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UCLA Luskin Alumna Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Croatia

UCLA Luskin Public Policy alumna Nathalie Rayes has been confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Croatia. “I promise to always lead and serve with integrity and in the best interest of our country, while continuing to strengthen our diplomatic relations with the people of Croatia,” Rayes said after the U.S. Senate voted to confirm her nomination on Dec. 6. The double Bruin who earned a bachelor’s in sociology in 1996 and a master of public policy in 1999 has had a distinguished career in public service. Rayes most recently served as president and CEO of Latino Victory, an advocacy group focused on increasing Latino representation. Prior to that, she was vice president of public affairs for the Mexican conglomerate Grupo Salinas and executive director of its philanthropic arm, Fundación Azteca America. She also served in Los Angeles city government, including as deputy chief of staff to then-Mayor James K. Hahn. President Biden appointed Rayes to the board of the United States Institute of Peace, and she has served on the boards of numerous organizations in the fields of politics, civil rights, education and health. During her time at UCLA Luskin, she was a Department of State Fellow in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. She was named the UCLA Luskin Public Policy Alumna of the Year in 2014. Earlier this year, in comments to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, California Sen. Alex Padilla cited Rayes’ “unwavering commitment to public service, a drive to diversity the highest levels of leadership in our nation, and a fundamental understanding of the hope and stability America’s leadership brings to the world stage.”


Magnifying the Work of Grassroots Leaders in Watts

The UCLA Watts Leadership Institute (WLI) has welcomed six new community advocates into a program that provides training, resources and ongoing support aimed at elevating grassroots work done on behalf of the people of Watts. The leaders make up the third cohort of the institute, which is housed at UCLA Luskin. The multi-year program includes intensive one-on-one coaching as well as group learning that taps into the experiences and strengths of each leader. Areas of focus include goal-setting, operational essentials, establishing a compelling digital presence, funding and finances, and planning for future growth — all aimed at creating a safer, healthier and more vibrant Watts. Founded in 2016 by Jorja Leap and Karrah Lompa of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, WLI is supported by a diverse group of collaborators including nonprofit foundations and Los Angeles city officials. Members of WLI’s newest cohort are:

  • Kristal Gilmore of Yung Power Foundation, who hosts food and resource distribution events with a focus on empowering women;
  • Jorge Gonzalez of 5 La Nuevo Comienzo, which strengthens families and communities through sports, excursions and other activities;
  • Miguel Gonzalez, who uses dance as a tool to educate people about LGBTQ+ rights and prevention of sexually transmitted infections;
  • Shawn Lampley of Home of Kings & Queens, which distributes food, school supplies and personal hygiene supplies to low-income communities;
  • Raul Panuco, a photographer and artist working to educate youth on media arts and ensure that outlets for creative expression are broadly available;
  • Jennifer Williams of Gifted Creations, who hosts back-to-school, Halloween and holiday activities for residents of public housing.

 Read the full release.


Astor Receives 2023 School Mental Health Research Award

The National Center for School Mental Health has selected UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor as the recipient of the 2023 School Mental Health Research Award. Launched in 2018, the award recognizes scholars who have made a significant contribution to advancing research and practice in school mental health. Astor received the award on Dec. 5 at the 2023 Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental Health, held in New Orleans. At a summit on the eve of the conference, Astor shared his scholarship on campus climate, social-emotional learning and social justice with leading school mental health researchers from across the country. In his decades of research, Astor has studied tens of thousands of schools and millions of students, teachers, parents and administrators, and his work has been published in more than 200 scholarly manuscripts. His latest research examines antisemitism in K-12 settings, and he is spearheading research exchanges focusing on schools that empower students in Arab, Jewish and other diverse communities in the Middle East and Los Angeles. Astor’s far-reaching impact on the field of school mental health was cited in three separate nominations he received for this year’s School Mental Health Research Award. “This interdisciplinary career award coming from such an important organization that does critical work for our schools means the world to me,” said Astor, who has a joint appointment at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. “I appreciate the recognition and hope to use it as a platform to spread peace and mental health support to our world’s children.” 

Michael Stoll Joins Board of Directors of American Institutes for Research

Michael Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning at UCLA Luskin, is one of two new appointees to the American Institutes for Research Board of Directors. Stoll, an expert in labor markets and the impacts of poverty, joins Mayra E. Alvarez, a national leader in public health policy and systems, on the board of the nonprofit organization, which is based in Washington, D.C. “We are excited to have Mayra E. Alvarez and Michael A. Stoll on the board and welcome the deep expertise they bring to key areas of AIR’s work,” said Patricia B. Gurin, chair of the AIR board. “Their experience, knowledge and insights will help the board guide the institution’s strategic direction today, and in the years ahead.” David Myers, chief executive officer of AIR, said that Stoll will join a group of experts who will provide guidance and understanding to AIR’s leadership team and ensure that the organization’s research and technical assistance work is “relevant, meaningful and mission-focused.” Stoll has previously served as a fellow for the institute, which is focused on behavioral and social science research and providing technical assistance to solve national and global challenges. He has also been a fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has served as a past visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation. In congratulating Stoll, Professor Robert Fairlie, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy, said, “AIR is an amazing place doing extremely important and impactful work.”


Wesley Yin Appointed Chief Economist of White House Budget Office

UCLA Luskin’s Wesley Yin has been appointed chief economist at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Yin heads OMB’s Office of Economic Policy, where he will help formulate President Biden’s budget and work on a wide range of issues, including national tax policy, health care and social insurance, climate policy, labor and student loans. OMB assists the president in meeting administration policy, budget and management objectives across the federal government. “There’s the saying, ‘Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget — and I’ll tell you what you value.’ This saying resonates with me, and now more than ever at OMB,” said Yin, whose research focuses on economic inequality, health care and household finance. During his government service, Yin will be on leave from UCLA during the 2023-24 academic year. He previously served on the White House Council of Economic Advisors and as the U.S. Treasury Department’s deputy assistant secretary of economic policy during the Obama administration.


Abrams Co-Edits Book on Social Work’s Reckoning With a Racist History

A new book co-edited by Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, considers the complex history of social work in the United States, including ways the profession has perpetuated white supremacy even as it works toward an anti-racist future. “Social Work, White Supremacy, and Racial Justice: Reckoning With Our History, Interrogating Our Present, Reimagining Our Future” is a collection of 40 chapters reflecting diverse voices, theories and methods. Published by Oxford University Press, the book challenges readers to acknowledge the field’s history of exclusion, moral superiority and oppression, then work to upend the status quo. “For social work to have a serious and substantive role in contributing to an anti-racist future, we must first commit to ending the practices that maintain our racist present,” including complicity with systems of policing, incarceration and child services that disproportionately punish Black, Indigenous and Latinx families, the editors write. They add, “It is challenging to imagine a future without racism, and yet still, many of the authors of these chapters are thinking outside the box and are working to build such a future. Collectively, this volume provides a foundation for what can become our next steps — to consider ideas, voices and platforms for concrete action that exist outside of mainstream discourse.” The book grew out of a four-part virtual conference on racial justice during the 2020-21 academic year that was organized by the four co-editors: Abrams, Sandra Edmonds Crewe of Howard University, Alan Dettlaff of the University of Houston and James Herbert Williams of Arizona State University.

two men and two women with book

Book co-editors, from left, James Herbert Williams, Sandra Edmonds Crewe, Alan Dettlaff and Laura Abrams.


Khush Cooper Named to L.A. County Commission for Children and Families

Khush Cooper, adjunct assistant professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, has been appointed to the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families. The 15-member commission advises the county Board of Supervisors on how to improve the delivery of services to create a safer and more secure future for the region’s most vulnerable families. During her two-year term, Cooper will meet regularly with fellow commissioners to review all county-administered programs providing services to at-risk children, and to seek input from individuals and community groups. In addition to providing guidance on program improvements, they will review legislation dealing with child welfare and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. The commission also produces an annual report on the status of children’s services in Los Angeles County, to be distributed and discussed throughout the community. “In addition to supporting the existing strategic focus areas of the commission, such as racial justice and support for transition-aged youth, I intend to lift up community-based strategies for parents of LGBTQ+ youth so that they can fully accept and adequately care for their children and prevent them from becoming embroiled in systems,” Cooper said. “Currently, LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in child welfare and probation systems across the county, state and nation.” Supervisor Lindsey Horvath nominated Cooper to the commission, which is made up of individuals who have deep experience in child welfare. Cooper earned her master and doctorate of social welfare at UCLA Luskin.

Cooper has also been named to a state task force tasked with reforming California’s child welfare policies.


4 UCLA Alumni Inducted Into California Social Work Hall of Distinction

Four members of the UCLA community were among five individuals inducted this fall into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction, which recognizes pioneers and innovators in the field of social welfare. Adjunct Professor Jorja Leap MSW ’80;  Joseph A. Nunn MSW ’70 PhD ’90, director emeritus of the UCLA Field Education Program; Siyon Rhee MSW ’81 PhD ’88; and Jacquelyn McCroskey DSW ’80 were honored at an Oct. 21 ceremony hosted by the California Social Welfare Archives (CSWA), which launched the Hall of Distinction in 2002. Leap, a triple Bruin who earned a BA in sociology and a PhD in psychological anthropology, was recognized for her advocacy work with gangs and community justice reform. The CSWA cited her “nontraditional teaching approach” that brings students out of the classroom and into the city environment. Nunn was recognized for pioneering a standardized practicum education in the field of social work and for his dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion at the university, state and national levels. In addition to serving in multiple leadership roles in social welfare education, Nunn is the namesake of UCLA’s Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumni of the Year Award. Professor Rhee is director of the School of Social Work at Cal State Los Angeles, where her research focuses on health, mental health, intimate partner violence and culturally sensitive social work practices with children of Asian immigrant families. Her advocacy has brought hundreds of diverse social workers into the child welfare workforce, and she has received numerous honors for excellence in teaching and outstanding achievements. McCroskey, professor emerita of child welfare at USC and co-director of the Children’s Data Network in Los Angeles, was recognized for her efforts to enhance child and family well-being through improving county and state government systems. This year’s fifth inductee is labor organizer Arturo Rodriguez.


Journal’s Special Issue Is Devoted to the Berggruen Governance Index

Global Policy, an interdisciplinary journal pursuing public and private solutions to global problems and issues, today released a special issue focusing on the Berggruen Governance Index, a collaborative project between UCLA Luskin and the Berggruen Institute. The index is a tool for analyzing the Governance Triangle democratic accountability, state capacity and public goods provision — to better understand how governments can create a more resilient future for their people. Based on an analysis of 134 countries over a 20-year period, the index aims to demystify the intricacies of governance and shed light on how countries meet the needs of their populations over time. Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of public policy and social welfare at UCLA Luskin and professor of sociology at the Hertie School in Berlin, is principal investigator of the Berggruen Governance Index. The special issue of Global Policy is organized into three parts. Part I offers an overview of the index and its implications, followed by regional and country-specific insights. Part II delves into detailed country and regional reports, examining key global powers and significant regions. Part III concludes the issue by summarizing a conference on governance indicator systems, surveying contributions from other projects, and presenting thoughts on the future of global governance indicators in an ever-changing and uncertain world. Articles in the special issue are open access and of interest to policy analysts, social scientists, and experts in government and international organizations.