Gore, DeShazo Share Insights on California’s Climate Leadership Luskin Center for Innovation director joins environment champion and Nobel laureate at global Climate Reality leadership training

By Stan Paul

‘We’re going to win this. … Have no doubt about that, we will win this.’
— Al Gore

More than 2,200 people eager to learn how to make a difference in the future of the planet came together at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the largest-ever Climate Reality Leadership Corps training led by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Participants from California, the United States and more than 50 countries took part in the three-day training session that began Aug. 28, 2018, and included working with the best-selling author of An Inconvenient Truth — and subject of the Oscar-winning documentary. They heard from world-renowned scientists, communicators and other experts about how to work together to find solutions to the global climate crisis by influencing public opinion and policy and encouraging action in their own communities.

“In the United States we have a tremendous amount of climate denial. We have a president who is a bitter opponent right now of addressing climate change,” said Ken Berlin, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Climate Reality Project, in his opening remarks.

The purpose of the ongoing series of trainings, held worldwide starting in 2016, is to develop a critical mass of activists to ensure there is enough support for addressing the climate crisis, Berlin said before introducing Gore, who appeared on stage to a standing ovation.

Joining Gore on the first panel of the day, “California’s Roadmap for Climate Change,” was JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, and other experts including Fran Pavley, former member of the California State Senate, and Veronica Garibay, co-founder and co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

“Here we are again at a time when our national government is … disappointing so many of us. Once again California is stepping forward,” Gore said in his opening remarks.

Citing California as a national leader and example to other states in addressing the environment and climate change, Gore started the conversation by asking DeShazo, “What is it about California that has led this state to be such a driven leader on climate policies?”

“I think California understands how important historically it was to deal with its air quality challenges,” said DeShazo, Public Policy chair at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “And so, in the ’60s and ’70s the state developed this robust set of state agencies to tackle that problem in the energy sector and the transportation sector,” he said.

DeShazo credited state leadership, including Sen. Pavley, with passing legislation that allowed those agencies to shift attention, “with all their expertise and authority, to attack climate change in a very comprehensive way.”

Gore also asked DeShazo to cite examples of the state “breaking up the problem … and addressing those elements in an intelligent way.”

“We decarbonized electricity while making appliances more efficient. We introduced the low-carbon fuel standard in the transportation sector, making transportation fuels lower-carbon while making vehicles more efficient and pushing for electric vehicles. So there was a broad-based scoping plan that really covers all of the relevant carbon-generating sectors of the state,” DeShazo said. He also credited state leadership that was “based upon a California that wanted to take responsibility for its emissions.”

DeShazo, who also holds appointments with UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and UCLA’s civil and environmental engineering departments, recalled that during the nationwide recession California voters rejected a ballot initiative to halt the state’s climate policies.

“We said ‘no,’ ” he said, explaining, “We want to continue with the commitment that the legislature had made on our behalf. … I think that is really evidence of California’s commitment.”

More recently, DeShazo said, a “second generation” of climate policies in California has focused on environmental justice. “There’s a clean vehicles program, and there’s one for low-income consumers, there’s a weatherization program and there’s one for disadvantaged communities,” he said. A significant portion of the $2 billion a year generated by cap and trade is reinvested to benefit disadvantaged communities, he added. This year, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is part of two partnership grants that will benefit disadvantaged communities in particular. The grants ─ awarded by California’s Strategic Growth Council ─ total more than $4 million.

As a result of all of this, the state is making progress. “We’re on track to reach the goal of 50 percent renewable energy in 2020, 10 years ahead of schedule in reaching this goal,” DeShazo said. “And that’s terrific because we need to electrify the transportation sector, and we’re committed to that and that’s where a lot of the heavy lifting still awaits us.”

View more photos from the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training on Flickr.

New Grants Totaling $4.1 Million Will Build Climate Resilience UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is a partner in two climate research grants from the Strategic Growth Council

By Colleen Callahan

Record-breaking heat and scorching summer wildfires are signs of a hotter California. As part of efforts to further knowledge and action on climate change, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) is part of two winning partnership grants ─ totaling more than $4 million ─ awarded by California’s Strategic Growth Council.

The Council’s new and competitive Climate Change Research Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that is putting billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment. Both grants will benefit disadvantaged communities in particular.

Measuring the Impacts of Climate Change on Vulnerable Communities to Design and Target Protective Policies

A nearly $1.5-million grant led by LCI involves multiple studies of heat-related climate impacts, as well as factors that make populations and communities vulnerable, plus opportunities to build resilience. Climate change could exacerbate existing inequities, and LCI will develop tools to help government agencies target responses and empower communities.

“The goal is to increase the climate resilience of California’s vulnerable communities in the face of rapidly increasing extreme heat events,” said JR DeShazo, the grant’s principal investigator and LCI director.

The researchers include R. Jisung Park, an LCI scholar and an assistant professor of public policy and environmental health sciences at UCLA Luskin, who will assess climate change impacts on low-income workers. Gregory Pierce, associate director of research at LCI, will assess the climate risk of vulnerable built environments — including affordable housing — to better inform protective policies.

Collaborations with government agencies, nonprofit organizations and community leaders will be integral to the work. For example, civic partners will oversee the development of geographic tools to identify areas disproportionately affected by heat-related climate change and vulnerability factors. Stakeholders will also be able to identify policies, funding and other opportunities to increase resilience in vulnerable areas and among vulnerable populations such as low-income workers and residents.

The analysis of resilience opportunities will also be collaborative. A partnership with the Liberty Hill Foundation and community-based organizations will test a coordinated outreach pilot called Opportunity Communities to promote clean and affordable energy, transportation and associated financial assistance for low-income households. Researchers will assess the effectiveness of this strategy to build financial and health resilience to climate change impacts.

Climate Smart Communities Consortium

A partnership grant led by UC Davis and the UC Institute of Transportation Studies will also involve LCI. This $2.6-million grant to a multifaceted group of researchers from seven academic institutions will tackle the challenge of transportation-related environmental impacts, which fall disproportionately on low-income communities of color. Researchers will seek solutions that reduce emissions and improve the mobility and quality of life for California’s most vulnerable communities.

LCI will collaboratively study interrelated areas of innovative mobility, electrification and freight movement, using equity and policy engagement lenses as crosscutting themes. Research will center on regional case study initiatives and statewide initiatives to demonstrate findings.

The Strategic Growth Council brings together multiple agencies and departments to support sustainable communities emphasizing strong economies, social equity and environmental stewardship. For updates during implementation of the latest grants, see LCI’s climate action program at innovation.luskin.ucla.edu/climate.

 

Climate Funds Create Jobs Luskin Center for Innovation releases study that quantifies statewide employment benefits from billions of dollars in California Climate Investments

By Colleen Callahan

Amid debate over extension of California’s cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions released into the environment, researchers from the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) at UCLA studied and quantified the number of jobs supported from the statewide initiative known as California Climate Investments, funded by cap-and-trade revenues. 

The Luskin Center for Innovation has now released the new study as California considers the job training and workforce development needed in a lower-carbon economy under 2017’s Assembly Bill 398, which extended the state’s cap-and-trade program. 

The report “Employment Benefits from Climate Investments” focuses on the $2.2 billion appropriated between 2013-14 and 2015-16 to support 29 programs created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing local economic, environmental and public health benefits. The programs include investments in public transit, clean vehicles, transit-oriented affordable housing, clean energy for low-income communities and ecosystem restoration.

Many of these programs also induce consumers, businesses and government entities to contribute matching funds. The largest example of induced co-investment is the $3 billion in federal funding for California’s high-speed rail project, which would not be available without the state’s match in cap-and-trade auction proceeds, according to the researchers.

“We found that the $2.2 billion in California Climate Investments supports about 19,700 jobs, and $6.4 billion in induced co-investment supports an additional 55,900 jobs, for an estimated total of more than 75,000 jobs in California,” said JR DeShazo, the principal investigator of the study and director of LCI.

Jobs supported by California Climate Investments are diverse and cut across many different industries and economic sectors, ranging from the manufacture of clean vehicles to the restoration of degraded wetlands, according to the study.

“Given their diversity, California Climate Investment-related jobs can serve as a sample of the types of jobs supported by California’s transition to a lower-carbon economy,” said researcher Jason Karpman MURP ’16, lead author of the report. “Since California Climate Investments are one component of the state’s broad suite of strategies for addressing climate change under Assembly Bill 32 [the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006], the jobs reported in the study represent a fraction of the total jobs supported by the state’s effort to decarbonize.” 

Of the many economic sectors directly impacted by California Climate Investments, the construction industry stands to gain the most (54 percent of total jobs), according to the report. This is because of the significant level of investment going toward the construction of public transit systems and the construction of multiunit affordable housing near transit, among other investments. The sector receiving the second-highest number of job gains due to investments is architectural, engineering and related services. 

Impacted industries employ both blue-collar and white-collar workers. For example, the architectural and engineering sector is known for creating white-collar jobs that pay middle-class salaries. Many blue-collar construction jobs funded by California Climate Investments are covered under the state’s prevailing wage law and requirements for enrollment in state-certified apprenticeship programs. This system is designed to ensure that public works construction jobs resulting from California Climate Investments support broad occupational training and provide family-supporting pay and benefits to workers. 

“The industry-level findings in this study can be a springboard for better understanding the quality of jobs that are supported by large public investments in greenhouse gas reductions,” Karpman said. 

The modeling tool used for the LCI study focuses on quantifying job flows rather than providing granular detail about job quality, training, access for workers in disadvantaged communities and other important components of employment benefits. Because the study identifies the industries involved in each California Climate Investment program, it could be used to more deeply analyze job quality metrics that characterize those industries, including pay, benefits and career advancement opportunities. 

The study found that the California Climate Investment programs that generate the most jobs in California (per million dollars invested, as determined by their employment multiplier) devoted a greater share of investment dollars to services rather than materials. In addition, the employment multiplier of a program was also positively influenced by the share of investment dollars going to firms based in California rather than to out-of-state firms. 

“The findings could inform recommendations for legislators and agency leaders interested in maximizing the number of jobs supported by California Climate Investments,” DeShazo said.  

The researchers note that state agencies could design or update programs to involve sectors with high employment multipliers, such as social services, agriculture, forestry, engineering and construction. Administering agencies could also consider incentives for grantees that contract with vendors located in California and stipulate that they purchase materials manufactured in California, when possible. The findings suggest that these considerations, along with job quality considerations, could help the state ensure multiple employment benefits from its future investments. 

The amount of California Climate Investments appropriated annually has increased significantly since the study period’s $2.2 billion, to a total of now $6.1 billion.  

A Showcase for Research by Urban Planning Students The annual Careers, Capstones & Conversations networking event highlights activities that welcome newly admitted students to UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and give them a preview of what the future holds. Public Policy and Social Welfare host their own Welcome Day events.

By Stan Paul

Britta McOmber wants to know “What’s the Dam Problem?” in terms of flood risk in California. Shine Ling wants to know “How Fair is Fair-Share” when it comes to housing law in California. Sabrina Kim asks, “Still No to Transit?” looking at areas in Los Angeles County that do not meet their full transit commuting potential.

Questions like these launched 36 research projects that brought together Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students with clients to produce research projects that address a specific planning issue. The second-year students, completing their required capstones, showcased their work at the annual Careers, Capstones & Conversations (CCC) networking event held April 5, 2018, at UCLA’s Covel Commons.

The event followed a day of welcoming activities for newly admitted UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students, who had the opportunity to view the projects and interact with current students, as well as faculty and staff.

Newly admitted student Bradley Bounds II said his interest in urban planning is local.

“I want to work on building up my community,” said the Compton resident. “I’m looking more toward open space projects; I’m looking for transportation projects and economic development,” said Bounds, who enthusiastically affirmed his intent to join the new Urban Planning class in fall 2018.

Project clients include governmental organizations, local agencies and cities, as well as private planning and design firms and nonprofit organizations concerned with regional, state and national urban issues.

Video highlights of the students practicing for CCC. [full size]

In addition to engaging titles, the projects — produced individually or in teams — include solid research and data that has been analyzed and put into context by the students. Topics included transportation, housing and social justice issues, including foster care in the region and environmental, resource conservation and energy challenges. At CCC, the students pitch and support their approaches via posters that frame the issues and their proposed solutions.

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty, alumni and Luskin Senior Fellows were on hand to evaluate the projects displayed in Covel’s Grand Horizon Room.

McOmber, who has studied coastal cities and flood risk resulting from rising sea levels, as well as designated flood plains, said her project was inspired by last year’s Oroville Dam overflow incident in Northern California.

“There are quite a number of dams and large reservoirs in L.A. County,” said McOmber, explaining that, from the perspective of Oroville’s near disaster,  the state faces a broader problem of dam and water storage infrastructure that is aging, underfinanced and sometimes not well-maintained.

“I noticed that there really wasn’t any information on dam flood zones, so I thought that was an area that’s lacking in the academic field and also very relevant, not only for California, but I think more broadly for the country,” she said.

Her project also looked at who may be impacted based on factors such as income and education. For example, McOmber asked whether socially vulnerable households are more likely to live within dam flood zones in California. She found that almost 50 percent of households in these areas are Hispanic or Latino.

Presentation is an important aspect of the projects. Commenting on the eye-catching displays, Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and sociology, looked at how effectively information was conveyed, noting those that “made a very dramatic and legible point.”

In Public Policy and Social Welfare, newly accepted graduate students were welcomed at daylong events designed to introduce them to the School and provide information about topics such as program content and financial aid. They got a day-in-the-life experience at UCLA Luskin through lectures, breakout sessions, tours and informal social gatherings.

UCLA was the top choice for many of the students attending the April 3, 2018, Welcome Day for newly accepted students in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare who learned about topics such as public child welfare stipend programs and social welfare field education.

“I’ve already decided on UCLA,” said Nancy Salazar, who joined other admitted students for roundtable discussions with UCLA Luskin faculty. Salazar, who also has a master’s degree in public administration, said that in addition to a focus on social justice, she was attracted by the leadership aspect of the program.

For Guillermo Armenta Sanchez, UCLA was the only choice. “That’s the only one; that’s where I’m coming,” said the Long Beach resident who is interested in focusing on mental health.

At the Master of Public Policy (MPP) Welcome Day on April 9, 2018, J.R. DeShazo, department chair and professor of public policy, provided introductory comments and introduced faculty and staff to incoming students.

“At Luskin, you are making a commitment to mastering a very challenging set of policy tools,” said DeShazo, who also serves as director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, the state’s premier environmental policy research center.

DeShazo highlighted the outstanding faculty and research institutes across all three departments, then continued, “There are a tremendous number of extracurricular activities that we present to you. The challenge is a scheduling challenge: How do you take advantage of everything that we offer?”

The new cohort of policy students gathered at the School to participate in a number of informative activities that included an ice-breaking exercise and an inside look at student life and the strengths of the UCLA Luskin program as presented by a students-only panel.

An invitation to Professor Michael Stoll’s Methods of Policy Analysis course was included, as were a variety of student-led breakout sessions on policy areas such as education, criminal justice, the environment, international issues and transportation. The conversations continued into a lunch with members of the faculty.

DeShazo advised that the two-year graduate program goes quickly and that students are soon thinking about what’s next.

“One of the things we’re very committed to — alums are committed to, our office of career services is committed to — is providing you with the internship opportunities and the alumni connections that will help you get a great job coming out of our program,” DeShazo said. “You are invited to start to develop your CV, practice in your interviewing skills, your public speaking skills, honing and refining your networking skills.

DeShazo summed it up. “When it’s time to engage with prospective employers, you’re ready.”

 

Reimagining CO2: UCLA Team Advances to Carbon XPRIZE Finals Carbon Upcycling team, which developed eco-friendly concrete, is sharing in the $5 million prize

Working to upend one of the most stalwart of construction materials, a team of UCLA engineers, scientists and policy experts has advanced to the finals of the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE by successfully creating a version of concrete that is nearly carbon-dioxide-neutral.

The international competition, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to conclude in 2020, challenged teams to develop carbon technologies that convert carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into viable products. The eco-friendly building material, called CO2NCRETE, was developed by the UCLA Carbon Upcycling team and offers similar strengths and functionality as traditional concrete.

Ten finalists have been selected from a field of 27 semifinalists by an independent judging panel of eight international energy, sustainability and carbon dioxide experts. The teams have been awarded an equal share of a $5 million milestone prize.

“As the son and grandson of civil engineers, I have always been fascinated by construction, and reaching the XPRIZE finals by doing what I am most passionate about is perfectly aligned with what I value,” said Gaurav Sant, professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “The concrete and construction industries are ripe for disruption and the ability to make a positive impact in these sectors, while lessening our carbon dioxide footprint, is a worthy cause for the entire UCLA team.”

Sant is the head of the team, whose leadership also includes J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Richard Kaner, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College and of materials science; and Mathieu Bauchy, professor of civil engineering. Additional team members include Gabriel Falzone, a doctoral student in materials science; Iman Mehdipour and Hyukmin Kweon, post-doctoral scholars in civil and environmental engineering; and Bu Wang, a project scientist in civil and environmental engineering, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

To secure a place in the finals, the UCLA team had to demonstrate that their technology consumed 200 kg of carbon dioxide in 24 hours. During a 10-month period, they were challenged to meet minimum technical requirements and were audited by independent verification partner Southern Research. The team was then evaluated by the judges based on the amount of carbon dioxide converted into CO2NCRETE, as well as the economic value, market size and carbon dioxide uptake potential of the construction material.

“The competition provides an opportunity for UCLA’s cutting-edge academic research to be applied in the real world,” Sant said. “The performance-based measures of CO2NCRETE have been useful in showing that this effort is not only viable, but scalable. And, of course, the support provided by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Foundation has been foundational to our success.”

Traditional forms of cement are formed from anhydrous calcium silicate, while CO2NCRETE is composed from hydrated lime that is able to absorb carbon dioxide quickly into its composition. As a result, producing CO2NCRETE generates between 50 to 70 percent less carbon dioxide than its traditional counterpart.

The unique “lime mortar-like” composition also helps reduce the nearly 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emitted from the production of ordinary portland cement, the binding agent used in traditional concrete.

The most compelling advantage CO2NCRETE offers when compared to other carbon capture and utilization technologies, Sant said, is that the carbon dioxide stream used in its production does not have to be processed before use. The manufacturing process allows for carbon dioxide borne in the flue gas of power and industrial plants to be captured and converted at its source. This advantage creates a cost-competitive business model that avoids the expense of a carbon dioxide enrichment or treatment facility.

“These teams are showing us amazing examples of carbon conversion and literally reimagining carbon. The diversity of technologies on display is an inspiring vision of a new carbon economy,” said Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE senior director of energy and resources and prize lead. “We are trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by converting them into useful materials, and do so in an economically sustainable way.”

In the final and most ambitious stage of the competition, teams must demonstrate carbon dioxide utilization at a scale of two tons per day — a scale that is 10 times greater than the semifinals requirements — at an industrial test site. The UCLA team will compete at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, a carbon research facility in Gillette, Wyoming, co-located with the Dry Fork Station coal power plant. This final stage of the competition will start in June 2019 and conclude in early 2020.

Sant is also the director of the Institute for Carbon Management at UCLA, which draws on UCLA’s campus-wide expertise to create innovative solutions to the climate change challenge. Launched this spring, the institute is developing advanced technology and market-driven strategies for mitigating the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

 

 

 

Luskin Forum Online: Who We Are Essays highlight people who make UCLA Luskin a vibrant, thought-provoking and entertaining place to be

[ From the Luskin Forum Online ]

Dean Gary Segura is fond of saying that the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is about human well-being.

“We study ways to make individuals, families, communities and polities function better, for the improvement and quality of lives of all those affected,” Segura told the Class of 2017 at Commencement last June.

Those students, now Luskin alumni, spent 2016-17 working on a variety of projects related to urgent human needs, such as:

  • greenhouse gas reduction
  • interventions with at-risk youth
  • prison population reduction
  • homelessness
  • HIV prevention
  • meningitis epidemic control
  • regulation of new and intrusive technologies
  • safe school environments
  • quality mental health services
  • river restoration
  • access to home ownership
  • responsive governance in the developing world

“I’m reminded every day of how lucky I am and how special it is to be a part of the Luskin School of Public Affairs,” Segura told proud parents and family members at the graduation ceremony.

This issue of Luskin Forum is dedicated to just that: taking pride in how this school makes a difference, and why it’s important to remember the myriad accomplishments of our students, faculty, staff
and alumni.

Our UCLA Luskin mission statement says it perfectly: “At the convergence of the fields of social work, urban planning, and policymaking, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs identifies and develops emerging areas of research and teaching, cultivating leaders and change agents who advance solutions to society’s most pressing problems.”

In the words of Dean Segura: “Do good in the world. Make change.”

— GEORGE FOULSHAM

We Are Connecting

Like their planning and policy peers at UCLA Luskin, the School’s Master of Social Welfare students are connecting with the community throughout their two-year professional program. First-year MSW students have the opportunity to engage in high-impact internships and placements that begin even before fall classes start.

New Luskin MSW students bring with them a wide range of experience in the community and at social work-related agencies, where they have served as students, employees and volunteers. From the get-go, they immerse themselves in the work of organizations that assist and provide programs for the homeless, the elderly, disabled adults, children with emotional and learning disabilities, and foster youth.

The wide array of student placements includes a downtown women’s shelter, a psychiatric care facility, school and community groups, and other sites that provide services such as law advocacy or assistance with transitional housing, according to Michelle Talley MSW ’98, field education faculty member.

First-year MSW students are placed at various field sites throughout Los Angeles County and in surrounding counties, Talley said. Placements are based on previous experience, prior knowledge of the role of a social worker and other factors.

Their extensive field work also involves community outreach and advocacy. They participate in staff meetings and offer consultation. They engage in research activities and participate in development programs that include training on professional responsibility and reporting mandates.

Both years of the MSW program integrate the School, alumni and the community as integral parts of the educational process for this professional practice-oriented degree, assuring that graduates become high-impact practitioners.

“The goal is to place students at sites that will create opportunities to enhance their growth as a professional social worker,” Talley said.

— STAN PAUL

We Are Protectors

From the streets of Los Angeles to innovative research on social media, UCLA Luskin faculty members like Ian Holloway are gathering data to inform programs and policies that improve the health and well-being of vulnerable communities.

In addition to his position as assistant professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, Holloway is director of the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center. There are approximately 5,000 new HIV cases in California each year. Holloway’s ongoing work focuses on HIV prevention and treatment among sexual and gender minority people. “Young gay and bisexual men, especially those from racial and ethnic minority communities, are disproportionately impacted by HIV, and HIV-related comorbidities,” Holloway said.

In 2016-17, Holloway and a group of Luskin students and recent graduates canvassed more than 500 gay and bisexual men to gauge their awareness of a yearlong outbreak of meningitis in Southern California. Holloway and his research group found that less than a third of those interviewed were vaccinated against meningitis despite extensive outreach efforts by the California Department of Public Health.

Holloway’s findings suggested that better vaccination uptake surveillance, tailored education and more sites for immunization throughout Southern California are needed in order to bolster efforts to track meningitis and encourage vaccination among gay and bisexual men.

Other research conducted by Holloway and student assistants includes the LINX LA project, which uses a mobile phone app to encourage treatment engagement among HIV-positive African American young gay and bisexual men through access to legal and social service resources in Los Angeles.

Next up? Using a new and innovative approach, Holloway and a group of tech-savvy UCLA researchers will use data-mining of social networking sites to learn more about drug use and sexual risk behavior. The project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, aims to use social networking data to inform intervention development. “This would include ‘just-in-time’ technology-delivered interventions aimed at preventing negative health outcomes and promoting healthy behaviors,” Holloway explained.

— STAN PAUL

We Are Innovating

Whether it be guiding equitable revitalization of the L.A. River, helping Californians cut down on their electricity use, or advancing a new way to repurpose carbon dioxide into a greener form of concrete, the Luskin Center for Innovation is a trailblazer among UCLA’s many sustainability leaders.

And that’s just for starters.

Since its inception in 2009, the Luskin Center’s research has influenced local, state and national policy. This includes a new rooftop solar program for Los Angeles, the redesign of California’s clean vehicle rebate program, and current efforts to develop a drinking water low-income assistance program in California. Other research informs the state’s world-renowned actions to combat climate change while maximizing local employment, air quality and health benefits.

A think tank housed within the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the center is organized around initiatives that translate world-class research into real-world policy solutions. Current initiatives include advanced transportation, clean energy, climate action, digital technologies, sustainable water and urban greening — all linked by the theme of informing effective and equitable policies.

The center brings together faculty and staff from a variety of academic disciplines across campus to conduct research in partnership with civic leaders who use the knowledge to inform policy and organizational innovations. Civic leaders include policymakers, nonprofit organizations, and business associations. Students at UCLA Luskin have the opportunity to work with the Luskin Center to gain hands-on research experience and work closely with these decision-makers.

Meyer Luskin, the visionary and benefactor behind the Luskin Center, says, “Sustaining the environment is the greatest inheritance one can leave to children, and the most enduring gift to the community and nation.”

— KELSEY JESSUP

We Are Inspiring

Each year, UCLA Luskin students are embedded in internships and research projects offered through all three departments. That’s a given. Not as well known is how the school also creates partnerships that benefit students and the communities in which they work.

Take, for example, the Watts Leadership Institute (WLI). The brainchild of Social Welfare adjunct professor Jorja Leap MSW ’80 and her research partner, Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, the WLI is engaged in a 10-year mission to bring about positive change in a community hungry for leadership coaching.

Leap and Lompa are working with the first cohort of community members, providing guidance on everything from learning how to establish successful nonprofits to applying those skills in their community garden. After several years of training and coaching, the cohort will provide guidance for future leaders in Watts.

At the same time, Leap is using the project as a way to provide community-based educational experiences for Luskin’s Social Welfare students.

“This kind of a public-private partnership, along with the research attached to it — and the building of the Watts community — really represent the best of how all of these different factors can come together,” said Leap, who has been working in Watts since conducting research there when she was a Social Welfare graduate student in the 1970s. “It represents part of UCLA’s continuing and growing commitment to communities like Watts that need our involvement, our engagement, our organizing, our research.”

The WLI has received funding from the California Wellness Foundation and from GRoW @ Annenberg, a philanthropic initiative led by Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, as well as office space and in-kind support from Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino.

“What Watts Leadership did was to help us come together, to put our resources together, and be an example for the rest of the nonprofit and leadership community in Watts,” cohort member Pahola Ybarra said. “It’s been an amazing effort to help us grow, and to help us get out of our own way. It encourages us to reach for as much as we can and do as much as we can in the community.”

— GEORGE FOULSHAM

We Are Woke

On Nov. 9, 2016, after many felt their world spin out of control, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin decided to create a space for students, faculty and staff to critically analyze the forms of exclusion, including white nationalism, so pervasive throughout the election that had just ended.

Post-election, the Institute, whose tagline is “Organizing knowledge to challenge inequality,” expanded its mission to challenge state-sponsored violence against targeted bodies and communities by immediately issuing a call for Jan. 18, 2017: Teach.Organize.Resist.

The campaign, known as #J18, included universities and colleges across the nation and internationally that organized nearly 100 courses, performances, sit-ins, and lectures to demonstrate that places of teaching and learning would not bear silent witness to oppression and hate. After a day of programming at UCLA, #J18 ended with “From the Frontlines of Justice,” a multi-performance event held in Ackerman Grand Ballroom. Highlights are online at teachorganizeresist.luskin.ucla.edu

Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography and the director of the Institute, remarked: “I encourage students to think of their role as scholars and to consider the power of research and knowledge.”

To strengthen the link between scholarship and collective action even further, the Institute launched its first Activist-in-Residence program in 2017. In the words of the inaugural fellow, Funmilola Fagbamila, arts and culture director of Black Lives Matter LA and adjunct professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA, the definition of “woke” doesn’t end at knowledge. “To achieve the ‘woke’ label, you must be willing to analyze the conditions in your community. Lastly, you must act.”

Through academic research, and in alliance with social justice movements, the Institute creates scholarship, art and collective action to tackle divides and dispossessions in global Los Angeles and in cities around the world.

“We do so to insist on the academic freedom to examine regimes of power and structures of intolerance,” Roy explained. “We do so to forge imaginations of abolitionism, civil disobedience and human freedom. We do so, as James Baldwin reminded us, to shake the dungeon and leave behind our chains.”

— CRISTINA BARRERA

We Are Global

The impact of the Luskin School resonates far beyond the borders of Los Angeles and California. It’s a brand with international flavor. It’s not unusual to find Luskin students and faculty in Mexico, Uganda, India or Japan.

Luskin’s popular Global Public Affairs program offers students the chance to obtain intellectual and professional preparation to become future experts within the realm of international public affairs.

Each year GPA students travel around the globe, immersing themselves in the culture — and problems — of their host countries, and blogging about it for the GPA website. In the past year, students have lived in Mexico City; Paris; Kampala, Uganda; Bonn, Germany; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Tokyo, among other locales.

The GPA program is led by two members of the Urban Planning faculty. Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international urban planning, is the director of GPA. He’s also a professor of economic sociology at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris and professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics. Stephen Commins UP PhD ’88, a lecturer in Urban Planning, is a former senior development specialist at the World Bank and director of policy and planning at World Vision International. UCLA Luskin’s international influence also includes:

  • Urban Planning faculty like Paavo Monkkonen MPP ’05, whose students made multiple visits to Tijuana, Mexico, where they provided guidance to city and government officials about the best ways to deal with a housing crisis.
  • Policy professors like Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy, who has traveled around the world — to India, Mexico, Tanzania and Indonesia — to conduct research into microeconomics, health and development.
  • Faculty leaders like Donald Shoup and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris who are among the many UCLA Luskin faculty in great demand as speakers at conferences around the world.
  • Our international students — who add a global perspective to the student body and to Luskin educational efforts.

“A focus on problems that cross borders and involve international interdependence, also identifies where international forces affect domestic policies,” Commins said. “Students can learn from comparing experiences of different countries in how they face planning, policy and social welfare challenges and apply the experiences to their own studies and professional practice.”

— GEORGE FOULSHAM

We Are Problem Solvers

Graduate students at UCLA Luskin don’t wait to step beyond the classroom to address California’s pressing challenges. Master of Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students spend their time on campus deeply immersed in local, state, national and global issues. At the Luskin School, it’s part of the program.

Luskin students log countless hours learning lessons from leading-edge faculty and researchers. Here they seek solutions related to ongoing problems like housing, transportation or sustainability. They look into topics of vital importance to Southern California like electric recharging stations, barriers to bicycling in and around the city, or accessibility to water and food.

“At Luskin, we give students a diverse set of tools (both quantitative and qualitative) that will help guide them through the APP process and ultimately to go out into the real world and conduct policy analysis on issues close to their hearts,” said Manisha Shah, associate professor of public policy and faculty coordinator for the Applied Policy Project program completed by MPP graduates.

Recent work has connected students with county and city offices such as the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Regional agencies such as the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) frequently serve as clients. Recent APP projects included healthy food choices for elementary school students and employment opportunities for youths. Students also tackle educational issues right here at UCLA or work with the University of California’s Office of the President.

Many student projects benefit local and regional clients and the communities they serve, but they also reach out to communities far way. A recent planning capstone evaluated the short-term rental market in a Northern California city, for example. And a recent policy project analyzed governance at
the local level in the Ukraine.

— STAN PAUL

We Are Trailblazing

There’s no better place to study how people get around than Southern California — and for the past 25 years, UCLA has been home to one of the country’s preeminent transportation research centers.

The UCLA Institute for Transportation Studies (ITS) at UCLA Luskin combines cutting-edge research with meaningful, influential civic engagement to lead to policy results in California and beyond. From the impacts of traffic congestion to fairness around rideshare hailing to the civic consequences of paying for parking, ITS scholars produce work that ties directly to current transportation planning practices and policymaking at the local, state and national levels. ITS is noted for connecting transportation and equity, and for emphasizing the effect of transportation decisions on people’s lives.

“We take our policy mandate seriously,” said Brian Taylor UP PhD ’90, director of ITS and professor of urban planning.

Through close partnership with dozens of outside organizations that include government agencies, private transportation companies, nonprofit foundations and advocacy groups, ITS faculty, staff and students translate the latest knowledge on transportation into proposed real-world policies around movement and growth. ITS’ biannual digital magazine is widely read throughout the transportation community, highlighting important new research in a clear, constructive manner for practitioners.

Luskin students working at ITS collaborate closely with faculty members, receive generous scholarship funding for their own trailblazing projects, and have garnered an inordinate number of prestigious grants and awards over the years. Regular interactive events and publications showcase student findings to the academic community and the public at UCLA and around the country.

The next quarter-century will bring significant changes to how we travel, with daunting societal impacts. As it has since 1992, ITS research and policy action will help guide the way toward solutions.

— WILL LIVESLEY-O’NEILL

We Are Family

Attend any gathering at UCLA Luskin and you may feel like you stumbled into someone’s family reunion.

There will be a toddler or two, chasing a balloon or dancing as a faculty, staff or student parent hovers nearby. You’ll notice plenty of happy young faces — graduate students tend to be in their 20s — but look closer, and you’ll see older folks too. Mid-career professionals returning to add a degree. Staff and faculty, some grayed and others not. Perhaps alumni who earned degrees during the days of typewriters or even pencil and paper, not smartphones.

But family is more than differences in age. It’s continuity. Legacy. Progress over time, as one generation blazes a trail and then passes the torch of knowledge along to another to mark its own, slightly different path. It’s every professor who imparts a tidbit of knowledge only to be surprised, and humbled, when a protégé nurtures that information into something new and wonderful and impactful.

A lifetime of learning walks the Public Affairs Building each day — legends who become mentors, colleagues, even friends. Marty Wachs. Joan Ling. Mark Peterson. Michael Dukakis. Ananya Roy. Gerry Laviña. And so many more. People who have done everything in their careers that students could ever dream of doing themselves and yet still seem to care most about what their students learn now that will improve the world tomorrow.

Family provides inspiration. At Luskin, it’s instructors who know how to say, “You can do better,” in a way that makes students understand that, yes, they really can.

Families help those who need it. It’s every person on the Donor Honor Roll whose name is there not because their wealth exceeds their needs but because money is a way to honor someone who once expanded their worldview. Or lifted their spirits. Or answered a question late one night as a deadline loomed.

After 40 years at UCLA Luskin, Donald Shoup knows all about the Luskin family. In 2017, he won another big award, honoring his contributions as an educator. He put it in perspective: “If we have any influence — if there is going to be anything to remember after we are gone — I think it will be the successful careers of our students who will be changing the world for the better.”

— LES DUNSEITH

Alternative Utility Providers Offer Options for Energy Customers New report by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation assesses the options available to Santa Monica and other cities in Los Angeles County

By Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10

Los Angeles County is set to launch its own electricity provider in 2018, giving customers another option besides longtime power company Southern California Edison. Called Los Angeles Community Choice Energy, the county’s venture is part of a wave across California of new community choice aggregators.

Community choice aggregators (CCAs) enable cities or counties to make decisions about what kinds of energy resources and local clean energy programs in which to invest, such as local renewable energy. Since 2010, California communities have established nine CCAs, with over a dozen municipalities actively exploring forming a CCA and many others considering joining one. Multiple CCA models have arisen out of this rapid growth. Now cities such as Santa Monica have multiple CCA options.

A new study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analyzed three CCA options to inform Santa Monica’s decision whether to form or join a CCA.

“This study commissioned by the City of Santa Monica is garnering wide attention from cities across the region that are faced with a similar set of options, because it is an important decision,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. The decision could affect electricity rates for local customers, the amount of renewable energy procured and how much money could be available for local energy programs, among other consequences.

The study assessed the strengths and potential challenges of Santa Monica’s three CCA options:

  • Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (LACCE), a large, soon-to-launch CCA with member cities across Los Angeles County. This regional option may dilute influence for Santa Monica, in terms of its direct vote on the governing board. However, it could also provide Santa Monica with the greatest economies of scale, which would well position the city to meet its ambitious renewable energy and other environmental goals while avoiding long-term risks.
  • South Bay Clean Power (SBCP), a CCA designed for a group of cities in the South Bay and Westside subregion. SBCP is more a set of recommendations than an operationally ready option at this time. SBCP’s business plan includes innovative, sophisticated strategies for a next generation CCA, which others outside of SBCP could adopt. With no other currently committed members, Santa Monica would likely have to take the lead in its development and it would likely benefit from fewer economies of scale than LACCE.
  • A single-city CCA through the services of California Choice Energy Authority (CCEA), which pools services for multiple single-city CCAs. The business model for CCEA allows for member cities to have a significant amount of autonomy to pursue and meet renewable energy and other goals. However, it would also involve an initial financial and staff commitment.

Relying in part on UCLA’s research findings, the Santa Monica City Council recently voted unanimously to join LACCE as the first step in a two-step approval process.

The associated Santa Monica staff report states, “The UCLA study helped to inform staff’s recommendations. … LACCE is operationally ready and could provide the City with a variety of economies of scale and a stronger voice for the legislative and regulatory discussions that lay ahead.” By collaborating with other cities through this new regional energy partnership, Santa Monica hopes to be a powerful voice pushing for clean energy strategies that advance the City’s progressive environmental goals, according to the report.

Launch of New UCLA Luskin Initiative Is True to Its Mission Event celebrating the creation of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative brings UCLA community together with policymakers to share research and exchange information

By Les Dunseith

The newest research center at UCLA Luskin aims to bring together scholars and policymakers to share information so that political leaders can make informed decisions on issues of interest to Latinos, and its Dec. 6, 2017, kickoff event exemplified that goal.

Students, faculty and administrative leaders from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and throughout UCLA were among a crowd of about 175 people that also included elected officials, community activists, business leaders and other stakeholders who gathered in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the launch of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI).

Attendees had an opportunity to hear keynote speaker Kevin de León, current president pro tem of the California Senate and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, talk about recent legislation on issues related to such diverse topics as labor, good government, the environment and education. He was then joined by a panel of experts in a spirited discussion of the current national political climate and major issues that directly impact Californians, particularly Latinos and other communities of color.

“In the great state of California, we celebrate our diversity,” de León told the crowd. “We don’t ban it, we don’t wall it off, and we sure as hell don’t deport it.”

In his speech, de León talked about the state’s efforts to deal with climate change, to improve education and to provide a safe haven for all residents. For example, Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which de León championed, creates a safe zone at “our schools, our hospitals, our churches, courthouses and other sensitive locations so our undocumented immigrant communities can live their lives and conduct their businesses without fear.”

De León declared, “If this president wants to wage a campaign of fear against innocent families, he can count us out. Because the state of California won’t lift a single finger or spend a single dime to become a cog in the Trump deportation machine.”

One of the goals of LPPI, which received its startup funding from UCLA Luskin and the Division of Social Sciences, is to provide better access to information — real data, not alternative truths — to help leaders nationwide resist attacks on immigrants and also help them to craft new policies on other issues vital to Latinos.

“It is impossible to understand America today without understanding the Latino community and the power that it wields. And this institute is going to do that,” Scott Waugh, UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost, told the crowd.

“It’s going to harness all of the intellectual capacity that UCLA has — it’s going to be truly interdisciplinary,” Waugh explained. The co-founders of LPPI — Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies Matt Barreto, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura and LPPI Director Sonja Diaz MPP ’10 — “have a vision that reaches not just inside the School of Public Affairs but reaches out across the campus in areas like health, education, science, the arts — wherever Latinos have made a difference and continue to affect change in a profound way.”

Darnell Hunt, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UCLA, noted in his remarks that the founding of LPPI comes at a particularly opportune time in American politics. “It goes without saying that we live in challenging times — challenging political times — and the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative will help us make sense of this contemporary setting with an eye toward transformative solutions.”

Barreto, who served as master of ceremonies for the night, spoke about the scope of LPPI’s vision. “We’re not only going to work on immigration reform — we know that immigration reform affects our community and we will work on that — but we are dedicated to work on every policy issue.”

He added, “Whether it has to do with climate change or clean energy, transportation, housing, homelessness, criminal justice or education, we are going to work on that. And we have experts at UCLA who will join us.”

Many of the 20 scholars from across the UCLA campus who are part of LPPI’s faculty advisory council attended the launch event, which began with a networking reception at La Plaza de Cultura Y Artes near Olvera Street, the founding site of Los Angeles itself. As musicians from La Chamba Cumbia Chicha performed, attendees had an opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with the featured speakers and various former and current elected officials in attendance, such as Gil Cedillo, the former state senator and current Los Angeles city councilman. Also in attendance were former California assemblyman and senator Richard Polanco and Amanda Rentería, the former national political director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and now a staff member in the executive office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The event wrapped up with a panel discussion and Q&A moderated by Lucy Flores, a former assemblywoman in Nevada who now serves as vice president for public affairs for mitú, a multimedia enterprise that targets young Latinos. Panelists said that bolstering the number of Latino elected officials has been a vital step in bringing about positive change.

“In the end, votes are what count,” Segura said, noting that Latino’s political influence has not kept up with its rapid population growth. “In order for governments to enact policies that benefit Latinos, it is going to be required that Latinos be a significant share of elected officials.”

Panelist Laura E. Gómez, professor of law at UCLA and former interim dean of the Division of Social Sciences, expanded on that idea in light of a recent wave of disclosures related to sexual misconduct by men in positions of power.

“I think it’s really important … for us to realize that Latinos are a diverse community. We are not just men; we are also women. We are not just straight people; we are also gay and transgender people. And those are important numbers going forward,” she said.

Flores summed it up, “Demographics is not destiny.”

The fact that California often seems to be an outlier in the current national political climate was a recurring topic of the night, with several speakers praising Californians’ resistance to the policies of the current U.S. president. Can the state also serve as a model of progress?

“Despite all of the discord and disunity, California is standing tall for our values,” de León said during his speech. “From education to the environment, from high wages to health care, to human rights, to civil rights, to women’s rights, to immigrant rights, California is proof positive that progressive values put into action in fact improve the human condition regardless of who you are or where you come from.”

De León said California is a leader in innovation — “home to Hollywood and Silicon Valley and the best public university system in the world, the University of California. And we are on the cusp of surpassing the United Kingdom for the fifth largest economy on planet Earth.”

The state is thriving, he said, by doing exactly the opposite of what Donald J. Trump says. “We succeed because we are dreamers, not dividers. We succeed because we double down on lifting people up, not putting them down. We are not going to allow one election to erase generations of progress.”

Photo by Les Dunseith

“I want to ask for your partnership, because this is what we need to do — we need to train a new leadership pipeline that is diverse but also represents us substantively,” LPPI Founding Director Sonja Diaz told the audience.

Saying that UCLA is “arguably the finest public institution in the nation, if not the entire world,” De León spoke enthusiastically of the promise that LPPI represents for elected officials such as himself. “We need the empirical evidence, and it’s about time we have this institution established at UCLA.”

Later, when speaking about climate change during the panel discussion, he expanded on the idea that knowledge equals power.

“California has the ability — if we have access to this type of information, this data — to export our policies to other states, even to red states that may not believe in climate change per se,” de León said. “We are showing that, whether you believe in climate change or not, you can actually grow an economy by delinking and decoupling carbon from GDP.”

Access to data is important, but it takes real leadership to turn information into action. “You can have all the academics in the world, all the data, but it doesn’t make a difference if it just sits in a book on a shelf,” de León said. “You have to take that data and move it with political power to actually implement it, execute it, to improve the human condition.”

Segura said it is his goal — and the mission of LPPI — to unite scholars and policymakers for mutual benefit, helping academics turn research into actionable policy.

“Facts do matter. Facts may not be a good way to sell people who don’t want to hear them, but lots of well-meaning elected officials want information,” Segura said. “One of the jobs of the institute is going to be to take the data out of those dusty books and put them in the hands of policymakers in a useful time frame so that policymakers can respond.”

The Latino Policy & Politics Initiative is a comprehensive think tank around political, social and economic issues faced by California’s plurality population of Latinos and other people of color. Anyone interested in providing financial support may do so through the UCLA giving page for LPPI.

Additional photos from the event may be viewed in an album on the UCLA Luskin feed on Flickr. Watch the video of our speakers and panelists.

 

 

 

 

 

UCLA Study Helps Californians Save Electricity — and Money — this Summer Participants in UCLA Luskin research effort receive smartphone notifications that help them make smart decisions about electricity usage and avoid peak pricing

Electricity demand fluctuates each day, and consumers who want to unplug during peak times to save money and help the environment now have a new tool at their disposal. Chai Energy, a partner of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, is making real-time energy information a reality for electricity consumers who want to reduce or shift their electricity usage during peak periods when electricity is the most expensive.

In a pilot study funded by a California Energy Commission grant of more than $2 million, UCLA is seeking to understand and identify the most effective demand response program designs for different types of households across the state, depending on social characteristics.

“We want to provide a comprehensive tool that will help customers save money while improving grid reliability, reducing pollution during peak hours, and maybe even preventing blackouts” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

How does the study work? 

The UCLA researchers have partnered with a clean technology company named Chai Energy. “Chai developed a free smartphone application that displays your home daily electricity consumption and provides you with tips on how to better manage your electricity bill,” DeShazo said. This could include knowing when it makes financial sense to replace an old appliance, or simply what time to use it based on electricity prices. Chai has also developed a gateway device that establishes communication between a participant’s smartphone and the smart-meter already installed in his house, allowing users to see real-time energy consumption by individual household appliances.

The UCLA Luskin Center is delivering and testing messages designed to inform Californians about their electricity consumption and provide tips for reducing it. About 10,000 Californians are expected to download the app and participate in the study.

“This large sample will enable researchers to identify the most effective format, timing and content of messages,” said Julien Gattaciecca, project manager and one of the researchers.

How can Californians participate?

The free Chai Energy application can be found by searching for Chai Energy in android or IOS app stores or by visiting chaienergy.com. Those who install the app are automatically enrolled in the study. A free Chai gateway device with a market value of $75 is being randomly distributed to 5,000 participants.

The study is currently available only for customers of Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electricity (SDG&E).

 

Luskin Center and the Chai Energy App from UCLA Luskin on Vimeo.

The video is also available on YouTube.

Giving Microeconomics a Human Face Public Policy professor Manisha Shah’s research bridges a worldwide gap between health, economics and education

By Stan Paul

At age 16, Manisha Shah went to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador — her first chance to dig into “real development work.” The task after a year of fundraising and training? Building latrines in rural communities. Soon after arrival, however, she realized that everyone there “already knew how” to build latrines.

What they actually needed was financing and supplies. “That is what we helped facilitate — paying for and transporting supplies to this faraway town in the middle of the mountains.”

The experience in Ecuador was transformative for Shah, now an associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. It enhanced a developing global view nurtured as a child during family visits to see her grandparents in India, where she saw “poverty all around her.”

Her youthful travels helped put Shah on the path to her career in academia and research around the world — from Mexico to India, Tanzania to Indonesia — and eventually to the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Never in a million years would I have predicted that I would be a tenured professor at UCLA,” Shah said. “I feel so lucky to be doing what I love at one of the best universities in the world.”

Getting There

Today, Shah focuses her teaching and research on the intersection of applied microeconomics, health and development. She is supported by organizations that include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the World Bank.

An example of her work is a recent study, “Investing in Human Capital Production: Evidence from India,” that fills a substantial gap in development literature related to whether early-life investments encourage more educational investments later on, whether low-skill wages in rural India increase school dropouts, and whether rural schools produce gains in consumption later in life. The results have widespread implications for family and individual well-being, economic growth and national competitiveness for the country of over a billion people.

Her research affiliations and teaching might suggest otherwise, but Shah’s path was not exactly a straight one. “I don’t think I had a direct route. In fact, it was very indirect,” said Shah, who sought work abroad after earning undergraduate degrees in economics and development
at Berkeley.

“I quickly learned how difficult it is to find a job that will actually pay you to do international work,” she said.

She wound up in a one-year program at the London School of Economics where her master’s thesis in development economics examined HIV/AIDS issues in India and how NGOs were working to fill gaps in countries that were slow to react to potential epidemics.

“This was 1996-97. Getting HIV in a developing country was a death sentence, and so many countries were doing little to publicly acknowledge they even had an HIV problem,” Shah said.

Next was Mexico, and work at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Shah is fluent in Spanish, and at the time thought she was “done with school and would never come back,” having achieved her goal of working in international development. “I loved the job.”

But there was a catch.

“I knew I wanted to keep doing this type of work, but I also started to realize that the people calling the shots, raising the money, directing things, all had Ph.D.s,” Shah said. So she spent a year doing the math — literally, taking the calculus, statistics and real analysis coursework she needed for a doctoral program at UC Berkeley. “There was almost no literature in economics on HIV/AIDS,” Shah said of her ongoing interest in the intersection of HIV and economics. “I learned that most interventions in development related to HIV/AIDS often targeted sex workers, as they tend to have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS than the general adult population in most developing countries.”

Shah’s eyes were opened when she learned how many women in developing countries are employed in the sex sector. She saw the implications for public health and noted a lack of serious empirical study, which “began an important area of research for me.”

She recently co-edited the “Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Prostitution,” in which more than 40 researchers from around the world compiled and interpreted valuable economic data and research that may help lawmakers and government officials set policy guidelines concerning prostitution worldwide.

“A number of factors, including the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, especially in developing nations, have created the need to look at prostitution through an economic lens,” she said.

And yes, like the teenager who traveled to Ecuador decades ago, Shah is still interested in sanitation, a core issue at the intersection of human health and economics
in developing countries.

Research and Public Policy

Shah refers to herself as an applied microeconomist interested in development economics, health and education. “Most of my research fits into those bins,” Shah said.

She has written papers on the long-term impacts of positive rainfall shocks as well as drought in India on human capital outcomes of young children and adolescents, and risk-taking behaviors in the wake of natural disasters, as well as the effects of cash transfer programs on criminal behavior in Indonesia. Behind each are human stories of how policies affect large populations.

Shah’s research on HIV and the sex industry has wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of not only adults but also vulnerable young people caught up in prostitution around the world.

“These days most of my work is either related to children or adolescents,” Shah said. “I often joke that my switch to research about children perfectly coincides with my becoming a mother. I remember researching questions about child development when I was pregnant and being surprised about how little we know about many important issues related to child cognitive/health and development.”

Shah is the principal investigator of a randomized controlled trial in Tanzania attempting to understand how to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for teenage girls. “I am really excited about this work,” said Shah, who was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to better understand education outcomes for children in rural India.

After teaching stints at the University of Melbourne, Princeton University and UC Irvine, she joined the Luskin faculty in 2013. Today, she teaches microeconomics, development economics and serves as a faculty adviser for the Applied Policy Project (APP), a challenging yearlong requirement for master of public policy students at Luskin.

“Ironically, I learned in grad school that I actually enjoy teaching, and I was sort of good at it,” she said of her classroom duties. Her research topics are heavy, which could lead to frustration about things that should be happening but don’t. “But spend some time with our students and it will put you in a good mood,” she said.

“Our students make me optimistic, and that optimism can be infectious. I love how our students care so deeply about issues that matter to them.”