What the Ebola Outbreak Could Teach Us About How to Contain the Novel Coronavirus New study underscores the importance of public engagement and trust during health crises

A new research paper examining the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak in Africa could hold crucial insights for policymakers grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic — namely, the importance of public engagement and trust during health crises.

The study, co-authored by Assistant Professor of Public Policy Darin Christensen of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, shows that where people lack confidence in their health providers, they are less likely to seek testing and treatment when they feel sick. This stymies efforts to identify, treat and isolate infected patients to limit further contagion.

By the end of the Ebola outbreak in early 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were more than 28,000 cases of the disease in West Africa — with roughly half coming from Sierra Leone. Simple interventions that encouraged people to seek treatment increased reporting of Ebola cases by 60%, which the authors estimate reduced the virus’ reproduction rate by 19%.

‘Strengthening ties between health providers and the communities they serve could bolster containment efforts as the current pandemic spreads to poorer countries,’ researcher Darin Christensen says.

“The epidemic generated tremendous fear, and families faced tough choices about whether to care for loved ones at home or report to clinics for testing and, if needed, isolation,” said Christensen, a political economist who holds a joint appointment with UCLA’s department of political science. “That choice may seem obvious in a rich country. But in poorer countries, like Sierra Leone, citizens often have little confidence that health providers will treat them with compassion or deliver effective care. Interventions that build that trust encourage timely testing — exactly what was needed to contain Ebola and, now, COVID-19.”

Conducted across 254 government-run health clinics covering approximately 1 million people — more than 15% of Sierra Leone’s population — the research tested the effects of two interventions aimed at increasing public involvement with, and trust in, the country’s health system.

Under the first intervention, community members participated in meetings with local health clinics, and articulated complaints and suggestions designed to improve health services.

The clinic staff also shared public health advice with community members, like encouraging women to come into the clinic to give birth. This experiment turned patients into “accountability agents who hold health system actors to account,” according to the paper.

The other intervention was an incentive program that gave out awards to health care workers at clinics that were doing a good job of providing services. The intent was to motivate providers to encourage their clinics to provide a higher quality of care.

The study found that these accountability interventions prior to the Ebola outbreak spurred a vast increase in testing and the reporting of Ebola cases — including those who tested both positive and negative for the virus. The reporting did not reflect higher rates of disease in the areas that benefited from the interventions. The higher rates of testing resulted in more effective containment, and ultimately, there were 30% fewer deaths among Ebola patients in the areas that benefited from the interventions.

As governments, particularly in less-developed countries, seek to contain the spread of COVID-19, “there has rightfully been a lot of focus on the test kits and other equipment needed to fight this virus,” Christensen said. “But it’s also important to think about how we encourage people to change their behavior — to get tested, to self-quarantine. Our research suggests that strengthening ties between health providers and the communities they serve could bolster containment efforts as the current pandemic spreads to poorer countries.

“Many governments don’t have the capacity or mandate to enforce strict restrictions on travel or gatherings,” Christensen concluded. “They must appeal to their citizens to voluntarily change behavior. The Ebola epidemic demonstrates that public engagement and confidence help determine whether people heed those calls.”

The study was co-authored by Christensen and Oeindrila Dube of the University of Chicago, Johannes Haushofer of Princeton University, Bilal Siddiqi of UC Berkeley and the Center for Effective Global Action, and Maarten Voors of Wageningen University. The research team also has a forthcoming companion piece that underscores the effectiveness of crisis-response measures that emphasize community engagement.

 

For 30 Years, Lewis Center Has Responded to L.A. Issues With Ideas All six current and former directors gather to recall the challenges and successes they experienced while leading regional policy research at UCLA

By Lauren Hiller

During a gathering March 5 at its first home on the UCLA campus, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies commemorated 30 years of scholarship, public advocacy and leadership on campus and in the community.

All five former Lewis Center directors — a who’s who of distinguished scholars — joined the current director, Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, at DeCafe Perloff Hall to discuss the milestones and issues facing the region during each person’s tenure. As each director spoke, it was evident that the center’s longevity is rooted in interdisciplinary scholarship and fostering the next generation of scholars.

In 1989, Ralph and Goldy Lewis donated $5 million to endow a research program at UCLA that studied regional policy issues. The following year, the Lewis Center opened its doors in Perloff Hall, the location of what was then known as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, with founding director Allen J. Scott, distinguished research professor of geography and public policy. Scott was succeeded by Roger Waldinger, distinguished professor of sociology; followed in chronological order by Paul Ong, research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy, urban planning and civil and environmental engineering; and Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy.

“My parents both went to UCLA and they believed in the power of public education and need to support the public system,” said Randall Lewis, whose parents were homebuilders and interested in issues of growth, transportation, housing and air quality. “They felt as they were building houses, building communities, that they didn’t want to create problems. They wanted to find solutions.”

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who joined the UCLA community the same year that Lewis Center was established and received one of its first grants, kicked off the event.

“The Lewis Center best exemplifies the role that we’re asking our research centers to play: push research forward, support the educational mission of the school and its students, and serve as a public forum that disseminates important research-based information and data to a larger public,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning.

Launched Amid Regional Turmoil
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time in Los Angeles. The aerospace industry, which was a backbone of the region’s economy, was collapsing. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 61 people and caused $6.7 million in damage, crippling major infrastructure like freeways. And civil disturbances fueled by racial injustices, police brutality, and poverty and social marginalization rocked the city.

“Los Angeles looked like, from some points of view, a basket case and getting worse,” Scott recalled. “And so we were, at a very early stage, involved in attempting to build responses to these problems and others.”

Scott and the Lewis Center published a series of working papers focusing on new industry (such as electric vehicles) to replace aerospace and an examination of the nature and causes of the crises in South Los Angeles.

By the time Waldinger took over in 1996, the immigrant population in the Los Angeles region had quadrupled within two decades. Yet, research on the impact of immigration on the Los Angeles region lagged behind frequently studied cities like Chicago and New York. The Lewis Center played an integral role in bringing Los Angeles to the forefront of regional studies with efforts such as Waldinger’s book “Ethnic Los Angeles.” Today, it’s hard to imagine a discussion of immigration and foreign-born individuals without considering L.A.

Waldinger said the center’s early research has transformed California policy. Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant policy can be local, he noted, pointing to state measures that have aided California’s immigrant population.

Ong, the center’s third director, continued the multidisciplinary tradition of the Lewis Center and collaborated with scholars in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the natural sciences. As director, he published a seminal report on the undercounting of low-income people and communities of color in the 2000 Census.

Ong’s work also highlighted a core strength of the Lewis Center — its focus on addressing social justice issues for marginalized communities. He said the center also partnered with the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Metro to understand the transit needs of underserved communities.

DeShazo oversaw the Lewis Center during a time when its focus turned to environmental issues. In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), promoting ambitious climate solutions that even some legislators doubted could be achieved.

“Those were the days we didn’t even know where greenhouse gases were coming from,” DeShazo remembered. The first step was to identify sources and then to identify solutions to reduce emissions, including electric vehicles, rooftop solar energy and energy-efficient technology.

“Everything that we have today is what people thought was impossible to accomplish. The groundwork for that was laid in the 2006-2012 period,” DeShazo said.

The Lewis Center has also contributed to environmental justice scholarship, especially the designations of disadvantaged communities as a result of identifying where emissions were coming from and where populations vulnerable to those emissions are living.

Taylor next put the focus on housing affordability and transportation in light of large investments in public transit like Measure R, a sales tax that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years.

He said the center’s regional lens has a built-in advantage when it comes to studying housing affordability, transportation and access, which play out across a diverse geography.

Taylor’s tenure also overlapped with his role as chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. It was a position that helped him to advocate for the addition of faculty members and scholars who could tackle these regional priorities.

“Housing affordability was not my area of research,” Taylor said. “All I did was try to support and catalyze the intellectual leaders that are helping shape the important debates on this.”

A Legacy of Leadership
Acting as a consistent bridge to marginalized voices, the Lewis Center’s former directors see scholarship and professional development as their enduring legacy. Many onetime students have gone on to become academic leaders in their own right.

“I’m honored to follow in those footsteps,” said Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95. She became director in 2018 and has focused on how Angelenos live, move and work in L.A., with a particular interest in pathways out of poverty. The center recently launched the Randall Lewis Housing Initiative.

Has Los Angeles made progress over the last 30 years?

The answer is mixed, Ong said. A commitment to climate change initiatives and equity are highlights, but income inequality and social justice remain daunting issues.

“I’m proud of the fact that the Lewis Center continues to look at issues of inequality,” Ong said. “We’re dedicated to doing the research to find solutions, but it’s like swimming upstream.”

Still, Ong remains hopeful: “I know enough about [Blumenberg’s] history that there will continue to be a commitment from the Lewis Center to accomplish things that will bend us towards justice.”

Paving a Path to Homeownership Lewis Center hosts panel to contemplate ways that homeownership can be an attainable goal for more low-income families

By Lauren Hiller

Despite the promise of homeownership enshrined in the American Dream, many people in low-income communities of color remain far from owning their own homes, and this challenge served as a focal point for a recent discussion at UCLA Luskin.

During the Housing, Equity and Community Series event held on Feb. 26, the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the UCLA Ziman Center brought together scholars and housing experts to discuss what it would take to ensure access to homeownership for communities historically locked out of it, particularly low-income families. The conversation was moderated by Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the Lewis Center and an associate professor of urban planning and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Rocio Sanchez-Moyano, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning, opened the panel by providing context about homeownership in the United States.

According to U.S. Census statistics, homeownership rates have fallen below 50% in Los Angeles County, which is below the current 60% nationwide average and far below rates observed before the Great Recession. These rates are even lower for black and Latino households, and Sanchez-Moyano said this situation is compounded by predatory lending practices by banks that contribute to foreclosure rates in those communities that are among the highest.

Barriers to homeownership are particularly concerning given the benefits that homeownership can confer, Sanchez-Moyano said. These include greater household wealth, better neighborhood safety and quality, lower rates of perceived stress, and increased civic participation.

Discriminatory mortgage terms and higher income volatility among black and Latino households are among the reasons that these families are disproportionately shut out of homeownership opportunities, she said.

Ashraf Ibrahim, office director at the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), spoke about his experience helping families apply for mortgages. He explained that housing affordability is the largest hurdle faced by families seeking to secure financing to buy homes. A household needs an annual income of at least $125,000 to be able to afford a home in Los Angeles County, Ibrahim noted.

Housing costs are also not rising linearly, said Dorian Young, a mortgage counselor at NACA. As of January 2020, the median sales price of a home in Los Angeles was $744,000, according to Zillow — up from $474,000 as recently as 2015. Housing costs are quickly outpacing income growth in cities such as L.A.

Sanchez-Moyano said this problem is exacerbated by high rents, meaning that lower-income households have less spare income to save up for a down payment.

John Perfitt is executive director at Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles, a nonprofit that builds and improves homes for low-income families. He said that land values are the largest determinant of housing costs. High land values produce high housing costs, which reductions in construction costs are unable to offset.

Despite these challenges, options exist to increase homeownership rates. Counselors can educate families on practical steps needed to save up for a home, Young said. As a mortgage counselor, he and others in his field also can inform households of other approaches to securing home financing, including leveraging future rent to be collected from multi-family properties as part of the loan process.

Perfitt said that Los Angeles offers a low-income and moderate-income homeownership program that provides down payment assistance. More people sign up every year than there is help to give, however.

Sanchez-Moyano reminded the audience that homeownership has never been attainable for all families. Still, she hopes people will support efforts to make owning a home more accessible, particularly to communities of color, and ensure that “being a renter doesn’t mean being left behind.”

View additional photos from the event in an album on Flickr:

Promise and Peril: Homeownership in Southern California

Study Identifies Underperforming Water Systems in L.A. County Report and policy guide provide full picture of more than 200 water systems, plus a look at regionwide trends and disparities

By Colleen Callahan

A new study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) found significant disparities in the quality, affordability and accessibility of water across Los Angeles County. However, the number of health-related water-quality violations in the county is quite low compared to other parts of Southern California, the researchers concluded.

The study evaluated the county’s more than 200 water systems and compared current data to findings published in LCI’s 2015 water atlas. The progress report flags interventions that may be necessary to continue improvements and address persistent problems. Los Angeles County is working with state and federal agencies to respond to several systems that incurred repeated water-quality violations.

A 2012 state law (Assembly Bill 685) establishes that all Californians have the right to safe, affordable and accessible water – referred to as the “human right to water.” Yet this right is not a reality for everyone in L.A. County, due primarily to differences in community water systems that directly provide water to residents and businesses.

“The goal is to give systems operators, regulators and residents the most current and comprehensive picture of water system performance in order to identify what systems are in need of interventions,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of LCI and lead author on the report. “Despite momentum, urgent attention is needed to address water system problems.” Pierce also teaches urban planning at UCLA Luskin.

System performance overview 
While most systems in L.A. County provide sufficient levels of safe and affordable water to their customers, many small systems – particularly mobile home parks, RV parks and mutual water systems – are most at risk for having technical, managerial and financial challenges that lead to poor outcomes related to quality, affordability and accessibility.

Governance trends
There are fewer active community water systems today than five years ago. The reduction of apparently 10% of systems in L.A. County suggests that some have consolidated, which reflects progress in reducing water system sprawl that results in many small, low-capacity systems at higher risk of un­derperformance.

Quality trends
Compared to other counties in Southern California, the number of health-related water-quality violations in L.A. County is low, particularly on a per capita basis.

Affordability trends
The report found great disparity in how much residents pay for water across systems. For an amount of water sufficient for a family of four, rates today range from $26 to $134 per month.

Accessibility trends
Few systems report producing less than the standard set in the “human right to water” legislation — 55 gallons per person per day. However, systems in San­ta Clarita and Antelope Valley were most likely to face declining groundwater levels. Increasing population, changing precipitation patterns under climate change and other factors pose challenges.

“In addition to the state’s efforts, more regional, local and system-level work will be necessary to ensure the human right to water for all,” said Kyra Gmoser-Daskalakis, a researcher at LCI and co-author of the report.

UCLA Study on Plastic Waste in L.A. County Will Inform Ordinance Research shows that recycling is not a panacea for plastic waste problem and finds that reusable alternatives can be cost-effective

By Colleen Callahan

A new report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) that highlights impacts of plastic production and waste in Los Angeles County will benefit the county in drafting an ordinance addressing plastic waste.

“One of the findings from the report that may surprise Angelenos is that a majority of plastic waste in L.A. County is not currently recycled,” said Gary Gero, the county’s chief sustainability officer. “This is just part of the problem behind the environmental, economic, energy and human-health-related impacts associated with plastic production and waste in L.A. County, which this study clearly reveals.”

The report also analyzes alternative options in food service and singles out single-use plastic food service waste for its outsized representation in litter and its low recycling potential. No facility in L.A. County currently recycles plastic food service ware because of concerns about food contamination and other issues. After a policy change from China in 2018 to limit recyclable waste materials accepted by that country, only #1 and #2 plastics are commonly recycled.

“Fortunately, there are alternatives to plastic containers, cups, straws and ‘sporks’ that make practical and economic sense,” said JR DeShazo, the principal investigator on the study and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “Solutions are on hand, as the report makes abundantly clear.”

Researchers found that compostable ware can reduce environmental impacts as compared to plastic. But the report also explains that a full transition to compostable ware across the region would need to be approached carefully.

For one, it would require an expansion of the currently limited composting infrastructure in L.A. County. Fortunately, state regulations are in place to mandate this expansion over the next few years and the county is actively working toward meeting those state targets. In addition, a larger transition to compostable ware would require thoughtful consideration of materials in order to select products with a lower lifetime environmental impact as compared to plastic. Compostable products that are 100% fiber-based without chemical treatment produce the best environmental outcome.

No disposable ware can beat the environmental footprint of reusable food service ware, researchers found. Moving to reusables in place of disposables represents a large shift for many food vendors, with higher up-front costs but lower expenditures over time.

The fiscal break-even point for businesses can generally occur within the first year of transition, with direct cost savings for businesses afterward totaling thousands of dollars per year, according to the study.

“It was heartening to see the conclusions related to economic impacts of moving our businesses to more sustainable materials,” Gero said. “It’s also relatively easy for us, as individuals, to do something about it — like bringing our own cups, straws and utensils when we dine at a fast-service type of restaurant.”

In California, 135 cities and counties have adopted ordinances related to single-use plastic reduction. Researchers interviewed officials from eight of those cities, mostly in L.A. County.

The experiences of these jurisdictions indicate that policies restricting plastics have been effective at reducing the adverse impacts of plastic waste with no reported negative economic impacts. These jurisdictions have provided avenues for vendors to claim exemptions for financial hardship, but the rate at which vendors have applied for such exemptions is very low, the study notes.

The Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office commissioned the study, per a motion by county supervisors directing the office to contract with UCLA to study the issue of plastic waste, processing, recyclability and alternatives in the county. The motion came after supervisors earlier in 2019 approved the OurCounty Sustainability Plan, a comprehensive approach to help L.A. County transition to a more sustainable future through actions that include plastic waste reduction.  The county plans to release its draft ordinance later in 2020.

 

LPPI Hits the Road to Assist Legislators in Battleground State UCLA team holds two days of roundtable discussions and provides technical assistance to lawmakers during workshop in Arizona

A group of lawmakers in Arizona are “breaking cycles of poverty,” Arizona Sen. Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete told fellow legislators attending a two-day workshop in mid-January at Arizona State University organized by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI).

Navarrete was one of eight lawmakers who participated in the sessions put together by LPPI in partnership with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and the Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research at Arizona State University. The workshops were a continuation of a leadership academy held at UCLA in August 2019.

The Arizona lawmakers are serving in what could be a battleground state during this presidential election year, and they are also marking 10 years since the passage of a controversial anti-immigrant bill in the state. The effects of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, otherwise known as SB 1070, are still being felt in Arizona.

While keeping a focus on the state’s younger electorate, the lawmakers have started their 2020 legislative session with education at the forefront of their efforts.

Understanding children is the first step to creating evidence-based policies centered around their needs, according to workshop speaker Kelley Murphy, director of early childhood policy at Children’s Action Alliance. She reviewed statewide trends relating to Arizona’s youngest children and took a deep dive into data about access to quality care and education during early childhood.

Legislators also engaged in a meaningful conversation about Arizona’s emerging dual language learners and how to craft purposeful policy to advance student success.

They sought to better understand how young children learn. Viridiana Benitez, assistant professor of psychology at ASU, explained how language acquisition and cognitive development play a crucial role in the educational foundation and outcomes for young children.

Such an understanding is especially important to politicians in a state like Arizona, where the bilingual electorate is increasing and may be influential during 2020 elections.

Edward Vargas, a professor in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State, continued the conversation by focusing on polling trends and how such data provide information on public opinion and voters’ priorities. Lawmakers looked at the latest trends on the issues of early education, and they were encouraged to think of creative ways to further develop their ability to solicit effective constituent feedback through polls.

Legislators were asked to apply the information on childhood education by thinking through effective data collection and usage in order to reinforce efforts in education, keeping in mind messaging and voters’ priorities.

“What impacted me the most was the legislators’ desire to truly understand the data and use it effectively in order to make sound policies,” said María Morales, a second-year master of public policy student at UCLA and a fellow at LPPI. “It shocked me to know that it [typically] takes about 17 years for a researcher’s findings to be made public and reach the policy-creation-and-implementation table. It reinforced the need of cross-sectoral partnerships to develop sensible policies tackling the community’s priorities and needs.”

Enhancing the Resiliency of L.A.’s Water Supply Through Recycling Luskin Center for Innovation is analyzing a plan to recycle all of L.A.’s wastewater by 2035, a project that could be the largest capital water project investment in L.A. this century

By Colleen Callahan

Analysis by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) is underway in support of Los Angeles’ goal to recycle all wastewater by 2035 and use it to replenish local groundwater and reduce the need to import water.

“Using recycled water is the next major step in Southern California to ensure needed resiliency against future droughts and earthquakes,” said Nicholas Chow MSc Civil and Environmental Engineering ’16, water engineering project manager for LCI. “Our study could inform construction of a pipeline that provides millions of customers with a new source of clean water.”

According to an announcement by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2019, the city will stop discarding wastewater to the ocean and instead recycle that water for beneficial use. The plan to meet this goal centers on the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, which is the largest wastewater treatment facility west of the Mississippi River. Hyperion receives the vast majority of the city’s total wastewater but currently recycles only 27%. The rest goes into the Pacific Ocean.

The LCI researchers are assessing a proposed Hyperion reuse and groundwater development project that would include construction of $2 billion worth of infrastructure over a decade in order to achieve the city’s 2035 implementation goal. Experts say this project may become the largest capital water project investment for Los Angeles during the 21st century.

In announcing the project, Garcetti framed the effort as L.A.’s next “Mulholland moment,” a reference to the legacy of water chief William Mulholland and the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which opened more than 100 years ago and helped create modern Los Angeles by redirecting water from the Owens Valley hundreds of miles away. City leaders now have an opposite ─ reducing the amount of water imported from far-away.

“Maximizing L.A.’s recycling capacity will increase the amount of water we source locally and help to ensure that Angelenos can count on access to clean water for generations to come,” Garcetti said in his announcement.

The objective of the UCLA study is to estimate the project’s value — specifically, how investing now in recycled water might avoid future costs for rate-paying households and businesses. Researchers are factoring in droughts, seismic events and the rising price of imported water, all of which threaten L.A.’s water supplies.

Commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the agency responsible for maximizing beneficial use of water treated at the Hyperion plant, the UCLA study is being conducted in collaboration with L.A. Sanitation and Environment, which operates the Hyperion plant.

‘Trailblazers’ Take the Lead as New Major Takes Flight The diverse members of UCLA Luskin’s undergraduate Class of 2021 immediately connect with the program’s mission to inspire and equip the next generation of leaders

By Mary Braswell

Tessa Azani remembers the look on her mom’s face when they came across the new major outlined on the very last page of UCLA’s transfer admission guide.

“Developing leaders engaged in social change,” began the text describing the bachelor of arts in public affairs.

“I start reading the description to my mom and I swear I saw her jaw fall on the floor. And she says, ‘They literally made this major for you. They knew you were coming,’ ” Azani recalled.

The transfer student from Moorpark College, who had been struggling to find a course of study that fit her goals, is now one of the “Trailblazers” — UCLA Luskin’s undergrad Class of 2021, the first group of students formally admitted to the new major.

Azani joins 69 other other students who launched into upper-division public affairs coursework in the fall. It’s a diverse group: Three-quarters are women, 67 percent identify as nonwhite, 13 are transfer students, and more than 20 percent come from outside California, traveling to UCLA from every region of the nation and from countries including Mexico, India, Great Britain and Austria.

In just its second year, the UCLA Luskin undergraduate program has grown to a total of more than 270 students, including 200 lower-division “pre-majors.” The Trailblazers are the program’s pioneers. They’ll be the first to experience one of the major’s signature elements: a three-quarter internship and seminar series in the senior year that will immerse students in their community. Their feedback will be crucial in shaping the program.

“I am in awe of our Trailblazers,” said Alexis Oberlander, director of student affairs for the program. “These students had other plans for their time at UCLA, they had other majors, but once they learned about our program they immediately connected to our mission and shifted gears without hesitating.”

That was true of the very first student to join the program. Long Hoang was a freshman in the spring of 2018 when he read about the major in the Daily Bruin. He sought out Oberlander, asked many questions, then eagerly registered as a pre-major.

As more joined the ranks, they forged a tight bond as they moved, almost en masse, from class to class, all trying to complete prerequisites in just one year.

“I really feel like we’ve connected as a class,” Hoang said. “It’s funny because moving from high school to a school with 30,000 people, I did not expect to have such a close-knit community.”

The public affairs major resides in a School known for its top-ranked graduate programs, and Hoang found an important mentor in a student pursuing a master’s in urban planning. As a teaching assistant, Michelle Einstein shared her passion for data science and digital mapping, and Hoang got hooked. He’s now pursuing a minor in Geographic Information Systems and Technology with an eye toward bridging his interests in data analysis, environmental health and community outreach. And he remains in touch with Einstein, who graduated last June.

Nate Singer’s journey to a public affairs education began when he moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles as he began high school. To get around town, he started taking the Metro public transit system, and the more he rode, the more he became fascinated with the way the region was stitched together.

“I realized how integral transportation is to the social structure of a city, the economic structure of a city,” he said. “The beauty of being interested in something like cities is they’re so dynamic and they’re so interconnected that you can kind of have your foot in many, many places at the same time.”

As a transfer student from Los Angeles City College, Singer knew two things: He wanted to study urban planning and he wanted to stay in Southern California. Google led him to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs site, and he realized the undergrad program was a great fit. He became an early ambassador for the program by sharing what he learned with his LACC counselors.

Singer once owned a motorcycle but now travels by bicycle and bus. “I figured I can’t say car-based infrastructure is destroying our cities while also utilizing it on a daily basis,” he said.

While all the Trailblazers must show great discipline to meet their major requirements, Rimsha Saeed has a unique challenge: She aims to complete her degree in three years.

“The counseling team has been amazing, so accommodating and always trying to make sure that I’m on track,” said Saeed, who is interested in human rights law and policy.

She had looked at UCLA’s majors in political science and international development studies but gravitated toward the hands-on learning in the public affairs curriculum.

“I want to do something that makes real change in the world, and that was exactly what the public affairs major was offering,” she said. “It literally gives us the tools to make actual lasting change.”

Saeed says she is grateful for the “extras” the staff offers, such as bringing in dynamic speakers and sharing off-campus opportunities. “They’re always trying to help us get connections out in the world, and that’s really helpful for someone who’s trying to figure out what they want to do,” she said.

She has only praise for Associate Professor Meredith Phillips, the department’s chair who also teaches a course on using data to understand society.

“Professor Meredith, she’s probably really busy, but she would literally sit with me and explain everything as many times as I needed it. That really left an impression on me,” said Saeed, who had no previous statistics experience but is now motivated to pursue upper-division coursework. “I found it really interesting how you can combine two fields that seem so different, like social science and coding, and make it into something that’s used out there in the real world.”

For Tessa Azani, “everything fell into place” after she discovered the public affairs major. She had been seeking an education that paired policymaking and social welfare but wanted to veer away from politics, with all its “arguing and debating and winning and losing.”

“My brother and I both talked about how we loved the idea of being able to create change using government and politics — but we hate actual politics,” she said.

Her dream, she said, is to launch a nonprofit that encourages sports teams — and their fervent fan bases — to sponsor local schools. “Since almost every kid in America, K through 12, has to go to school, why don’t we make school the best place in the entire world?”Azani said.

The Trailblazers, Oberlander said, “are passionate about their life goals, all of which involve making our world a more equitable and just place, and they are willing to take the chance and put in the hard work to achieve those goals.

“I can’t wait to see them in their experiential learning capstones and beyond as they become the future leaders of our world.”

View more pictures of the Trailblazers on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin's Undergrad Trailblazers

This Election Year, We Have 2020 Vision The race for U.S. president comes to town, and the UCLA Luskin community is there to make sure candidates take a stand on issues of importance

By Stan Paul

Students at UCLA Luskin always have many opportunities to seek out public policy discourse and engage in political activities. But during the 2020 presidential election campaign, some of the opportunities for political engagement have been coming directly to them.

In December, the top Democratic contenders for the U.S. presidency were in Los Angeles for a closely watched debate that set the stage for the caucus and primary season soon to follow. And just a few weeks beforehand, students like first-year Master of Public Policy student Tamera Hyatte participated as questioners of presidential candidates during a live telecast of a town hall-style forum that focused on LGBTQ issues.

“Get ready, you’re going on!” was Hyatte’s cue. Moments later, she was asking Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke face to face — and on split screen for viewers — what protections he, as president, would put in place to safeguard transgender women of color. In her question, Hyatt noted that transsexual women of color are killed at an alarming rate.

“I thought he answered it fairly well,” Hyatte said of the former Texas congressman’s response. “I think a lot of the candidates being asked specific questions were caught off-guard, because I don’t think these are issues they generally look into,” added the former middle-school teacher. She said her interests include educational issues affecting LGBTQ students in K-12 as well as education in communities of color.

Hyatte was among a sizable contingent of UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff who attended the Oct. 10 Democratic presidential forum in downtown Los Angeles that was hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. And she was among a handful selected to ask a question of a Democratic candidate at the forum, which included candidates Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren.

Ayse Seker, a second-year UCLA undergraduate student and public affairs pre-major at UCLA Luskin, was selected to question Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, on the sometimes-conflicting juxtaposition of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Seker, who is also from New Jersey, said her question was based on her own experience attending a religious-based high school.

“I wish he could have gotten more specific on the issues of Catholic schools and the rights their students have; sometimes our very identities are at conflict with an institution’s canonical ideas,” Seker said. “But I do appreciate the messaging of his response, as it is important for there to be representation of someone who is both outspokenly religious and a champion for LGBTQ rights.”

In fall quarter, Seker was enrolled in Public Affairs 80, a prerequisite for the public affairs major that explores how the policy environment shapes human development. Her professor, Ian Holloway of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, joined her at the event and provided useful commentary between candidates. She also appreciated his tips on public speaking prior to her on-camera moment.

Holloway said he was proud to see UCLA Luskin students asking tough questions of the candidates. “It was helpful for our students to think critically about how policies being debated, such as the trans military ban or pharmaceutical pricing, impact the lives of LGBTQ Americans.”

Kevin Medina MPP / MSW ’15 is now the capstone advisor and coordinator for UCLA Luskin’s undergraduate major. Like Hyatte and Seker, he had applied in early September to attend the event and ask a question, and he was notified that his question had been chosen just a couple of days before the forum. He asked California candidate Tom Steyer about his plan to combat “the erasure of LGBTQ Americans’ identities on the 2020 Census.”

“I hope asking this question on a national platform elevates the importance of this issue and puts it on the radar of those with the power to positively effect change,” Medina said after the event. He said the Census Bureau plans to collect data on same-sex partners. “However, this question does not gain information about transgender people or LGBTQ people who are single or not living with a same-gender partner.”

Hyatte, who studied journalism as an undergrad, was appreciative of the opportunity to become directly engaged in the electoral process. When she chose UCLA for graduate school, “I didn’t even know we would be able to participate in something like this.”

Reflecting on the experience afterward, Hyatte said, “I think a lot of the candidates may want to brush up more on informing themselves about the issues that are happening in the LGBTQ community.” At the same time, the forum — which was held the day before the 31st annual National Coming Out Day — was also instructive for her.

“Just for myself, sitting in the audience, there were questions brought up that I didn’t even think about asking, and it makes me think, ‘Wow, I want to look more into that and really see what’s going on,’” she said. “It makes me think about how I can also include LGBTQ issues into my research on education policy because I think that’s also relevant.”

Relevance was key for Seker as well. “Within public affairs classes, we’re constantly learning about the vast array of issues that plague our society and the institutions and their history that perpetuate them.” The town hall demonstrated how diverse and multifaceted the LGBTQ community is, she said, and it highlighted a number of LGBTQ-related issues and concerns “that find their roots in a myriad of intersecting oppressive systems.”

Being within the Luskin School means a nearly constant stream of interesting opportunities for political engagement, Seker said a few days after the forum. “The fact that this was only during Week 2 of fall quarter makes me eager and excited for all the future opportunities and events the Luskin School will offer me throughout the rest of this school year.”

And Seker is right — UCLA Luskin will host a full calendar of public events and politics-related opportunities for students and alumni through Election Day 2020.

School Safety Expert Is Among 4 New Faculty Additions

By Stan Paul

Three new faculty members in social welfare and one in urban planning joined UCLA Luskin as of the fall quarter.

They bring to 19 the total number of new faculty added during the tenure of Dean Gary Segura to UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its undergraduate major.

Joining social welfare: Professor Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence; Assistant Professor Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Assistant Professor Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.

New to urban planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in Global South cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.

Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.

Astor holds the Marjory Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use and teacher/child violence. His most recent co-authored book on the subject, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” was published last January.

“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, whose first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”

His research is cross-cultural and makes comparisons between the United States and other places, including such countries as Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.

“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

Astor is a Southern California native who came to UCLA after a long research and teaching appointment at the University of Michigan and, more recently, at USC.