content from Luskin Forum magazine

Alumni Accolades The latest news and career highlights from alumni representing all four departments at the Luskin School

Tiffany Caldas MSW ’15 is now chief of staff at Partnership for Growth LA, a Black/Jewish community development corporation working toward community wellness and cooperative development in South and West Los Angeles.

Oceana R. Gilliam MPP 19 is now the chief of staff and justice deputy for Rep. Justin J. Pearson, Tennessee House of Representatives, District 86.

Todd Snyder MPP ’00 is now director of the Stormwater Department for the city of San Diego.

Kelsey Mulcahy MPP ’16 is now director of public affairs and agency partnerships at BlueLabs, an analytics and technology solutioning firm based in San Francisco.

Abraham Cheung MPP ’23 is a Presidential Management Fellow at the United States Census Bureau.

John Castillo MSW ’81 has been executive director of Walking Shield Inc. for 24+ years coordinating programs that provide shelter, health care, educational assistance and other aid to American Indian families. Castillo earned a PhD from Fielding Graduate University.

James D. Simon MSW ’06, LCSW was promoted to associate professor in the School of Social Work at Cal State Los Angeles. Simon earned a PhD from USC.

Gabriela Solis Torres MPP/ MSW ’19 was promoted to assistant director on the Criminal Justice Team at Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab (GPL).

Alba M. Velasquez MURP ’13 started a new position as executive director at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, a collective impact initiative working to make food healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable.

Daniela Simunovic MURP ’13 is now senior director of climate and sustainability in the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

Brian Wolfe BA in Public Affairs ’23 started a new position as transportation engineer/planner at the Orange County office of Fehr & Peers.

Paulina Torres BA in Public Affairs ’23 started a new position as constituent advocate at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Ashley Ceballos-Hernandez BA in Public Affairs and Labor Studies ’23 is now a CORO Fellow in Public Affairs for 2024.

Adriana Bernal BA in Public Affairs ’23 joined the Federation of Independent School Alumnae (FISA) Foundation as Communications Associate.

Alejandra Guerrero MURP ’18 is now deputy director at cityLAB UCLA.


In Support New members join Board of Advisors; EDI and Yaroslavsky funds benefit students

Nine new members have joined the Luskin School Board of Advisors. Each of them brings a wealth of experience, a commitment to our mission and a passion for making
a difference in our community.

Alec Nedelman is a leading real estate lawyer and marketing and business development advisor.

Alex Johnson is the vice president of public affairs at Bryson Gillette.

Cecilia Estolano is the CEO and founder of Estolano Advisors.

Juan Aquino is the senior manager of community development banking at Capital One Bank.

Maria Mehranian is a managing partner and chief financial officer at Cordoba Corp.

Nicole Mutchnik is the founder of California Democracy Fund. She currently sits on the executive committee of the Women’s
Political Committee, the board of Civicas LA, the DNC National Finance Committee.

Ronald W. Wong is the founder and CEO of Imprenta Communications Group.

Todd Sargent is the global organization development executive at The Walt Disney Company.

Jill Black Zalben is involved in operations and management at Black Equities Group.

Farewell to departing board members Tracy Colunga, Ann Sinclair and Richard Katz, we extend our deep appreciation for their contributions.


The concepts of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) have reshaped the landscape of higher education across the globe. For UCLA Luskin graduate students, these principles influence their experiences, opportunities and overall academic journey, thanks to several initiatives that demonstrate the School’s commitment to EDI.

Close-up photo of person with black hair and hoop earrings

Cecilia Nunez

One such initiative is the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Fund for Public Affairs summer award, which supports students so that they can take on unpaid summer internships.

Last summer, the award enabled MPP/MSW student Cecilia Nunez to intern at La Defensa, which advocates against mass incarceration and economic injustice in Los Angeles County. Nunez is also the recipient of the 2022-23 Graduate Opportunity Fellowship. She graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s in history and literature with a focus on Afro-Latin American studies, and previously worked as a pre-employment and transition facilitator at the Boston Center for Independent Living. Nunez’s goal is to build innovative policy and programming to empower and support Black and Brown communities and other marginalized groups.

Another UCLA Luskin Equity, Diversity and Inclusion summer award enabled MURP student Cass Wood to intern at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, a leading provider of services and support to queer and trans people.

Portrait image of person in patterned white shirt

Cass Wood

The UC Santa Cruz graduate in environmental studies joined the Luskin Urban Planning program to pursue research in hostile architecture and how socio-spatial injustice in the built environment perpetuates homogenous enclaves via spatial accessibility. Aside from urban planning, their research interests are gastro-imperialism and colonization.

The Luskin School’s EDI initiatives provide opportunities for students to share their perspectives in a diverse and inclusive environment and enrich their academic pursuits by challenging conventional wisdom and encouraging creative thinking. By empowering students and representing a wide array of voices, these initiatives have the potential to not only transform individual experiences but also contribute to the evolution of academia itself. As institutions continue to champion these values, they take a significant step toward a more just, diverse and vibrant educational landscape.

group photo of several people taken during tour of Venice Family Clinic.

MSW student Savanna Hogan, third from left, leads a tour of her internship site.


MSW student Savanna Hogan hosted a tour and lunch at the Venice Family Clinic, site of her summer internship made possible by UCLA Luskin’s Barbara Edelston Yaroslavsky Memorial Fund.

The clinic provides health services, ranging from dentistry to domestic violence intervention, to 45,000 low-income people annually. Hogan created materials to expand the advocacy infrastructure of the clinic, participated in various advocacy and policy committees, and engaged in visits with elected officials at National Health Center Week events.

“It has truly been such an incredible experience to be able to spend the summer working for a community health organization that has such deep roots and a rich history in caring for some of the most vulnerable populations living on west side of Los Angeles,” Hogan said.

Luskin School donors and guests from the nonprofit attended the site visit at the clinic’s Simms/Mann Health Center in Santa Monica. They included UCLA Luskin faculty member Zev Yaroslavsky BA ’71, MA ’72, who founded the Barbara Edelston Yaroslavsky Memorial Fund in honor of his late wife. Yaroslavsky told of his work on health care access during his tenure as an elected official in the city and county of Los Angeles, then led an engaging discussion about the history of funding local health care centers — including the Venice Family Clinic.

Hogan graduated from Cal State San Marcos with a bachelor’s in sociology and an emphasis in health, welfare and education. While she is pursuing her MSW at UCLA, she is also serving on the board of the Luskin Black Caucus and as a member of the Social Welfare Anti-Racist Committee.

Hogan aspires to help bridge the gaps of health inequities that marginalized people face through advocacy and practice. The site visit highlighted the importance of donations that fund student engagement with nonprofits, a critical component of the Luskin School, and build a bridge between academia and the real world.

“Community health centers will always have such a special place in my heart because they strive to be able to provide health equity and access for all, regardless of their socioeconomic status, immigration status or even their current housing status,” she said.

A Picturesque Welcome to the Luskin School Green spaces replace construction zones after seismic upgrades to Public Affairs Building

Splashes of color now ring the UCLA Luskin Public Affairs Building, replacing fences and scaffolding used during months of seismic upgrades.

With the completion of renovations in the summer of 2023, construction zones have been replaced by green spaces populated by native grasses and flowers, planted by UCLA Facilities Management in coordination with UCLA Sustainability and Hien McKnight, the School’s assistant dean for operations and administration.

Fescues, needlegrass and wildflowers in shades of red, yellow, purple, pink and white are among the 17 types of plants seeded throughout the strips of land.

They were chosen for their biodiversity, support of pollinators and climate resiliency, in keeping with the UCLA Landscape Plan, whose guiding principle is to model responsible environmental practices.

The beautification project marks the official end of the two-year renovation. While making the Public Affairs Building earthquake safe was the No. 1 goal, the project also included several other improvements, including:

  • Installation of a high-security system at building entrances.
  • Upgrades to restrooms, including two all-gender facilities with diaper-changing stations.
  • Addition of 10 hydration stations, six of which have bottle fillers.
  • Installation of shade structures in the 5th floor atrium.
  • Remodeling of the 5th floor kitchen area.
  • Mechanical upgrades to the building’s elevators.

The following native plants were used in the Luskin School’s new landscape:

  • Molate Creeping Red Fescue
  • Western Mokelumne Fescue
  • Idaho Fescue
  • Purple Needlegrass
  • California Poppy
  • Arroyo Lupine
  • Farewell-to-Spring
  • Baby Blue Eyes
  • Chinese Houses
  • Golden Lupine
  • Globe Gilia
  • Bird’s Eye
  • Five-Spot
  • Tidy Tips
  • White Yarrow
  • Mission Red Monkeyflower
  • Blue-Eyed Grass

Alumni Notes Career and job insights highlight a weeklong Alumni Engagement Week series of events

This academic year, UCLA Luskin’s Office of Students Affairs and Alumni Relations organized a weeklong Alumni Engagement Week that was filled with insightful discussions, reconnections and a warm “Cafecito con Luskin” gathering.

“Luskin Alumni Week is about celebrating our diverse community, bridging generational gaps, and sharing knowledge and experiences while building friendships,” said Karina Mascorro, director of alumni engagement.

Events included:

  • A CORO Fellows in Public Affairs Alumni panel, designed for undergraduate students interested in applying to the CORO Fellowship. The virtual panel discussion allowed alumna Adriana Bernal BA in Public Affairs and Labor Studies ’23, and alumnus Saman Haddad BA in Public Affairs ’23, currently residing on the East Coast, to share their experiences as previous CORO Fellows in Public Affairs.
  • An in-person Meet and Greet featuring Presidential Management Fellow alumna Sophia Li MPP 22. Li’s current assignment is with the Space Systems Command at Los Angeles Air Force Base.
  • A Sustainability Success Stories: Alumnae at the Forefront panel, which featured trailblazers in sustainability Colleen Callahan MURP ’10, Nurit Katz MPP and MBA ’08, Kristen Torres Pawling MURP ’12 and Daniela Simunovic MURP ’13. They shared success stories and told of challenges they’ve overcome over a light lunch and while networking with attendees. 
  • “Cafecito con Luskin” at the charming Alcove Cafe in Los Feliz. This casual alumni meet-up was perfect for connecting, sharing ideas and enjoying coffee and freshly baked treats.
  • A Long Beach Management Assistant Alumni Panel. During the virtual panel discussion, Mary Dao MPP ’20, Alvin Teng MPP ’18 and Ryan Kurtzman MPP ’18 shared their experiences and career journeys.


portrait photo of Amanda Morrall

Amanda Morrall

Amanda Morrall MPP ’14 has been selected as a 2023-2024 Obama Foundation Scholar.

Known for its rigorous selection process, the scholars program identifies emerging leaders in the United States and globally who have made significant contributions to their communities. Obama Scholars get the unique opportunity to advance their work through a comprehensive curriculum that blends academic learning, skills development and hands-on experiences.

Morrall has a long history of community building in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she previously served as the executive director of the Coretz Family Foundation. The private philanthropy seeks to advance equity by recognizing Tulsa’s history of racial violence and its lasting impact on communities of color today.

Morrall’s dedication to philanthropy and innovative thinking has earned her a well-deserved spot among the 30 emerging leaders selected this year as Obama Foundation Scholars. As the first African American and the fourth American to join the Columbia University global cohort, she continues to break barriers and inspire change.


portrait photo of Leslea Meyerhoff

Leslea Meyerhoff

Leslea Meyerhoff MA UP ’91, founder and CEO of Summit Environmental Group, Inc., recently earned a spot on the prestigious UCLA Alumni Bruin Business 100 list, which recognizes exceptional alumni entrepreneurs.

Meyerhoff is a coastal policy and environmental planning professional with over 20 years of experience. She and her team of environmental specialists at Summit offer services to California public and private sector clients in the following areas: coastal and land use policy; environmental impact assessment; project management and planning; and regulatory permitting and compliance.

Summit is a State of California Certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Woman Business Enterprise and Small Business Enterprise.

Why They Give Alumni donors Matt Kaczmarek, Aaron Ordower discuss impact of UCLA education on their careers

Two alumni donors and partners Matt Kaczmarek BA ’04 and Aaron Ordower MURP ’15 shared their thoughts about the value of a UCLA Luskin education and the way it has shaped their career trajectories. Kaczmarek, who majored in economic geography and political science and minored in public affairs, is currently global head of market strategy and sustainable investing for BlackRock Credit, following several senior appointments in the administration of President Barack Obama. Ordower is now environment deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath after serving in key policy roles for Los Angeles and New York City.

Talk about a transformative experience in your life that led you to your passion. 

Kaczmarek: As a leader on President Obama’s National Security Council, I experienced firsthand how much the personality, commitment, ingenuity and perseverance of our senior leaders determine the course of our nation’s history and maintain our national security. When I left government, I committed myself to do whatever I can to train and inspire future leaders, support and campaign for strong and thoughtful elected leaders, and support causes dedicated to growing future leaders, such as Luskin. And I’m grateful to have a partner in Aaron who shares these values and this commitment.

Ordower: Early in my career I worked for the World Bank (whose cafeteria I originally met Matt in!), where I focused on infrastructure, economic development and environmental projects in Latin America. I remember when one particularly devastating tropical storm swept through El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and literally washed away years of investments in human and physical infrastructure that my team and those governments had worked on over the past decade. Overnight, it was as if all the roads, water treatment plants, community infrastructure and all that progress on poverty alleviation had never happened. It illustrated to me how much climate change is an existential threat to life, property and economic prosperity, especially to low-income communities. This of course plays out in every corner of the globe, including here in California. That particular storm — and sadly there were many more which followed — was a catalyst for my career in sustainability.

How did the Luskin School help you get closer to your goal? 

Ordower: My master’s in urban and regional planning gave me concrete tools to advance my career and especially to develop equity-informed, multidisciplinary solutions to climate change. Luskin trained me to recognize that policy which is not grounded in economic justice and social equity is unlikely to succeed. I attribute some of my biggest professional accomplishments, such as passing New York City’s Climate Mobilization Act — the first major law in America to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from buildings — and passing the phase-out of oil and gas drilling in Los Angeles — the nation’s largest urban oilfield — to this multidisciplinary, technical training.

Kaczmarek: The Luskin minor was the highlight of my undergraduate experience at UCLA. My classes at Luskin taught me how to analyze policy issues that had always interested me, like water, land use and economic development. And how to build consensus toward strong policy solutions — a skill useful in any career field! I received a Dukakis summer scholarship to pursue an unpaid internship with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the Bay Area. I was humbled by my brilliant and committed colleagues and inspired to pursue a career in civil service.

Was there a moment or a person that was critical to your Luskin School experience? 

Kaczmarek: Mike Dukakis’ 1988 campaign is the first presidential election I can remember. For me to see him on TV at the convention as a kid and then as a young adult present to him on a real policy issue facing Los Angeles was the first time I realized that I could access and influence decision-makers. That motivation to earn a seat at the table led me to Sacramento, Washington and the West Wing of the White House, and then after government to New York and our major financial institutions.

Ordower: I had some excellent (alumni) practitioner faculty at Luskin who I really credit for helping me launch my career to the next phase. I took three classes with Joan Ling, an accomplished real estate and affordable housing developer. She put every one of us through the ringer and set the same expectations for us students as she would for a staff member of her development team. She invested in each one of us: She made herself available for office hours every weekend, made time to mentor anyone who asked and never hesitated to open a professional door or give career advice. And for me, she was an affirming LGBT role model who had served at the highest levels of government and real estate.

One of the things Joan would make us do when working on a housing studio was to formally present our hypothetical project to the City Council office and the head of the neighborhood council.  After one such meeting, the neighborhood council president liked our project so much that he invited us to pretend to be actual developers and to present the project to the full neighborhood council in a public meeting! The next neighborhood council meeting wasn’t until the next quarter, but Joan still took the time to coach us through this unorthodox exercise and even showed up with (metaphoric) popcorn to the presentation. This type of rigorous experiential learning set me, and so many of my peers, up to have impactful careers in economic, community and urban development.

What values do you hold closest in your life and work? 

Ordower: Always demonstrate kindness and empathy, even in the most trying of times. The most stressful time in my professional life was October-December of 2022, when my boss, Paul Krekorian, unexpectedly became Los Angeles Council President after Nury Martinez resigned in scandal. Overnight my duties quadrupled — having responsibility for sustainability policy and the city budget committee AND setting and leading the proceedings of the full City Council meetings at a time when vocal segments of the public didn’t want us to meet at all. Even before the tapes came out, we were in the final throes of a very competitive local election cycle, and L.A. politics was extremely factionalized and ugly. I’m sure I didn’t bat 1000, but I tried very hard to treat all the staff and members of the public with respect and empathy, even those working for scandal-embattled councilmembers or whose bosses were actively opposed to policy my boss was advocating. I’d like to think that setting that example helped in a small way to get us toward a more functioning and saner place in local politics. And during those three crazy months we were even able to pass some of the most impactful renter protections, economic justice and sustainability policies in recent memory.

Kaczmarek: Tim Geithner used to tell me as a young economist at the Treasury Department that I should always have a viewpoint polished and ready in case the president were to ask for it (which seemed unlikely at the time … until it happened!) but that you should never let your conviction be stronger than the evidence you have to support it. That advice has only gotten better with age. And as an appointee in the first presidential administration that welcomed openly LGBT officials, I’m committed to growing and supporting future LGBT leaders.

What is something people might not understand about the importance of your work, impact of funding and the Luskin School?

Kaczmarek: My experience has shown that education, training and experience are the keys to developing strong leaders. The combination of UCLA, Luskin and the policy laboratory of Los Angeles provide unparalleled opportunities to develop all three in one place. To support Luskin is to support a generation of leaders prepared for the challenges of real-world policymaking at the local, state, national and international level.

Ordower: Luskin is a great policy and research laboratory that directly informs impactful policy across the L.A. region and beyond. There are so many examples of a small progressive city like Santa Monica or West Hollywood taking a bold first step to pass policy, informed no doubt by UCLA researchers and alumni. After a year or two, larger jurisdictions like L.A. County and City often follow suit, and shortly thereafter it often becomes law in the state of California. And once we prove that it can succeed in the fourth largest economy in the world, it leads to changes in national policy. The UCLA to national policy pipeline is real!

Capture a Dream? 

Ordower: I now work for L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, where I lead her work on environmental sustainability. My dream is for L.A. County, and eventually our nation, to run on 100% clean energy, for our water resources to be 100% recycled and resilient, and for everyone, regardless of the neighborhood they live in, to have equal access to clean air, nature and a healthy place to live. I’m so fortunate that I get to contribute in many small ways to make this a reality in the most populous county in America.

How has philanthropy impacted you in your own life? 

Kaczmarek: When I moved from the public to the private sector, I worried about losing the public service motivation in my work. I now know I can have an even greater impact across a variety of ways to engage and support good public policy through mentorship, advocacy, volunteer service and philanthropy.

Ordower: I was extremely fortunate to be supported by scholarships and grants at UCLA. They helped to defray the costs of this very valuable education and without which I’m not sure I would have ended up in Westwood. Fellowships allowed me to focus on the most impactful experiences while enrolled at UCLA and made it possible for me to take unpaid internships that I directly attribute to my career trajectory. It is so important to me to give back to make sure others have these opportunities.

How have you seen the impact of your philanthropy play out?

Kaczmarek: It’s inspiring to meet the faculty and students at Luskin today who are applying the same approaches that transformed my life to today’s policy challenges. From solving the housing affordability and homelessness crisis to advancing sustainable cities, I am confident that the solutions to these challenges are being developed at Luskin, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Ordower: Every time I look around at who is working on cutting-edge applied research in urban planning, public policy, social policy and sustainability, all roads lead to UCLA. I have taken countless meetings with UCLA faculty, researchers and students, and they have helped me develop equitable, just and impactful policy for our region. Especially in the area of sustainability, I’m so impressed by the expanded breadth of faculty and applied research expertise in areas such as water resiliency, extreme heat and renewable energy. And I am probably in meetings with UCLA alumni every single day.  Giving to Luskin has a great return on investment: turning students into changemakers.

New Director of Field Education Is a Triple Bruin Susan Lares-Nakaoka is one of four faculty additions to UCLA Luskin Social Welfare this academic year

By Stan Paul

Susan Lares-Nakaoka is no stranger to UCLA or UCLA Luskin.

The holder of multiple degrees from UCLA, including an MSW and a UP PhD, Lares-Nakaoka was hired to fill the key program position formerly held by Gerry Laviña, who recently retired after a long tenure as director of field education.

Lares-Nakaoka’s most recent teaching post was at Cal State Long Beach as an assistant professor. She is excited about her return to the Westwood campus. “It has been such a big part of my life,” she said.

Three other new Social Welfare faculty additions are Tatiana Londoño, an assistant professor, and Erin Nakamura, a member of the field faculty, both of whom started in the fall, and Bianca Wilson, who came aboard as an associate professor in January.

Like Lares-Nakaoka, Nakamura and Wilson have previous ties to UCLA. Nakamura is a 2012 graduate of Luskin’s MSW program, and Wilson had been working at UCLA’s Williams Institute. Londoño comes to UCLA Luskin from the University of Texas at Austin, where she recently completed her PhD in social work. She also holds an MSSW from UT.

These faculty additions “bring a wealth of knowledge and experience and will certainly be an asset to our department and a great resource for our students,” said Laura Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.

Lares-Nakaoka, who also held acaemic posts at the University of Hawaii, Cal State Sacramento and Cal State Dominguez Hills, focuses her research and writing on the intersection of race and community development, critical race pedagogy, and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. She is lead author on a forthcoming book, “Critical Race Theory in Social Work,” as well as editor of an upcoming special issue on race and social justice in the Journal of Community Practice. She is also co-founder and co-director of the Critical Race Scholars in Social Work (CRSSW) collective.

She said her experience as director of field education at Cal State Dominguez Hills, which was a pioneer in teaching social work from a critical race theory perspective, was foundational to her approach to social work pedagogy.

“My area of interest is in racial justice issues, so I’m interested in seeing ways in which we can make a bigger impact in the L.A. area in terms of what can social work look like that has this lens of racial justice and anti-racism.”

Lares-Nakaoka believes that UCLA is poised to be a leader in this area.

“In L.A., it’s so appropriate with our diversity and history, of both successes and failures, in areas of racial justice,” she said. “It’s just such an opportunity for me to be at UCLA, where the nation’s experts on critical race theory reside.”

Nakamura, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), is working as a field liaison in a position partly funded through a grant from the California Department of Health Care Access (HCAI) to expand social welfare education at UCLA.

“Through the HCAI grant, I will be working to increase access to culturally and linguistically relevant behavioral health services for children, adults, and families in un- and underserved communities,” she said.

Nakamura said she also will work to promote a diverse and competent workforce through MSW student recruitment, development of behavioral health internship sites, specialized clinical trainings, and coursework that emphasizes cultural humility and competence, as well as accessible mentorship and support to students as they work toward clinical licensure.

“I’ll be also working in the community with the different behavioral health agencies that we’re going to be partnering with, so kind of the perfect integration of this micro and macro social work practice that I love,” Nakamura said.

She has previous experience as a field instructor and in teaching roles at universities, including at UCLA. Nakamura is teaching behavioral health courses and also maintains a private practice.

Nakamura described her return to campus as an amazing experience.

“I look forward to taking on this new role because the people who I sought out as field faculty when I was a student — they shaped my entire career and my life,” she said. “It feels very full circle to be working alongside those same individuals.”

Londoño, who is originally from Colombia and was raised in Miami, focuses on the mental health and psychosocial well-being of Latine/x immigrant youth and their families.

Londoño is currently involved in several studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A research emphasis on migration includes looking at how immigrant youth and families navigate and adapt to the psychosocial consequences of migration and resettlement. She is particularly interested in how immigration enforcement and practices in the U.S. play a role in their well-being.

“Something that’s really central to my work is being community-based,” said Londoño, who has conducted needs assessment and evaluation research related to study participants. “So, I will definitely be reaching out to organizations here working with immigrant and Latinx communities and slowly building those relationships.”

Joining Nakamura, Lares-Nakaoka and Londoño in January is Wilson, who holds master’s and PhD degrees — with a minor in statistics, methods and measurement — in psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on system-involved LGBTQ+ youth, LGBTQ+ poverty and sexual health among queer women.

“I’m looking forward to continuing in an interdisciplinary department, but now with a broad range of research topics,” she said. “This can create opportunities for collaboration but also for learning about the many areas of work I don’t focus on.”

In addition to being the Rabbi Zacky Senior Scholar of Public Policy at UCLA’s Williams Institute, as well as a researcher and senior scholar of public policy since 2011, Wilson has been a faculty affiliate at the UCLA California Center for Population Research since 2014. At UCLA Luskin, Wilson will focus on Social Welfare’s concentration in health and mental health across the life span, teaching courses in research, policy and human behavior.

Wilson said she also is excited to be working with students again.

“I look forward to working with them on their graduate work as well as students at all levels in the classrooms,” she said.

The new faculty hires in Social Welfare are enhancing both education and the School’s research portfolio in interesting areas of study and practice, Abrams said. “All of those topics are really speaking to what our students are interested in and what the community is asking for, so it’s an exciting time.”

For Lares-Nakaoka, a focus on ethnic-based community development corporations dates from her time as a doctoral student at UCLA Luskin.

“L.A. also has this very rich history of ethnic-based organizations,” she said, noting her ongoing involvement with organizations like the Little Tokyo Service Center that started with an MSW internship.

“There’s these amazing organizations with a rich social justice history from the 1970s and ’80s. I feel if we can work together to cultivate a type of social work that learns from them, we can ensure racial justice is a central part of social work practice.”

Lares-Nakaoka spent more than a dozen years working in social services and program development benefiting low-income residents.

She attended public schools in her hometown of Montebello, then pursued an undergraduate education at UCLA in history and sociology, graduating in 1991.

Lares-Nakaoka is looking forward to the opportunity to mentor current students. They are an impressive group, she said.

“UCLA students — they’re future leaders. It’s amazing some of the things they’ve already done,” she said. “They can articulate the plans they have for the future. You know they are going to go on and make a difference.”

UCLA feels like home, she said. “We’re very much a UCLA family. My whole family bleeds blue and gold.”

Making Data More Used and Useful Undergraduate courses meet growing desire of students like Arielle Cunanan to master new technologies

By Mary Braswell

Each year, the Los Angeles Unified School District surveys its students, parents, teachers and staff, collecting hundreds of thousands of responses to questions about academics, safety, campus climate, emotional maturity and more.

A group of UCLA Luskin students got the unique opportunity to take a deep dive into this massive pool of raw data, identifying trends and developing insights to help principals better understand their schools’ strengths and areas for improvement.

The undergraduates and a select group of master’s students were enrolled in “Data Analysis for Educational Equity and Improvement,” offered for the first time in spring 2023. It’s one of a number of new offerings added to the Public Affairs curriculum to meet a growing demand for data and technology courses in the social sciences.

“Our students care about the world and want to make a difference. And one of the ways we learn about the world is exploring data sets,” said Meredith Phillips, the associate professor of public policy who developed the course with funding from the UCLA Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research.

“It’s a way of introducing students to the joy of becoming a scholar and a discoverer. And that’s what’s awesome about a research university, right? We essentially spend much of our time learning new things.”

The class was an upper division offering, but every Public Affairs major must complete basic coursework in the tools of quantitative analysis. Some love it; others do not.

But undergrads who get a taste of multivariate regression and chi-squared tests and simply want more now have additional courses to choose from, including open spots in graduate-level classes offered by the Luskin School’s Public Policy and Urban Planning programs. Many go on to learn a new type of foreign language, including R, Python and SQL.

“We’re getting a lot of students who are interested in the intersection of data science, tech and public affairs,” said Erika Villanueva, director of student services for the undergraduate program.

“We’re always thinking about what else we can do with our curriculum to support our students and to augment what we already offer. So, it just became a natural progression to add to our research methods offerings.”

Undergrad Arielle Cunanan said her first encounter with statistical analysis came through Public Affairs 60, “Using Data to Learn About Society,” a core course taught by Phillips.

“I never touched coding, never touched data science or analytics or computer science — nothing before 60,” she said. “And Professor Phillips was amazing. She really cared about teaching us about statistics and data analysis specifically for public affairs and social justice issues.”

When Cunanan spotted Phillips’ new course on educational equity, she jumped at the chance to enroll.

Working on behalf of a local elementary school, she and her team sharpened their proficiency in R, the programming language used to clean, organize and analyze the trove of survey data from LAUSD.

“It was hard. It was stressful. There were late nights. But then we got into the groove,” said Cunanan, who is majoring in psychology with a public affairs minor.

As patterns began to emerge from the enormous pool of data, the students set out to share their findings. That led to another key skill the course emphasized: In addition to being scientifically sound, the discoveries drawn from data must also be clearly and powerfully communicated.

Cunanan said her team was grateful for the opportunity to deliver two presentations to the school’s leadership team.

“The first time around, it was a bunch of charts, a bunch of graphs, different bar plots about each variable. It was just throwing numbers at them, statistics, percentages,” she said.

“And so, the next time around, we put ourselves in their shoes and said, OK, if we’re the administration, what do we need to see to help us create change at our school based on these variables? How can we make this more understandable so that it’s actually helpful?”

The team distilled the most relevant findings and conveyed them in a simpler presentation with bullet points, a few targeted graphs and time for fielding questions.

The experience has turned Cunanan into a true believer in the power of data to compel social change. She says she is bent on learning every coding language she can during her time at UCLA.

“Once you feel like you sort of get it, it really teaches you how to do hard things,” she said. “For me, if I could do this, I could do anything.”

“Data Analysis for Educational Equity and Improvement” arose out of Phillips’ desire to teach students how to find data-informed solutions to the pressing needs of local schools.

It’s the type of work she has conducted for more than a decade as co-founder of the Los Angeles Education Research Institute at UCLA Luskin, a role that has put her in close collaboration with LAUSD decision-makers. The annual School Experience Survey has been a crucial resource in Phillips’ research.

“We had heard a lot of folks at the district saying we wish these survey data were more used and useful,” she said. “So I thought that there might be a really neat opportunity to help train students in data analysis and data communication, then use them as analysts for particular schools and principals.

“They use real data with a real audience, an audience that genuinely cares.”

Winning the Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research allowed Phillips to hire a team of undergraduates to help her develop and test the curriculum.

“The class is a really hands-on, applied class. It develops problem-solving skills and logic skills and communication skills,” she said.

“The students learn that data has many kinds of roles to play. It’s useful for telling stories, making arguments and for trying to understand the world — and for making the world better in education.”

Inequality and California Freeways: A Visual Journey Story map opens a window into the disproportionate impact on people of color of freeway routing near the Rose Bowl

By Mary Braswell

The research project was ambitious in scope, chronicling the history of racism in freeway development in California and assessing the damaging impacts that endure today.

More than 300 pages long, with 16 authors from UCLA and UC Davis, the final product is rich with data and insights about how to atone for past harms and ensure that future policies have equity at their center.

Once it was published in March 2023, the team at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies faced the next challenge: How best to convey the report’s findings to an audience both inside and outside academia?

To meet this goal, ITS researchers, communications specialists and graduate students tapped into storytelling tools powered by data science, opening a window into the expansive report by zeroing in on a single, illustrative case study: the decision to route the 210 freeway through a thriving Black neighborhood in Pasadena.

Using ArcGIS StoryMaps technology, the team wove together census data, charts, maps and historic photos to create an absorbing visual narrative of the planning decisions of the 1950s and ’60s that led to the displacement of nearly 3,000 predominantly Black residents.

The full report explores the siting of freeway projects in Pasadena, Pacoima, Sacramento and San José, said Claudia Bustamante, ITS communications manager, but “of all the cities that the researchers looked at, it was really Pasadena that had such a stark contrast showing what the freeway did because of its chosen route and what communities were impacted the most.”

Bustamante set out to brainstorm with ITS graduate student researcher and communications fellow Michael Rosen, whose interest in mastering the tools of data science led him to UCLA Luskin.

“A story map allows for the integration of visuals in a really cool way, and we wanted to use that specific tool to tell the Pasadena part of the story,” said Rosen, who earned his master’s in urban and regional planning in 2023. “No regular person is going to read hundreds of pages on the history of freeways, so the idea was to produce a more accessible version, looking at one slice of the report.”

Rosen distilled the 50-page Pasadena chapter into an outline for the project and worked with Bustamante to develop visual aids to tell the story. UCLA Luskin staff and students, including a team from the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, did the heavy lifting on data analysis. Principal investigator Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning and now interim dean of the Luskin School, and an ITS research project manager, Jacob L. Wasserman, reviewed the work to ensure that the study’s overarching message was conveyed.

The story map recalls a time when people of color were drawn to Pasadena’s northwestern neighborhoods for the area’s lively commercial district, Victorian- and Craftsman-influenced architecture, and an air of possibility. After World War II, however, the neighborhood’s fortunes began to change. Disinvestment, redlining and demolition projects euphemistically cast as “urban renewal” all set the stage for deliberations over which route the Foothill Freeway/Interstate 210 would take.

One option, known as the “Blue Route,” would have gone through a largely uninhabited but wealthier area near the Rose Bowl. Instead, state and city officials selected the “Green Route,” which displaced eight times as many homes, mostly occupied by people of color.

The decision prioritized protection of the natural surroundings near the venerated stadium’s parking lot. As a result, a community was cut in two by the 210 Freeway, with thousands of homes and businesses demolished. Those who remained were exposed to the known health hazards of freeways such as noise and auto emissions. Home values were significantly depressed relative to other parts of Pasadena.

“It is hard to interpret this series of events as anything other than a coordinated effort by local officials over decades to displace Black residents,” the researchers concluded.

Rosen said he was grateful for the opportunity to use the skills learned through his urban planning coursework to share an important piece of research. With a background in journalism, he came to the program with an interest in finding compelling ways to convey fact-based information. He gravitated toward courses such as Urban Data Science, taught by Professor Adam Millard-Ball, and GIS and Spatial Data Science, taught by Yoh Kawano, who earned his doctorate in urban planning at the Luskin School in 2020.

That skillset helped ITS achieve its overriding goal.

“In most of our work, we ask ourselves, ‘How do we tell this story in the best way?’” Bustamante said. “Researchers are going to read the research, but that’s not our only audience.”

View the “Freeways, Redlining and Racism” storymap.

Learning the Language of Technology Students like Rocio Perez MPP '23 can now earn a certificate to show they understand the power of programming in policy analysis

By Stan Paul

The second cohort of alumni to earn a new certificate from UCLA Luskin entered the workforce in June with proof of their technical capabilities.

Although quantitative and qualitative research have long been part of a graduate education at the Luskin School, the Data Analytics Certificate recognizes students who focus on techniques and resources related to quantitative data analytics with the aid of powerful programming languages such as Python and R.

“Data can change hearts and minds,” said Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, the professor of public policy and political science who started the program and serves as faculty lead. His own research and teaching focus on subnational conflict, statistics and advanced data analysis, including “big data.”

The certificate program has two benefits, Steinert-Threlkeld said, “and I think they’re equally important.” One signals to employers that a graduate has the ability to acquire, process, analyze and convey different data sets in general. The second benefit comes primarily from the program’s competency product requirement, which can be completed through class projects, a capstone project with a quantitative aspect, or doing work or an internship that involves using these programming tools.

Before coming to UCLA Luskin, Rocio Perez MPP ’23 had reached a point in her career where she couldn’t assist her supervisor with technical matters in the way she wanted.

“It felt like a missed opportunity. Had I had those skills, I would have been able to jump in and help my boss with analyzing data,” she said. “I didn’t want to feel that way anymore.”

Perez had noticed the power of mixed-methods research, and that led her to pursue graduate study and a career at the intersection of immigration and health.

“I wanted to get these quantitative skillsets because I knew how useful they would be,” she said.

As a graduate student, Perez also was a policy fellow for the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute (LPPI). She found herself creating data visualizations for LPPI even as she was learning about them in a statistics class.

Not coming from a STEM background, Perez was intimidated at first, but she persevered. “It really helped to put in practice what I was learning in class.”

Not only do students like Perez complete a minimum of three data-focused courses, they have to provide a work product that demonstrates their ability at a higher level. To receive competency product credit, the work must involve the use of
code and demonstrate advanced skills such as — but not limited to — geospatial analysis, machine learning, natural language processing, network analysis, regression analysis, structural equation modeling or visualization. 

The Data Analytics certificate’s areas of emphasis are:

  • Spatial Analysis, which includes courses on geographic information systems (GIS) and mapping;
  • Data Science, using programs such as R;
  • Advanced Methods, statistics courses with a strong programming component;
  • Program Evaluation, tools and survey methods courses with
    a technological focus;
  • Technology Policy and Ethics, courses that focus on data, technology and its use in policymaking and governing.

Most Master of Public Policy students come in with little or no programming experience, and a sizable number of them want to acquire it in graduate school, Steinert-Threlkeld said. “I think the certificate is becoming more attractive at the application stage, but it’s rare that a student comes in being good at R or Python.”

Steinert-Threlkeld also spoke about how these additional skills fit into the policy arena and how they will be relevant for the School’s alumni when launching into careers.

“The demand for these skills is placed on the people who are doing other jobs in the organization; it’s rare for a policy organization to have a full-time data analytics person, whether we’re talking about Capitol Hill or Sacramento,” he explained. “So, in the policy world, the data analysis is an additional skill set as opposed to the primary one.”

Following graduation, Perez landed a position as a health policy analyst with the nonpartisan UnidosUS, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that serves as the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.

“It was very intentional, pursuing this,” Perez said. “Employers really look for concrete projects and examples that you’ve taken part in,” and the certificate provides that proof. “It’s like a cherry on the top.”

A Time of Transition

By Les Dunseith

What’s new, you ask?

  • There’s a new dean.
  • Two new master’s degrees are  working their way through the  faculty approval process.
  • Next fall, three of four department chairs will be new in the role, and  one of them is new to UCLA.
  • One of our prestigious academic research centers has a new faculty director.
  • We have several new or almost-new  staff members, including two whose  jobs focus on alumni.
  • Newly renovated public areas are  now open in the Public Affairs  Building after the completion of   an 18-month seismic retrofit.
  • And, as you may have heard, a  historic 40-day strike ended with  a new labor agreement that will  boost the pay of graduate student workers and postdocs at all 10 University of California campuses.

In this story, we delve into these changes in detail, starting with a familiar face in a new role — Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. (Note that each subhead below links to other, often-more-detailed content online, including some photos.)


On Jan. 1, Loukaitou-Sideris took over for Professor Gary Segura, who chose to step down as dean after six years to focus on his teaching and research. Loukaitou-Sideris is a longtime distinguished professor of urban planning who had served as associate dean for 12 years. She will lead the Luskin School for at least two-and-a-half years, while a permanent dean is being sought.

A widely published scholar who joined the UCLA faculty in 1990, Loukaitou-Sideris helped lead a strategic planning effort to redefine the future of the School after Meyer and Renee Luskin’s naming gift in 2004. She later drew on that experience to lead a campuswide task force to create UCLA’s strategic plan.

After 33 years at UCLA, Loukaitou-Sideris felt comfortable diving right in  as dean.

“I love the School,” she said shortly after moving into the dean’s office. “I know the School inside and out, and I have served the university in different capacities. I know the deans. I know the vice chancellors. There is an element of familiarity. And I feel that I’m giving something back to a School that has been extremely good to me all these years.”

Loukaitou-Sideris doesn’t plan to simply be a caretaker. “I’m going to continue some activities, and start new initiatives,” she said. “I feel I owe it to the School and its people.”

The foundation of the Luskin School with its unique integration of public policy, social welfare and urban planning remains strong, she said. “The common thread is social justice and a desire to make cities and society better — to improve things.”

She plans to build on the successes of her predecessor, who increased the footprint and reputation of the Luskin School. Segura also successfully advanced student and faculty diversity. Women and people of color now constitute roughly half of UCLA Luskin’s full-time and ladder faculty.

The number of research grants has also grown substantially, and the Luskin School expects to exceed last fiscal year’s record total of more than $20 million in extramural research grants and contracts.

“All of this is very, very good,” Loukaitou- Sideris said. “We have reached a level of stability now.”


Loukaitou-Sideris hopes to bring to fruition efforts initiated by previous deans to create two additional master’s degrees.

The UCLA Graduate Council gave a thumbs-up in mid-April for a Master of Real Estate Development, or MRED, degree. Pending further reviews, including approval by the University of California Office of the President and the UC Regents, the first cohort would likely  enroll in fall 2025.

Led by Vinit Mukhija, a professor and former chair of urban planning,  the program is envisioned as a one-year, full-time, self-supporting degree program in which enrollment is matched to costs.

Documentation for the new degree stresses instruction on the ethical underpinnings of a growing profession and the training of real estate developers to have a social conscience. Coursework would be led by faculty experts from UCLA Urban Planning, the Anderson School of Management and UCLA Law.

The second new degree, a Master of Global Public Affairs, is envisioned as an interdepartmental degree providing intellectual preparation to future experts who plan to work within the realm of global public affairs. The program description is being developed by Professor Michael Storper and lecturer  Steve Commins, members of  the urban planning faculty who  have led UCLA’s Global Public  Affairs certificate program since  its inception in 2015.

“We need to educate global citizens,” Loukaitou-Sideris said.

In the discussion stage of development is a third initiative — a new revenue-producing certificate program around e-governance and the impact  of emerging technologies.

Loukaitou-Sideris hopes to create an opportunity for working professionals, including alumni, to pursue coursework at UCLA that would help them stay current in an era of rapidly changing technology.


Helping to guide the future of the Luskin School will be three new department chairs for the 2023-24 academic year:

  • Professor Michael Lens will become the new chair of the undergraduate major, succeeding Meredith Phillips, who since 2018 successfully built from scratch the Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs.
  • Professor Michael Manville will become the new chair of Urban Planning, following a three-year term by Professor Chris Tilly.
  • Professor Laura Abrams will remain as a department chair for one additional year, extending to seven years a term as leader of Social Welfare that began in the summer of 2017.
  • After a year as interim department chair of Public Policy, Mark Peterson will step aside for a new chair, Robert Fairlie, who will move to UCLA this summer from the University of California Santa Cruz.

Fairlie was a professor of economics at UC Santa Cruz and is a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Areas of his research, published in leading economic and policy-related journals, include public policy, entrepreneurship, education, racial and gender inequality, information technology, labor economics, developing countries and immigration.

He has strong ties to the state, arriving in California at age 2 and growing up near San Jose. He attended Stanford University, earning a bachelor’s in economics. He previously held visiting academic positions at Stanford and UC Berkeley. He also serves on the  Faculty Council of the UC Sacramento Center.

A new book on entrepreneurial job creation and survival — seven years in the making — will soon be published with MIT Press. Fairlie and his co-authors at the U.S. Census Bureau created a new dataset to track the universe of startups in the country — the Comprehensive Startup Panel, or CSP.

“We find that startups, on average, create fewer jobs and have lower survival rates than previously documented,” Fairlie said.


Fairlie is the second professor recently hired into a leadership position in UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

Megan Mullin also joined UCLA Luskin, as both a professor and the new faculty director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. Formerly a professor at Duke University, Mullin has been getting to know the people and programs at UCLA since her arrival in January.

“I had an idea of what the center was doing. It impressed me, and everything I’ve learned in the last months has assured me that my impression was correct,” said Mullin about the center and the strength of its work. “The people doing it are so committed to the mission of bringing good research and good analytics to responsible environmental decision-making,” she said. “It’s really exciting to see.”

Mullin is a scholar of American political institutions and behavior, with a focus on environmental politics. In addition to her center appointment, she is also the Meyer and Renee Luskin Endowed Professor of Innovation and Sustainability in the department of Public Policy.

In spring quarter, Mullin taught an undergraduate course in U.S. environmental politics designed to help “students gain competency in identifying political opportunities for advancing environmental policy goals,” she said.

Her arrival happened to coincide with one of California’s rainiest seasons to date, and Mullin said the growing uncertainties surrounding the impact of climate change will persist as a concern in California and the country.

Mullin cited risks associated with overabundance, including rainfall, and cautioned about complacency and thinking that California’s drought is over thanks to winter rains, “because it’s not.” Managing water resources and water accessibility are problems during both severe storms and drought, she said, particularly as it relates to what happens to floodwater.

She wrote a recent article in Nature on why Americans have been slow to respond to the climate crisis. “It is time to bring political knowledge to bear on decisions about protecting people from its consequences,” Mullin wrote.

“And so that’s going to be part of the portfolio for the center going forward, too.”


This academic year started with Karina Mascorro, Ph.D. as the School’s new alumni engagement director. She works with the departments to manage and promote alumni-related activities such as the regional alumni receptions that have resumed after the pandemic.

“I am responsible for ensuring that we catch every opportunity to highlight the outstanding accomplishments of our alumni,” Mascorro wrote in an email to staff and faculty last fall.

In March, the Luskin School added another staff member with an alumni-related role, Vishal Hira, who will oversee the annual giving program as associate director of development for the School


After making the building safer in the event of a major earthquake, construction crews have departed the Public Affairs Building.

The project also involved refurbishing the notoriously unreliable elevators, and all four have been upgraded. Restrooms were modernized with an eye toward sustainability and inclusivity — non-gendered options are now available. And some shared-use areas, including a lounge on  the 5th floor with cooking appliances, have  been remodeled.


There’s been plenty of upbeat news, but the path ahead has also been complicated by what Loukaitou-Sideris refers to as a “triple whammy” — the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UC strike and the unexpected resignation of a dean.

“Morale is very important, as you know, in an organization,” Loukaitou-Sideris said.

She’s a believer in open communication and transparency, so she began her tenure by immediately hosting a town hall with faculty and staff, and another with students. Loukaitou-Sideris spoke frankly about some of the challenges ahead.

With inflation spiking in the wake of the pandemic and a continued decline in the percentage of operating costs in higher education being funded by the state, a time of budget austerity looms.

One hurdle relates to the increased labor costs resulting from the strike settlement agreement. Unless the state and University of California Office of the President unexpectedly shift money to individual units, it appears that it will be up to the faculty and staff leaders to find the necessary dollars to pay the higher wages of student workers and other union-represented employees at the Luskin School.

Some trims in budget areas controlled by the dean have been made, with more likely to follow. And staff who leave UCLA for another job or retire may not be replaced, with remaining staffers’ duties likely changing as a result.

Already, two associate dean positions have been combined into one, with Professor David Cohen adding responsibilities that he formerly shared with Loukaitou-Sideris. Her other former duties have been parceled out to staff members in the dean’s office or the departments.

Loukaitou-Sideris said departments have been asked to share more of their funds with the dean’s office for one year, “and then we will reevaluate once we have a better sense of the overall budget situation at UCLA and [the University of California].”

So far, she said, everyone has been responsive, understanding that reducing the budget is a collective effort.