content from Luskin Forum magazine

Alumni Notes


Nathalie Rayes ’96, MPP ’99 was recently honored by People En Español as one of the magazine’s 25 most powerful Latinas (las 25 más poderosas) in the United States.

Rayes is the president and CEO of Latino Victory, a progressive organization working to build political power by increasing Latino representation at every level of government.

Latinos are 18% of the population “but 1% of political power,” she said. “That is unacceptable; this is supposed to be a representative government.”

The honor underscores the need to elevate more Latinas to positions of leadership.

Previously, Rayes was vice president of public affairs for Grupo Salinas in the United States, coordinating philanthropic activities seeking to improve the quality of life of Latinos by partnering with nonprofit organizations to empower, create awareness, and motivate change on social and civic issues.

Much of her prior experience was in Los Angeles politics, serving as deputy chief of staff for Mayor James K. Hahn and directing the Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations. She also has served as chief liaison to federal, state and regional governments and to the City Council on international trade, protocol and immigrant affairs, as well as holding appointments to city commissions and boards. And she was previously senior policy advisor to Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer, heading activities related to citywide legislation and ordinances impacting his district.

Rayes also served as a Department of State fellow focusing on economics and politics in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.

Rayes is a presidential appointee to the Board of Trustees of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. She is chair of both the Board of Directors of the Hispanic Federation and the Binational Advisory Group for Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) Binational Fellowship. She is also on the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.


Brian Stefan MSW ’19 is a grief therapist, consultant, trainer and “proud social worker” specializing in suicide, suicide bereavement, grief/traumatic grief counseling and crisis response.

His work with the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center began prior to attending UCLA Luskin, and he has remained active there in a variety of roles, including shift supervisor, crisis counselor, follow-up counselor and trainer. He’s been a co-facilitator of a support group for survivors of suicide attempts and a member of the center’s suicide response team.

Stefan said a crucial component of any suicide prevention effort is to normalize talking about one’s feelings in an honest and informative manner.

Just as stigma reduction was important in paving the way for sex education and reproductive health in schools, likewise now society must become educated about the full range of human feelings and experiences, Stefan said. While there is suffering in the world, he said suffering in silence often leads to more exhaustion and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and disconnection.

Stefan’s MSW studies at UCLA taught him valuable lessons — curiosity, to look at the big picture and the joy of learning from others.

“From Day 1, there was an invitation to forever be students,” he recalled, noting that he appreciated that UCLA Luskin Social Welfare’s educational approach went beyond studying for two years “and then you’re good to go.”

He said his professors served as role models, continuing to learn as part of their effort to be “better cheerleaders and advocates.”

Stefan said he also was taught to view work from a bigger, more holistic perspective. Social workers must not focus attention just on the client, he said, but also on the broader picture that includes their family and environment. All people are connected to our communities, he said.

Lastly, he learned from professors and classmates about how much joy it is to be of service and to learn about people who are different from oneself.

“Suicide prevention is such a life-affirming and loving field, in the same way that grief is all about love,” Stefan said. “I couldn’t anticipate all the honesty I learned in this field, and Luskin was a good place to learn that foundation.”

Through his work with a crisis hotline, Stefan said he has found courage and taken inspiration from callers.

“Maybe we don’t need to keep everything to ourselves anymore, because it’s the silence that kills – we don’t have to live our lives separately,” he said. “The opposite of suicide isn’t to stay alive, it’s safe connection and healthy relationships.”

The Didi Hirsch crisis hotline service that focuses on suicide prevention receives more than 130,000 calls, text messages and crisis chats per year, and callers have ranged in ages from 8 to 102. Didi Hirsch also runs the Suicide Prevention Counseling Center, where adults, youth and families can receive therapy support that relates to suicide prevention or bereavement. Support groups assist adults and teens who have attempted suicide or who have lost someone to suicide.

Stefan previously served as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Department of Defense and an intelligence analyst with the FBI-LAPD Joint Regional Intelligence Center–Regional Threat Assessment Center in Los Angeles.

He is a member of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Crisis Response Team serving Angelenos who are experiencing traumatic losses within their families.

People in crisis or who know someone who is can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or get help online at


Writing in 2018 for the American Planning Association (APA), Jonathan Pacheco Bell MA UP ’05 said that we cannot plan from our desks, coining the term “embedded planning.”

For him, embedded planning is a practice, or praxis, and not a theory — taking ideas from planning and creating change in society. Throughout his work, he prioritizes street-level engagement. His office is the neighborhood and work is done in constituents’ spaces: homes, churches, businesses or bus stops.

Bell performs plain-language outreach. He conducts neighborhood organizing, gives walking tours, mentors students and provides empathetic code enforcement. All of this helps produce streetwise plans, policies
and ordinances.

Situating urban planners’ work on the street level leads to better results than can be found solely through statistics, Bell argues. Embedded planning happens on the doorsteps of the people affected rather than in intimidating places like city hall or at community meetings where voices can get overshadowed. Speaking directly to constituents establishes relationships, builds trust and lets residents know early about ordinances that could impact them.

Bell, who worked at Los Angeles County’s Department of Regional Planning for 13 years, sought to improve unincorporated areas. In 2021, he founded his own company, C1TYPLANN3R, to focus on writing, publishing, speaking engagements and other methods of moving embedded planning from an idea in his head to a practice that is actively pursued.

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning and associate dean at UCLA Luskin, was one of the professors who made a significant impact on Bell. “He is very passionate about his work and about the communities he is planning for, always measuring the success of his plans through the welfare of communities he serves,” she said.

Bell was recently appointed by Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo as a public library commissioner in the most ethnically diverse district in the city. His degrees in information and library science and urban planning will help him seek ways to expand the library’s impact on daily lives and better advance equity.

“People’s lives are at the heart of planning. We must understand their experiences to assuage their struggles,” Bell said. “We live up to the promise of creating equitable communities when we’re out there, in the communities, doing the work. We owe it to ourselves as conscientious practitioners. We owe it to planning students who represent the future of our profession. Above all, we owe it to the people we serve.”

In Support Gifts and new initiatives focus on equality, patient care, gay sexuality, research and public discourse


A new three-year special patient care fellowship has been created thanks to a generous gift from UCLA Luskin Advisory Board member Peter Shapiro and the Shapiro family.

Field education is a critical component of the master of social welfare, and promoting collaborative engagement between UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and local social work agencies is vital to the education process. The degree program relies heavily on experiential learning through partnerships with community agencies, producing practitioners with real-world experience.

Personal experience helped motivate Peter Shapiro and the Shapiro family to build an interdisciplinary learning experience for social welfare students interested in serving the special patient care population. One of the Shapiro children has cerebral palsy, and her light has been a source of inspiration within the family — the Shapiros hope their gift will share her light and life experiences with many others.

Previously, the Shapiros have supported UCLA Dentistry’s Special Patient Care Clinic and UCLA cerebral palsy clinics, and they have built solid relationships with leading faculty members and patient providers. The new fellowship is a perfect fit for the Shapiros to establish an interdisciplinary collaboration that will provide UCLA Luskin social workers with an opportunity to serve patients within those clinical settings.

Their funding will support a part-time contract staff supervisor position and two second-year social work students each year for three years.

The contract social work supervisor position is designed to be two days per week, with one day spent assisting Dr. Eric Sung and his team in providing comprehensive care for patients and families of the UCLA Dentistry Special Patient Care Clinic. The other day would be spent assisting Dr. Rachel Mednick Thompson with her pediatric cerebral palsy patients at a clinic for the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in downtown Los Angeles.

The Luskin School connection has come full circle, with alumna Michael O’Hara MSW ’14 having recently taken on this role.

One of the two Shapiro student fellows will conduct their field placement three days per week within the dentistry clinic, with a fourth day in the cerebral palsy clinic. They will receive field education credits toward completion of their MSW degrees.

The second Shapiro fellow would conduct their field placement three days per week with Mednick Thompson at the Center for Cerebral Palsy, supporting pediatric and adult patients at her weekly clinic in Santa Monica.

The UCLA Luskin Development team views privately funded student fellowships and support as among the most effective means of attracting the world’s brightest students to fields that profoundly impact local communities and lives.

Robert Schilling


Professor Emeritus of Social Welfare Robert Schilling and his wife, Sheryl Miller, donated $25,000 in December to establish the Rob Schilling Series on Inequality at UCLA Luskin.

“Given the times we live in, it is not difficult to ponder themes, hardly original, that demand our attention,” Schilling said about the gift.

The gift agreement lists potential topics and themes for the lecture series to include inequality that relates to race/ethnicity, gender, class and geography; social determinants of infectious and chronic disease, from domestic and international perspectives; imagining health care in 2021 and beyond; reinventing child welfare policy; changing criminal justice in the world’s most incarcerated nation; and the disappearance of work and solutions to employment woes.

In light of the ongoing pandemic, the donors have asked that these funds be allocated to the School in an unrestricted manner until such time that in-person events resume without COVID-19 restrictions.

Personal experience motivated the gift. One of the first positions held by Schilling was as a social worker at a United Way-supported child welfare agency, and it seemed entirely reasonable to him that those whose salaries were in part paid for by community giving should also feel compelled to contribute to the United Way.

Likewise, in his roles as a clinical faculty member at the University of Washington, Columbia University and UCLA, it seemed only right to Schilling and his wife for them to participate in the annual development campaigns at those institutions.

Schilling also drew inspiration from his father, an alumnus and faculty member at the University of Wisconsin and the co-founder of the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Foundation, who gave generously to an institution that had provided so much to him.

Schilling and Miller chose to create a lecture series after reflecting on the stimulating guest lectures they attended at the Luskin School and other parts of UCLA. Although the needs of the School are many, they felt the time was right to focus on the intellectual conversation within UCLA Luskin.

The donors said they hope their gift will enable UCLA Luskin Social Welfare to actively pursue lectures of significance to the educational experience of all units at the Luskin School.



As COVID-19 continued to disproportionately impact communities at the intersection of multiple vulnerabilities across the world, the UCLA Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice (HHIPP) continued to produce knowledge to improve health outcomes among these groups and bring about positive social change.

This year, UCLA HHIPP also committed to a new undertaking: the Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative @ UCLA Luskin, or GSSPI.

Seventy countries across the world still criminalize homosexuality, enforcing laws and policies that overwhelmingly target same-sex sexual behavior among men. In collaboration with global gay communities, GSSPI was launched to conduct cutting-edge research relating to gay male sexuality and the unique experiences of gay men related to sex.

The new initiative seeks to prioritize research about gay male sex today, 40 years after researchers and policymakers largely failed to take up the mantle at the beginning of the HIV epidemic. Instead, GSSPI founders say that gay sex was de-prioritized in sexual health research and left out of interventions to improve sexual health among gay men, which only increased health risks and further fostered shame and stigma.

As noted on the GSSPI website, specific U.S. policies such as the Helms Amendment from 1987 exclude gay sex from public health initiatives and withhold funding for activities that explicitly address gay sex.

UCLA Luskin Development officials are seeking philanthropic support for GSSPI as an investment that will help increase the effectiveness of ongoing efforts to improve the quality of life for gay men around the world. Potential donors to GSSPI may contact Ricardo Quintero at for
more information.


The UCLA Luskin Development team recently assisted the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies in launching a crowdfunding campaign for a new Excellence in Transportation Equity and Justice Capstone Prize in support of students conducting impactful research to advance transportation equity and justice.

“Understanding systems of injustice is critical because of the long-lived nature of our work,” said Isabel Cardenas, who was involved in the effort as a second-year MURP student and also served as co-chair of the Women’s Transportation Seminar and co-founder and facilitator of the Disability Club. “Without centering racism, sexism and ableism, we will continue to produce systemic injustice and harm vulnerable communities for decades. There is urgent need to prioritize equity and justice in transportation planning, research and education, and this capstone prize will move us forward in all three areas.”

Almost $15,000 was raised through a matching gift from Tim Papandreou MA UP ’04. He is a member of the ITS Board of Advisors and founder of Emerging Transport Advisors, where he prepares clients for changes impacting the transportation industry through shared, electric and automated mobility options.

Each year, ITS will award the new prize to a student whose work best advances transportation equity and justice through a combination of intellectual merit and the potential for broader impacts.

“Representation matters in transportation equity and justice,” said Professor Brian D. Taylor, director of ITS. “These structural injustices result from a lack of representation of those who have been marginalized in transportation decision-making.”

Interested in learning more? Contact Laura Scarano, associate director of development, at


Nicole Payton and Ricardo Quintero of the Development Office held office hours virtually this academic year for faculty interested in pursuing funding for their various projects and research as part of a philanthropic effort in cooperation with colleagues from the UCLA Office of Corporate, Foundation and Research Relations.

The team helps connect UCLA Luskin faculty with local, regional and national foundations, or with individual donors who may want to invest in their work.

Grants that are awarded to faculty often depend on understanding a nuanced process that varies from foundation to foundation. The Development officials coach faculty members on strategy and how to think from a foundation perspective when seeking funding or answering requests for proposals, or RFPs.

Faculty save time and effort through UCLA Luskin’s guidance on best approaches and knowledge of a foundation’s grant management process.

The team plans to continue working with faculty and the Luskin School’s research centers and institutes to build ongoing relationships and expertise when operations normalize after the pandemic.

Dean’s Message

Renewal and resilience.

It would be trite to offer metaphors of springtime and cherry blossoms to mark the (maybe) tail end of a global pandemic and ongoing national political crisis. For starters, we are not out of the woods. New variants, lagging vaccination rates in some places, anti-scientific vaccine resistance and global poverty are all enormous barriers to putting a definitive end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, the persistent separation between part of our body politic and un-spun facts, coupled with widescale efforts at disenfranchisement and a governing system designed for inaction, means that the peril to American democracy remains real and present. Indeed, my last message to you dated Jan. 4 celebrated a well-run election that was free of violence — then two days later, an insurrectionist mob occupied the U.S. Capitol attempting to use violence to overthrow a 7-million-vote presidential victory by Joe Biden.

Still, it is worth taking a moment to at least acknowledge where we are and what has happened to get us here. The new administration has facilitated an astounding vaccination campaign. Just shy of half of all Americans were fully vaccinated as of July 1, and almost 60% are on their way with at least one shot. California is among the leading states in successful vaccine distribution. To be certain, disturbing gaps by race, ethnicity and income remain, as do infuriating gaps by political identity and state. But progress has been made. When we return in September for the next academic year, classes will be taught in person because all faculty, staff and students who can be vaccinated will have fulfilled their obligation to do so. 

Amid the turmoil, the Luskin School has continued to pursue our core mission of teaching, training and research in the interest of the public good. Moreover, we have advanced our ongoing process of renewal, regeneration, reinvestment and reinvention. The School and its faculty are determined to adapt to new conditions, new challenges and new opportunities. We have been quite busy. 

Student recruitment for fall was one challenge successfully met, and we anticipate welcoming the largest class of incoming professional students (MPP, MSW, MURP) in our history. The undergraduate major — which just graduated its first class to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs — will have approximately 450 students across four classes this year thanks to the amazing leadership of Professor Meredith Phillips, the department chair,
and Jocelyn Guihama, director of undergraduate administration
and experiential learning.

Fall also will bring our first dual-degree program when Urban Planning joins with an international partner in Sciences Po, the leading social science university in France. Professor Michael Storper, Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and the current and former UP chairs, Chris Tilly and Vinit Mukhija, worked hard to develop this proposal and shepherd it through the complex UC approval process.  

And a new certificate program, Data Analytics in Public Affairs, will also be available starting this year to students in all professional programs thanks to the leadership of Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, an assistant professor of public policy, and a schoolwide committee. 

Five new faculty will join us this year — three hired a year ago and two new additions — bringing to 60 the number of tenure-stream faculty in the Luskin School. They include specialists in transportation equity, housing discrimination, Black social mobility, child welfare and LGBTQ equity, and Latino youth empowerment. The range of expertise represented in the UCLA Luskin faculty continues to be enriched and expanded by such scholars.

And there have been other joys to celebrate. Professors Paul Ong and Don Shoup both won distinguished emeriti awards for their extensive research and teaching contributions to the School and to UCLA that have continued amid retirement. Other faculty and researchers have won awards and research grants too numerous to recount here. Alumnus Bill Coggins, a distinguished social worker and social service professional, was recognized by UCLA with the Alumni Public Service Award. And our most-worthy benefactors, Renee and Meyer Luskin, were chosen as UCLA’s Alumni of the Year. 

So, onward!  We have work to do and more challenges to meet. Be well.


From Professional Skateboarder to Urban Planner Photographer-turned-student changes course after more than 10 years working in the skateboard industry

Excerpted from a Q&A by Katrina Deloso

Max Dubler is a Los Angeles-based photographer, writer, videographer, designer, downhill skateboarder and, now, master’s student at UCLA Luskin. 

Dubler began his pursuit of a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at UCLA in fall 2021 after more than 10 years working in the skateboard industry. Although he was a sponsored rider for a while, most
of his experience has been as a photographer and magazine writer. 

“I lived in a house with a bunch of skateboarders, and we would go out to Malibu and skate hills all day. When it was my turn to drive the car, I would go down ahead of the skaters and shoot photos,” Dubler recalled. When he wasn’t at home in L.A., he was traveling across America and the world making photographs and videos of his friends, which he sold to skateboard companies and skate media outlets.

How did he make the connection from skateboarding to urban planning?

“I wanted to understand skateboarding on a more intellectual level. The skateboard is a simple toy that has been invented thousands of times. Why did it catch on in Southern California in the 1960s?” Dubler said. “I realized that skateboards needed a hard, flat surface to roll on, and that those surfaces did not exist in large quantities until cars took over the built environment.”

In Southern California, concrete embankments are commonplace to prevent erosion. “I figured that those concrete waves made skateboarding fun enough to stick with after you fell for the third time,” he said. “Over the long term, the history of skateboarding mirrors the history of the built environment itself.”

In his travels, Dubler took note of how built environments shaped his sport. The soft sandstone of Southern California produces swooping, banked turns with a flowing quality — he says the one-way downhill Tuna Canyon Road in Malibu is the top-tier experience for downhill skateboarders. But in Colorado, many highways are cut straight through massive granite mountains, making
for a very different style of skateboarding.

“Street skateboarding is very reactive to landscape architecture,” he said. “Downhill skateboarding is more in the civil engineering space.”

 Dubler later met planners through personal connections. And when he and his friends were forced to move after a wave of homes on their block in Westchester were bought out, renovated, flipped and sold, “I realized I had to have opinions about urbanism.”

Skateboarding remains banned or heavily restricted in many cities. “Skateboarding is superficially dangerous — kids frequently fall and break their wrists when they’re learning to ride — and since the ’70s there’s been this attitude that if kids are being hurt, we need to ban something,” Dubler said.

 Plus, skateboarding culture has portrayed itself as a rebellious, counter-culture activity, for better or worse.

“It’s a creative approach to the built environment and an appropriation of landscape architecture as a space for play,” he said. “You’re not supposed to jump down a handrail — you’re supposed to use it to get down the stairs safely. So, it’s transgressive in its very nature.”

As a planner, Dubler sees a future for skateboarding as something more than a recreational outlet for “teenage white dudes” attempting dangerous stunts.

“The urban planning version of this is complete streets that are not designed solely for cars and parking, but where skateboards could roll next to bikes,” Dubler said. “That’s my vision at least: a lot more women, older people, queer people, people of color riding skateboards for fun and transportation and not buying into this very narrow vision of what skateboarding is and who it’s for.”

New Degrees To Benefit Working Professionals, Those Seeking Global Challenges New master's degrees will focus on cities, political issues and societal challenges from an international and leadership perspective

By Stan Paul

UCLA Luskin has allied with the Urban Affairs program at France’s prestigious Sciences Po university to offer a joint master’s degree in urban planning starting this year. The School also plans to begin offering a self-supporting Executive Master of Public Affairs degree, or EMPA, for mid-career professionals.

The first students in the dual-degree program will begin taking UCLA-based courses this fall, receiving instruction in development and design, with an emphasis on social, environmental and racial justice. In the second year of study at the Urban School at the Paris campus of Sciences Po, classes taught in English will focus on a comparative and critical approach to public administration and the social transformation of cities.

Graduates will earn a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA Luskin and a Master of Governing the Large Metropolis from the Urban School.

Chris Tilly, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, pointed to strong interest in the program, which had more than 30 applicants from around the world in its first year. Nine will start this program this fall. 

“That was great news. Because we just announced the program on Dec. 1 and applications closed Jan. 31 — it was a narrow window — so we weren’t sure how much of a response we’d get,” he said. 

 “There’s a lot of people in the program interested in working globally, but there are also people who are saying, ‘I want to study globally in order to solve problems in Detroit, or here in Los Angeles, or in my home country,’” Tilly said. The majority of admitted students are from the United States, but “one person we admitted from Nepal wants to solve problems in Katmandu.”

A different student in the program already has studied in Australia, London, Berlin, Vienna and Seoul, whereas another has received all of his education in California. “So, there are people who have already had experiences spanning the globe and people who are really trying to expand their horizons,” Tilly said.

At UCLA Luskin, dual-degree students will have access to the same range of classes as other first-year enrollees, Tilly said. He also noted, “We had a record number of applicants to the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, more than twice as many as we have ever gotten before.”

Students in the new program will have the benefit of a global experience, Tilly said, but their interests are similar to other planning applicants — housing, labor and economic opportunity, downtown development, transportation systems. 

“Probably the largest group is interested in environmental issues, sustainability, environmental justice,” Tilly said of the dual-degree students. Global issues are also popular. “There’s one student who’s really interested in issues of migration and population displacement, for example, by natural disasters.” 

The alliance between UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Urban School began in 2016 with the launch of a quarter-long student exchange program. Building on that relationship, a team from UCLA Luskin advocated for the dual degree, which required approval from UCLA and the UC Office of the President. Faculty advocates included Professor Michael Storper, who holds appointments at both UCLA Luskin and Sciences Po; Associate Dean and Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris; and Vinit Mukhija, professor and former chair of Urban Planning.

The Executive MPA

The mid-career EMPA focuses on working professionals seeking a degree from UCLA Luskin to advance their careers.

The graduate degree is still in the planning stages. If approved, it will focus on leadership and management. Participants will gain expertise in a broad range of public affairs issues. 

With hopes of debuting in fall 2023, the program will be governed and administered by the faculty. The committee overseeing the approval process was led by Public Policy Professor Michael Stoll, working with Tilly and Alfreda Iglehart, associate professor of social welfare. 

The program, which is expected to be financially self-sustaining, will consist of three quarters of study, plus two summer components — one before and one after the standard academic year, Stoll said. 

“The EMPA will be a hybrid program, including online coursework, that will allow students to continue working during the regular year,” he said. 

Thirty percent of the course units (12 of 40) will be online, providing flexibility for working students, with in-residence quarters providing the benefits of face-to-face interactions.

Summer sessions will feature two weeks in residence, plus online offerings. During the standard academic year, EMPA students may join other students on campus or learn remotely.

The program will build upon students’ previous work experience in government, the nonprofit sector, military service or the private sector, either in the United States or abroad. 

“I think one of the important things we wanted to do with this program is look outside the 18-to-24-year-old age range,” said Assistant Dean Julie Straub. “We’re looking for a mid-career professional, probably someone five to seven years into their current position, who is looking to advance within their organization into management levels,” she said.

“One thing we are really going to focus on in this program is including classes that meet our strong points — to go with Luskin’s strengths across our three departments,” Straub emphasized. “It will really focus on the core tracks that we currently teach.” 

The first cohort is expected to consist of about 30 students, with an expected five-year cap of about 40-50 students. 

“We want it to feel like a tight-knit group, teach them what we do best and get them to be Bruins,” Straub said.

All 5 New Faculty Additions Have Prior UCLA Experience

By Stan Paul

For Jasmine Hill and four other new full-time faculty at the Luskin School, it will be a homecoming. 

The 2011 UCLA alumna, who served as student body president during her senior year as an undergraduate, will begin doing research and teaching at her alma mater as an assistant professor of public policy this summer.

“I think it’s always people’s dream to come back to their undergraduate institution, especially if they had a positive experience, and that was certainly the case for me,” Hill said. “Having received my graduate training at a private school, I got to see how much I value UCLA and public education.”

Hill’s work focuses on economic inequality, specifically on obstacles to social mobility for Black Americans. At UCLA Luskin, she will teach qualitative methods, plus a course about how seemingly well-intentioned policies can lead to racial inequality.

“In the wake of the assassination of George Floyd, I’m thinking a great deal about the disconnect between decision-makers and the public who wants to transform systems of power. If done correctly, I see qualitative methods as a tool to amplify the perspectives of the people and center the needs, and the concerns, of underserved populations,” she said.

Hill is passionate about mentoring students, especially those who traditionally have been marginalized. “I’m excited to support Luskin students who are organizing and fostering social change,” she said. “I’m motivated
and inspired
by them.”

Another new faculty member with direct ties to campus is Veronica Terriquez, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology in 2009 at UCLA and will become a professor of urban planning with a joint appointment in Chicana/o and Central American Studies. She will also lead the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. She was previously an associate professor of sociology at UC Santa Cruz.

Terriquez focuses on social inequality, immigrant incorporation and political participation, taking an intersectional approach to understanding how individuals and groups reproduce or challenge patterns of social inequality. Much of her research has implications for policies affecting low-income, immigrant and Latino communities. 

“As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I prioritize conducting research that has implications for education reform, immigrant rights, labor rights and racial justice efforts,” said Terriquez, who also holds degrees from Harvard and UC Berkeley.

Mark Vestal has strong personal links not just to UCLA but also to Los Angeles. He was born in Inglewood and can trace his family lineage in the city to the late 1800s. He attended local schools and completed his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees at UCLA.

Vestal, who completed his Ph.D. in history in 2020, joined UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in January as a postdoctoral scholar and will transition to assistant professor in July.

“Being able to teach and do research in the city I have so much invested in, personally — in terms of personal experience, politically and also in terms of family ancestry — perhaps it should be an entitlement, but it feels like an incredible privilege,” Vestal said.

His interest lies in the Black experience of private property, he explained, looking closely at the history of discriminatory planning and housing policy in Los Angeles and beyond. 

Vestal is developing his doctoral dissertation into a book, describing it as a social history of working-class property and politics. The findings of his thesis will “force urban historians, and anyone concerned with housing policy, to rethink the central problem of race and housing in the United States.”

Also joining UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in January was Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor whose previous academic post was in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. He holds a doctorate from Stanford and studies environmental economics and transportation. 

Working remotely amid the pandemic, Millard-Ball has already taught a class in transportation and environmental issues and another on urban data science.

Millard-Ball originally hails from the south of England. Trained as an economist, geographer and planner, his scholarship analyzes the environmental consequences of transportation and land-use decisions, including parking. He also examines policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Much of my current work is about street network sprawl worldwide — quantifying which places have been really successful in providing connected streets, which are good for walking and biking,” he said. 

 Noting that transportation is the largest source of emissions in California, Millard-Ball explained, “I’m interested in what can be done to bend that curve.”

The fifth new faculty addition also has UCLA teaching experience. Margaret “Maggie” Thomas, who will become an assistant professor of social welfare, previously served as a lecturer for a second-year graduate course on poverty and welfare. 

 “I was particularly glad to get to teach last year as a way to really be connected with Luskin in that interim year,” said Thomas, who finished her Ph.D. at Boston University in 2020, followed by postdoctoral work at Columbia University. “It was just such a nice chance to get to know master’s students and start to get a little bit familiar with what the whole feel of teaching is like at Luskin and to meet some colleagues who are also teaching in the MSW program.” 

Much of Thomas’ work is policy-oriented,
“so there’s a lot of really natural connections for me between social welfare, public policy and urban planning. Luskin offers such clear opportunities to collaborate with all three departments.” 

Thomas holds degrees from Notre Dame and the University of Illinois. She focuses on children and families facing economic hardship, as well as children and youth from marginalized communities.

 “We’ve heard conversations about hardship at the national level a lot more this year than we typically do. Whether it’s
food insecurity or housing hardship, the kinds of things I’ve been studying are only that much more prominent and bigger problems to solve,” she said.

A Milestone Year for the Public Affairs Major First undergraduate commencement marks a growing program filled with energetic students already making an impact

By Mary Braswell

People across the country are speaking out against educational inequities in their communities, but how can they get the tools they need to turn that passion into action?

 Answering that question has guided Valeria Moedano this year as she became one of the first UCLA Luskin undergraduates to put their public affairs training to the test in a real-world setting.

Moedano’s work with a national nonprofit committed to expanding opportunities for children fulfilled her experiential learning capstone, the signature feature of a major that integrates civic engagement with social science research.

The capstone was the last step before Moedano’s early graduation at the end of winter quarter, making her one of the first students to earn UCLA’s bachelor of arts in public affairs. In June, about 70 other Trailblazers, as this cohort is known, joined her, taking part in the Luskin School’s inaugural undergraduate commencement.

Moedano’s capstone project provided her internship host, Leadership for Educational Equity, with a toolkit to measure its members’ strengths and weaknesses as they enter the community organizing arena.

“We created an assessment that works like a quiz or rubric that our members can take to identify skills they need to develop,” Moedano said.

“A lot of these members are classroom teachers, so they don’t necessarily have skills like writing a policy memo or doing research or using data to tell a story,” she said. “But that’s what they have to do to get wins within their school districts or their states.”

As part of her research, Moedano interviewed organizers from campaigns in Louisiana, Texas and South Dakota that scored big legislative or policy victories in the fight for educational equity. Her aim was to identify strategies that could be shared with the nonprofit’s nationwide network of advocates.

Moedano presented these case studies and unveiled the skills assessment at a virtual gathering of more than 30 of the nonprofit organization’s leaders
in March. The audience included Mollie Stephens MPP MSW ’16, who served as both capstone advisor and career coach. After graduation, Moedano stayed on at the organization as a research and data associate.

Each member of the Class of 2021 completed the rigorous capstone requirement, which includes a seminar series, at least 220 hours of field work and creation of a plan or project designed to bring tangible benefits to the internship host.

Interest in the major has soared as more students have become aware of its multidisciplinary curriculum firmly rooted in public service. Next year’s graduating class is expected to number about 115; the year after that, about 140 and then 165 in 2023-24.

And of the record-shattering 139,463 students who applied to UCLA for freshman admission in fall 2021, 748 selected public affairs as a pre-major.
These numbers put the program on track to meet its enrollment capacity of 600 by the 2022-2023 academic year, which would allow the major to expand its selection of courses. 

Among the classes now offered is an examination of the roots of democracy and the forces that threaten to undermine it, taught by UCLA Luskin’s Gary Segura — the rare dean to embrace the opportunity to teach a lower-division foundational course.

“I love teaching undergraduates,” Segura said. “This course gives me the opportunity to open their minds to the core concepts of American democracy and the core cleavages in American society.

“Our major is attracting amazingly talented and committed students who want to be a force for positive change!”

Launching the capstone program amid a pandemic had one silver lining: Internship hosts need not be located within commuting distance of Westwood. The 40-plus capstone sponsors included sites in San Diego, Sacramento, Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Trailblazer Juliette Frank landed a spot in the San Francisco mayor’s office, where she helped craft communications in the department of housing and community development. Hearing the city’s top official use talking points she wrote was a thrill, Frank said.

For her capstone project, Frank and other UCLA interns developed strategies to better inform vulnerable communities about services offered by the city.

“I realized after starting this internship that communication is so key to everything,” she said.

The internship’s location appealed to the New Jersey native, who was considering relocating to the Bay Area as graduation approached. And working remotely helped her manage a hectic schedule.

Frank’s typical day started at 5:45 a.m. on the waters of Marina Del Rey, where she joined her UCLA women’s rowing teammates to prepare for competition. She completed a second internship with the regenerative farming nonprofit Kiss the Ground for her food studies minor. And she’s pursuing her interest in health, digestion and the body’s microbiome as an undergraduate researcher at the university’s G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience.

“Food touches every aspect of everything in our world, but our food system is so broken,” said Frank, who aspires to use her UCLA training to help build sustainable food systems.

“I am now fully connecting the dots in terms of my major and minor, and it made me realize my interest in improving our food systems through a policy lens specifically.”

The Luskin undergraduate program has marked one milestone after another since the first public affairs class was taught at UCLA in fall 2018.

 Social Welfare Associate Professor Ian Holloway taught the course — PA 80: “How Environments Shape Human Development” — and memorialized the moment by taking a selfie with his students.

“They’re bright and they’re engaged and they come from such a diverse set of life experiences that they’re just a pleasure to teach,” Holloway said of the undergraduates.

Holloway taught PA 80 again this year, this time via Zoom. He looks forward to the resumption of in-person classes, which better suits his teaching style of encouraging dialogue and letting the interplay of ideas guide instruction.

Because the pandemic was tough on students, academically, financially and emotionally, he expanded his office hours to open up time to speak with them one-on-one. “That’s what’s required of this moment,” Holloway said during winter quarter, when the coronavirus was at its peak in Los Angeles.

Ever since the major debuted, Holloway has served as a sounding board for students mulling over whether public affairs is a good fit.

“I try to emphasize the point that our major is a great balance of critical analysis and exposure to theories used to formulate arguments, but also practical skills that equip them to go out and actually do the work of changing the world.”

Marcos Magana’s capstone experience took him back to rural eastern Coachella Valley, where he grew up.

Magana connected with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit that partners with local residents to fight for equitable housing, transportation and environmental policies — and, this year, to educate the community about COVID-19 resources. 

For his capstone project, Magana developed a catalog of the area’s scattered clusters of mobile homes, noting who owns the property and the conditions of the surrounding land.

“When our organization does any type of work out here, this will be a resource,” he said. “When you need to communicate with this population, you’ll know who they are, where they are and what their circumstances are.”

As one of a handful of Trailblazers completing an honors thesis in the major, Magana also researched the unintended impacts of Indio’s transformation into a tourist destination since the surrounding Coachella Valley became a mecca for music lovers.

Redevelopment catering to short-term visitors and an increased police presence year-round can have a negative effect on the city’s long-established residents, said Magana, whose honors advisor was Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy.

Concerned about protecting the health of the population, Magana has also measured the effects of contaminated dust storms from the shrinking Salton Sea for his minor in geospatial information systems and technologies. He’ll continue to hone these data-mining skills in the fall when he enters UCLA’s master’s program in GIS.

Magana was already thinking of minoring in public affairs when the new major was announced, and he is glad he made the switch.

“The public affairs major just opened my mind to different ways of thinking,” he said. “They force you to look at issues, problems and life, and just a multitude of things, through different lenses and to understand how other people see the world.”

Dean’s Message

Well. That happened.

The year 2020 is etched in our memories forever. And we will be living with the consequences for a long time to come. For years, UCLA has built a brand around optimism, and there is no question that we needed some these last few months.

As things improve in 2021 — as I hope and expect they will — we will have a lot of people to thank. Some are visionaries, some are people of action, some do what they have always done but with more urgency and at greater risk, and some do what has never been done before.

Experiences, no matter how bitter, can be instructive. And this one is no exception. I have learned a great deal these last few months …

  1. Science is not the answer to every question. But the rejection of science, opposition to reason and evidence, is deadly.
  2. Pandemics are social scientific problems. Yes, they are public health and medical problems, and (laboratory) scientific problems, but genuine solutions require understanding why people think what they think and why people do what they do.
  3. The American people are, on average, undereducated in science and in civics. Every high school graduate should have a working knowledge of American government and a basic understanding of the scientific method. Without both, the ability to distinguish fact from fiction is severely undermined.
  4. Accurate information is essential to democracy and to prosperity. Misinformation intentionally flooded into the conversation is devastating and deadly. The crises of 2020 were fueled by media actors making statements they knew were false as they said them. Yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater is not free speech.
  5. Citizens of a democracy should hold strong commitment to core principles: belief in fundamental equality of all citizens; equality of justice under the law; freedom to speak one’s mind without threat of violence; commitment to the common good; the sanctity and universality of the right to vote, and an embrace of fully fair elections that includes a willingness to recognize the winner as legitimate. Unfortunately, these principles are far from universal.
  6. American political institutions are flawed and can be profoundly weak, but they have survived in part because of adherence to norms. Failing such adherence, our institutions may not be up to the task. We have seen entire clauses of the Constitution be made unenforceable and the “co-equal” nature of the elected branches swept away through judicial fiat. The power of the presidency has grown wildly beyond the intended constraints of the anti-monarchical framers.

So, yes, all that happened. But this happened too:

  1. There is still room for American exceptionalism. An astounding 154 million Americans cast votes in an election whose administration required unprecedented adaptation and courage. The 2020 election proceeded without violence or serious organizational breakdown.
  2. UCLA is an institution of startling capacity. Amid the pandemic, this institution has made critical contributions in health care and public health, crisis management and the relief of human misery, all while the entire campus was re-platformed to ensure continued delivery of a world-class education.
  3. These last 10 months included breathtaking acts of courage and kindness in all corners of society. The dedication to common good and genuine community that permeates our society remains, I believe, the best characteristic of our national character.
  4. The people of UCLA Luskin continue to pursue that common good. We have provided comfort to those in need of support, helped manage public agency responses, litigated to protect the right to vote, studied exhaustively the economic and human crises in the post-pandemic environment, and pushed for equitable treatment during this time of tremendous social stress. Luskin advocates passionately — based on good science — for positive change.

In recent months, our worst and best impulses have been evident simultaneously. At UCLA Luskin, we remain committed to minimizing the former, nurturing the latter, and making progress on the challenges that remain.

To a better year ahead.


Dreamers and Doers

Building on the “Called to Action” idea introduced in the previous issue of Luskin Forum, this issue focuses on more of the faculty, staff and students who make a difference and whose legacy represents a lasting impact.

The Luskin School is a magnet for scholars and practitioners with a passion to move society toward a better future. Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back, think big thoughts and ask questions. How should cities evolve to become more equitable? What can social programs do to better serve people in need? Which policy changes will improve the most lives? And sometimes the best thing is to roll up our sleeves and just tackle whichever challenges come next.

Challenges like the coronavirus pandemic.

Finding solutions to big problems requires inspiration and action. You need planning and practice. In recent months, an abundance of important work has come out of the Luskin School, and in the pages that follow, we present a cross-section of memorable things done by admirable people. Our dreamers and doers.