocates for those battling poverty, racism, homophobia and discrimination of all kinds.

“We really see HHIPP as in service to Los Angeles’ diverse communities, especially those at the intersection of multiple vulnerabilities,” said Social Welfare Professor Ian Holloway, director of the initiative.

In his long career in research, Holloway has focused on health policy through a social justice lens, working closely with Social Welfare faculty colleague Ayako Miyashita Ochoa.

“When we looked across all of our projects, one of the unifying themes was that we always started with our community partnerships,” Holloway said. “We centered the needs and priorities of the communities that we’re engaged with: lots of diverse LGBTQ+ communities, BIPOC communities, communities of people who use different substances or who are street-connected.”

This has led to innovative and collaborative projects including one using machine learning algorithms to provide personalized information about HIV prevention to gay and bisexual young men. A team led by Miyashita Ochoa is working with people involved in L.A. County’s sex trade to measure the impact of a new state law that prohibits law enforcement from using condoms as evidence of sex work.

HHIPP is also tracking the trajectory of cannabis use among LGBTQ young people in the state. This includes efforts to understand high rates of tobacco use among gender-non-conforming youth, including the role of targeted marketing campaigns.

“And so the idea for HHIPP was really to unify all of these streams of research under one hub,” Holloway said.

HHIPP is committed to making its research widely accessible to the public. To share early findings from the hub’s tobacco-related research, Holloway hosted a webinar tied to LGBTQ Health Week and Transgender Day of Visibility.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when the School’s signature Luskin Summit went virtual, HHIPP used the platform to share information on the coronavirus’ impact on the opioid crisis and the role of telemedicine in protecting sexual health.

Even though the pandemic lockdown struck HHIPP just as it was getting off the ground, Holloway noted that the COVID era also brought new opportunities, including development of a proposal to create community-based tools for vaccine promotion and delivery.

“We certainly have seized the moment in terms of trying to understand the impact of COVID on the communities that we’re serving,” he said.

HHIPP’s work has been funded by a variety of organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, the California HIV/AIDS Research Program and the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. The initiative established a cross-cutting advisory board and continues to launch partnerships with community groups across Southern California.

Looking down the road, Holloway envisions a brick-and-mortar field site where HHIPP can truly serve the community. Local residents could come to the site for social services or health and mental health support. Scholars could co-create research alongside community members, and Social Welfare, Urban Planning and Public Policy students could develop their skills in real time and alongside policymakers.

“Bridging worlds together and locating power in community would be very aligned with our ethos at HHIPP,” Holloway said. “I think that that is one strategy that moves us closer to achieving our vision.”

An Institute Whose Name Is Also Its Mission

Upon receiving the naming gift from Meyer and Renee Luskin, the School embarked on a self-examination to codify a path forward. One goal identified a decade ago by the planning task force reads: “position UCLA Luskin as a national leader in analyzing and teaching about the root causes and consequences of inequality in America.” How? Create a research center — and that became the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, now in its sixth year. That name didn’t spring forth easily, however. Learn that history and more about the Institute, known for providing a voice for activists and advocates, from our former dean, the Institute’s founding director and a doctoral student who has been with the Institute almost since the beginning.

Frank Gilliam, whose tenure as dean at the Luskin School ended in 2015 when he became chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The Luskins are very interested in inequality and in a just society. It was the thing that they hammered home over and over. 

We started talking about creating a research action center to address that. And we fumbled in the weeds a bit for a couple of years, trying to figure out a name, trying to figure out what the institute would look like and the issues that it would work on.

It was called Institute X for a couple of years because we couldn’t figure out the name. And then, finally, we landed on two big concepts that, as it turns out now, often seem to be under attack. On the one hand, democracy, and on the other hand, equality. 

Ananya Roy, founding director of the Institute and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography 

You didn’t want to call it the Institute for Social Justice?

Gilliam: We worried that social justice had such heavy quantitative meaning that people wouldn’t be able to give [the Institute] a chance to do the work, even settle on what it ought to be. So, we stayed away from that.

Roy: I think the name is a really interesting provocation. It prompted me to look at the ways in which democracies, inequality persist. How? Why? And what do we do
about that?

I had spent much of my academic career at UC Berkeley. And I was willing to make the move and serve as founding director of this institute because I found this to be such a wonderful and unusual opportunity.

I looked closely at other centers that are focused on inequality at other universities — Harvard, Stanford. And most of them focused on inequality but did not think about democracy simultaneously. None of them thought about space and cities. Almost none had serious relationships with communities and movements, and almost all of them were focused exclusively on the U.S.

Most of them were led by economists, so I said, “OK, we’re going to do something different here” and take very seriously this question of power, political power, or collective action of what a radical meaningful democracy would mean. What it means to actually think about issues such as housing in relation to rights.

We’re going to do this by paying close attention to the spaces in which people actually live their lives and struggle with these forms of inequality. And we are going to recognize the connections across different parts of the world.

What makes us different, even from other centers in the Luskin School and at UCLA, is that we realize that we can’t do this work without building deep relationships of trust with the communities that are actually most impacted by inequality. 

In Los Angeles, this is everything from unhoused communities to working-class communities of color
facing eviction to the communities that are subject to racialized policing.

In my early years as a director, I spent a lot of time getting to know movements in these communities, spending time at community events and with community organizations. I joked early on that L.A. is the sort of city — this was before COVID — that you showed love by showing up. You braved the traffic and you showed up consistently. … And sit in the back of the room and listen and learn.

Now we have research partnerships with movement organizations … the research we do is often “homework” assigned to us by communities in need and by movements that are doing the advocacy work.

I’m very proud … we’ve done our work with integrity. Powerful universities are often mistrusted by communities that are suffering. They’re worried about how academic research almost extracts their stories, puts it on display without giving anything back.

We try very much to do the opposite. I call this research justice. It is about being accountable to the communities most impacted and to those whose futures and whose reality we are writing about. 

Mostly importantly, we believe that they have the right to critique us, to call us out and to say, “You didn’t do this properly. Do it again.”

Hilary Malson, a June 2022 doctoral graduate in urban planning who is among the many students who have worked with Roy or received funding through the Institute

My first introduction to working with the Institute actually started before I set foot on campus. Professor Roy, she reached out to me once I was admitted as a Ph.D. student and asked me to consult on a grant that she was putting together.

I have previous work experience in public history … as a curatorial research assistant at the Smithsonian Institution. From the moment I arrived on campus, I was involved in stewarding that housing justice and unequal city research coordination.

My independent dissertation work … analyzes Black displacement from cities through a critical Black diaspora studies lens. So, instead of quantifying and mapping the losses of gentrification — how many people no longer live here, for instance — I ask, what does community building look like for a people that has faced ongoing, generational displacement and dispersal.

The work that we have undertaken on housing justice is community-based, first and foremost, which means it is fundamentally and primarily accountable to the communities with whom we study and from whom we learn so much.

Gilliam: The work that this center does is extraordinarily important. And I think the thing that separates it — its secret sauce — is that it also translates into action. And that’s the part I’d hoped for.

But it took Professor Roy to make that happen, and I’m so glad it did.

Faculty Also Lead Research Centers Across Campus

Several research centers based outside of UCLA Luskin are led by one of our faculty. Here are two examples, both of which changed directors in the summer of 2021. The first involves a newly hired faculty member, and the other is a longtime professor who has taken on a new responsibility. 

Veronica Terriquez Ph.D. sociology ’09, hired into the position of director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center and as an associate professor of urban planning and Chicana/o Studies

Tell us about yourself, the center and your first year as its director. 

I’m a proud daughter of Mexican immigrants with 100-year roots in the L.A. area. I really believe that higher education is an important tool for addressing issues of equity and inclusion. 

We are doing a lot that is addressing the needs of young people as they seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustices that they have experienced in recent years. I’m leading some projects that focus on that, take a participatory action research approach to understanding the needs of young people, which includes meetings with adolescents and young adults — high school through their 20s. 

A lot of people have suffered during this pandemic, but young people, particularly those in low-income communities, have encountered multiple setbacks to their healthy and successful transitions to adulthood. And part of what I want to do is figure out exactly what is going on so the research can inform local and state investments in young people. 

I’m also developing work to support ethnic studies implementation at the high school level. I’m hoping that the Chicano Studies Research Center could serve as an additional resource for supporting efforts by educators across the state to bring quality ethnic studies to the classroom and to train the next generation of teachers. 

What lies ahead?

I hope that there will be more targeted and quality investments in the lives of young people who are most impacted by social inequalities. And, if those investments are made in the long term, we will see reduced economic and social inequalities in the state of California and beyond.

Professor Susanna Hecht is director of the Center for Brazilian Studies at UCLA.

Susanna Hecht, professor of urban planning, a specialist on tropical development in Latin America who has affiliations in Geography and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA

Please talk about your new role.

I am delighted to be the director of the Center for Brazilian Studies. First, because Brazil is so amazing, and it has been a major site of rethinking so many paradigms about development. Brazil has been an engine of products, concepts and practices that have really changed how people look at things. 

It’s reshaped how we think about conservation. 

Now everyone listens to Brazilian music, has seen Brazilian movies, likes to eat açai bowls and other Brazilian food, and has at least heard of Amazonia. It’s not quite as exotic, although it still maintains the allure of the beaches — its beauty and its beauties! 

When and why was this center created?

Area studies, in general, are an outcome of the Cold War. The isolation of different forms of knowledge across academia made it difficult for understanding of localities through a number of dimensions, including their languages and literatures, their histories, their anthropologies, and their sociology, politics and geography. The geopolitics of the time and the extensive intervention of the U.S. as a novel political power brought a need for consolidation of forms of knowledge in the training of students and fostering interaction between scholars of different kinds. 

These sites also became important areas of critique of American policy and politics in the developing areas that they encompassed. 

Brazil’s new constitution was written in 1988 and it became a template for constitutions in Latin America. It recognized indigenous rights and Afro-descendent land rights, and it paid attention to the new array of environmental questions. 

So much of Latin America is in the tropics, which are seeing deforestation and many extraordinarily important consequences of climate change, including species extinction and changes to livelihoods, both urban and rural. 

Area studies, generally, are useful venues for thinking globally. And in places like Los Angeles, which has become more international in its population — and its arts, music, foods and livelihoods —  area studies centers have been venues for rethinking the relationship of Los Angeles and the world. 

As time went on, large centers like the Latin American Institute realized that its regions were very distinctive, and each needed its own arena of study. This was certainly true of the Brazil Center.

Luskin Center for Innovation and a Case Study of Community-Led Research

One of the cornerstones of many research center efforts at UCLA Luskin is community-driven research. Take, for example, the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) project, with evaluation spearheaded by the Luskin Center for Innovation. Work at UCLA related to TCC has been going on for many years and in many forms, ranging from policy decision guidance for state officials to on-the-ground documentation of grassroots climate action. The team from the Luskin Center for Innovation is tracking hundreds of millions of dollars invested in local climate action. For example, they’re measuring the impacts of energy efficiency upgrades, like smart thermostats and LED lighting, to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy bills. Taking you inside this effort are researchers affiliated with the Luskin Center for Innovation, who are all UCLA Luskin alumni.

Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10, co-executive director; Silvia R. González BA ’09, MURP ’13, UP Ph.D. ’21, director of research, UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and an LCI-affiliated scholar; Jason Karpman MURP ’16, project director; and graduate researcher Elena Hernandez, MURP and MPH ’22

Tell us about what TCC is and how UCLA got involved.

González: TCC is all about recognizing the strengths of community institutions and individuals who are pushing forward environmental justice policies.

It’s focused on the ground-breaking climate action that’s happening in communities across California, with a focus on disadvantaged communities that have historically experienced disinvestments. Many of these residents are on the front lines of climate change. 

The program encourages their visions for climate resilience by supporting them with power and financial resources. It’s really a leading example of local climate action.

Callahan: We first got involved because the state wanted to understand if the program was on the right track. We were called in as evaluators. And evaluation is really important to tell you a number of things: Like are we setting ourselves up for success? Do we have the right ingredients in place, the right kind of logic model or theory of change established? And are we putting in the right investments to achieve this vision?

The Luskin Center has a long track record of doing policy-applied research and working very closely with state administrators to improve their programs. So, this reputation of creating actionable research, plus the longstanding relationships we’ve had with local community organizations, have been essential.

Can you describe those relationships? 

González: In the case of Pacoima — one of the communities that we’re working with — UCLA Luskin has a long-term relationship with Pacoima Beautiful [a grassroots environmental justice organization], and there’s an established trust. We’ve taken time to build a relationship with communities around us. For instance, Veronica Padilla [executive director of Pacoima Beautiful] graduated from the master’s in urban planning program. Before joining the evaluation team, I had been working with Pacoima Beautiful for years even prior to TCC. 

But long-standing relationships aren’t always the case for researchers. There’s always a lot of mistrust in communities of color with outsiders coming in.

It was really easy to work with community members since we had a long-standing history together. The trust we built over time enabled us to speak directly with residents and staff of community organizations. That access helped us gather new insights in our research that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. 

Karpman: To add to that, one of the reasons Pacoima chose us as an evaluator is the collaborative work that UCLA has already been doing in the community, particularly through Silvia, while at the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, and the work that she and Professor Vinit Mukhija did as part of a Luskin MURP comprehensive project class. 

They developed a displacement avoidance plan in collaboration with residents. It was really a generative endeavor that turned into new research projects and partnerships. It’s been cool to see how that project has endured even after the students have graduated.  

Describe examples of what community-led research looks like in the TCC project. 

González: The TCC’s evaluation approach of community-based research isn’t just surface-level. It’s about our research methods, the principles that are guiding the on-the-ground work, and the way the project is amplifying the voices of community members.

Hernandez: For instance, we attend as many in-person events as we can, and we try to attend all of the collation meetings with other local organizations. We’ll go to neighborhood fairs and speak directly to residents. We walk a fine line between being a partner and an evaluator. We’re there to collect data, but also to support the site. 

We also want to make sure that our research deliverables are actually useful, so it’s not an extractive one-way street where researchers get data and then leave. It’s actually beneficial.

Our annual progress reports show impacts of the community’s work, with detailed numbers and profiles of residents. They showcase the community’s accomplishments with TCC.

They’ve been really meaningful to the community members. I always enjoy talking to residents and hearing what’s important to them. It’s fun to see how they light up when they talk about their projects. They’re really proud.

What type of impacts has the research had?

Karpman: It’s really informing active discussions about how to address climate change in an equitable way. Our work as an evaluator is going to help inform the degree to which this model gets replicated across the country.

Callahan: TCC is now part of the national dialogue around making federal climate investments more equitable, and federal agencies are looking at TCC as a model. Our research is documenting the benefits of resourcing and empowering historically underserved communities to realize their visions for community health, well-being and prosperity while combating the climate crisis.

González: Another impact is that it opens up an opportunity to bring in a more diverse set of researchers to UCLA who are interested in equity-focused work, and researchers that come from the front-line communities. 

That’s one of the benefits that I see for the Luskin Center, that now you’re going to have people like me and like Elena, who come with a diverse set of experiences or identities. That will have an impact over the long run.

Karpman: That’s a good point. Since we’ve started working on TCC, the racial and socioeconomic diversity
of our graduate student research pool is really different. 

Hernandez: In this project, I feel seen. This is research that I can be part of and give back to my community. 

At the same time, this is a way to highlight the stories of community members. Because at the end of the day, they’re the ones doing the important work.

The Young and Mighty LPPI

Research centers are born for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s just the right thing for a public research institution like UCLA to do. In the case of the Latino Policy and Politics Institute (formerly Initiative), “it was the single-biggest missing element in the School,” said Gary Segura, who co-founded LPPI soon after he became dean at UCLA Luskin in 2017. “We were a school of public affairs in a state that is 43-44% Latino, and we didn’t have any faculty expertise focused on that area.” Learn more about LPPI, which has attained funding of $13.5 million in just five years of existence,  from its founding director, a current student fellow and an alumna whose time with LPPI has proven crucial to her career.

Sonja Diaz MPP ’10, founding director of LPPI

What are you working on now?

A U.S. Latino data hub will create a portal for the first time of taking government data and disaggregating it by Latino subgroups. So, you’ll get a sense of the differences between Cubans in Florida and Puerto Ricans in Florida. And that, frankly, hasn’t been done across a number of indicators, from housing to the environment to voter registration. The second big project is a summit, and we’re trying to create a programmatic nexus between our scholars, our staff and our different policymaking audiences, lawmakers and researchers who need the support to have a Latino lens. We’re hoping to convene people in Washington, D.C., and establish a national presence for LPPI.

How did your directorship at LPPI come about and what has it meant for you personally?

I was leaving a position with a statewide constitutional officer at a time when we expected a different outcome from our 2016 U.S. presidential election. And it made sense for me to look at UCLA, which is personal to me and my family. My father received a Ph.D. in urban planning here when I was a toddler. Some of his faculty are my colleagues today. And in that way, it’s been one continuous line. What I didn’t expect was to be given the opportunity to marry policy and research. 

Now, after being on this job for a number of years, I am recognizing the impact that we’ve had, not only in the students that have walked through our doors, and even our staff colleagues, but to our community members. It has been mind-blowing. 

Recent successes of note?

Two things happened in ’20-21 that I think were so important for LPPI, but also for the Latino community writ large. The first was our work to advance full representation of Latino politicians to an important body, which is the U.S. Senate. And that was cemented with Gov. [Gavin] Newsom’s appointment of now-Sen. Alex Padilla, the first Latino in over 170 years to occupy that office.

The second thing, and this was happening at the same time, was providing a data lens to the COVID vaccine policy in the state of California that, in many ways, had disenfranchised youthful racial minorities, including Latinos, in the face of the evisceration of Latino households during COVID-19. And our work with over 40 community organizations, based on our data analysis, really changed course for the state and made it so it wasn’t just wealthy and older Californians who had access to the vaccine, but the hardest-hit communities that were working on the front lines.

Bryanna Ruiz Fernandez, an LPPI student fellow who majored in political science and minored in public affairs and Chicano/a studies and who will join the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a policy fellow after graduation

Talk about yourself, your role at LPPI and your future plans.

I am a proud product of immigrants. I come from a mixed-status household. We are from a border town, El Centro, California. I actually grew up in Mexico for part of my childhood, until I was around 8 years old. And then we immigrated to the United States. Spanish is actually my language of birth. And my mom, just recently, I was able to sponsor her for residency, for her green card.

She just became a U.S. resident, and it was a huge deal for the family because of the laws that can be discriminatory and negatively impact one’s life. 

And my dad is in the process. 

I understand immigration policy firsthand, and when it’s not properly researched by people with firsthand experience or who are culturally competent, what kind of impact it can have on communities of color, like my family.

I feel very fortunate to have been a fellow for LPPI for, basically, my entire undergraduate career.

In the classroom, I was learning methods and these broad concepts, but I didn’t really understand, especially as a first-generation college student, how that applies to the real world.

As a fellow, I was able to work with UCLA faculty. I was able to see firsthand how they conduct research, how they write reports. And on the other hand, I was also able to see how that research needs to be amplified. Because if we’re doing research and no one knows about it, then what impact is it actually having?

woman with short hair smiles broadly

MPP and MSW alumna Gabriela Solis Torres

Gabriela Solis Torres, MPP and MSW ’19, a founding student fellow at LPPI who now works as a project leader for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab in Houston, Texas

Please explain your work.

We’re a research and technical assistance organization that provides support to governments who are pursuing ways to combat some of the most complex social challenges. That’s things like trying to reform the criminal justice system or the child welfare system, or trying to address homelessness.

A lot of things have changed because of the pandemic. But a big change in my work came after the murder of George Floyd. Harris County, where Houston is, and a lot of other jurisdictions across the United States started thinking about what their policing looks like and really started exploring, I think, more seriously the alternatives to their emergency response approach.

And now I’m leading our portfolio for alternatives. I provide technical assistance to five jurisdictions across the United States that are implementing alternatives such as sending unarmed teams to 9-1-1 calls. 

Did your experience with LPPI have a direct relationship to what you do now?

For me, I think it really opened my worldview. I came into the Luskin School from a direct service background. I was a case manager doing outreach with folks who were homeless in Venice and Venice Beach, and I thought I wanted to be a clinician. I was going to school to study social work and learn to do therapy.

But I was thinking too much of the macro, always complaining about the rules and the limitations. And I was advised to get a public policy degree. And I didn’t really know anything about public policy. I think being at Luskin and then participating in LPPI really changed my worldview and my whole career track completely.

I like working directly with governments. I grew up in East Los Angeles. I’m first in my family to go to college and have a professional job. My dad used to work in a factory. My mom was a stay-at-home mother. And I had no access to professional spaces. 

Another thing has to do with access. I had never really talked to anyone who was an official, and LPPI was my first exposure to people who had a lot of power or influence. 

I remember when I first came to UCLA Luskin and received the Monica Salinas Fellowship, which was created by a successful marriage and family therapist, and I got to have dinner at their house. And that was, like, so fancy! It was the first time I’d ever been in a space like that. And it was very cool because she was also a Latina and was very supportive of the work. 

Then, with LPPI, I would help organize panels or events, which meant having to manage details with elected officials or work with very high-level stakeholders. It helped me develop confidence that is applied to my job.

Every day now, I work with mayors, city managers, the director of an emergency communications center. Those experiences at UCLA were very pivotal in assuring me,
“I know how to communicate. I know how to write. I know what I’m talking about.”

How did you get involved with LPPI?

I found out that Sonja was opening the shop, and I just went to talk to her in her office. There was no formality. This thing is happening, let’s go. And I think I was the first or second person she hired. 

What I really appreciated from working with her was the true openness to being collaborators, making me feel like my opinion was important, that she actually cared about it. 

Myself, and Sonja, and the other student fellows were a team. And we got real. It was a growth environment where everyone was expected to step up. If you didn’t know something, your mentality was: “I’ll learn how to do it.” 

We understood that we were in a startup environment. … I have very fond memories of that time and just feeling like I was helping to set up something that was big. And I take pride that LPPI is where it is now.