Message From the Dean

Friends and Colleagues:

I am deeply saddened to report that our friend Marty Wachs, professor emeritus of Urban Planning, passed away Sunday night. Marty was a 50-year member of the Luskin and Urban Planning Community since his arrival as an associate professor of Urban Planning in 1971. He spent 25 of those years on the UCLA faculty.

Martin Wachs was a professor, chair (three terms), and the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA who then spent a decade at UC Berkeley, where he was also chair and director of their Transportation Center. He also held appointments at UIC, Northwestern and Rand. Marty was the author of more than 160 articles and four books on transportation, land use and environment. He was an award-winning teacher and scholar, recognized for his research with a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Rockefeller Foundation fellowships, and he was the winner of a UCLA distinguished teaching award.

He was mentor to an entire generation of urban planners and urban planning scholars and a cherished friend of many of the Luskin faculty.

We are in touch with his wife, Helen, and will share details regarding arrangements as they become available. The Luskin School will plan an appropriate commemoration of his life and work, in consultation with his family, in the near term.

I know you all join me in offering our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

In fellowship,


Gary M. Segura
Professor and Dean

Further coverage will follow. The Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA is encouraging people to add remembrances of Martin Wachs in the comments section of a post on the ITS website. Email tributes also may be sent to

Alumni Notes


Norma Edith García-Gonzalez BA ’95, MA UP ’99 is the new director of Los Angeles County Regional Parks and Open Space District, becoming the first woman and first person of color to serve in this capacity.

As parks director, García-Gonzalez’s position touches all corners of Los Angeles. She is responsible for the department’s operations, including a $232-million budget, more than 2,000 employees, 183 parks, 70,079 acres of parkland, more than 210 miles of trails, five equestrian centers, 14 lakes, 475 sports amenities, 42 swimming pools, 15 wildlife sanctuaries and 10 nature centers that serve as a refuge for more than 200 animals. And then there’s a handful of county-operated arboreta and botanic gardens, outdoor performance venues like the Hollywood Bowl, plus the largest municipal golf system in the nation, which consists of 20 courses.

García-Gonzalez brings 17 years of experience working for the county. During her time as acting director of parks, she led efforts to keep the parks available to Angelenos during the COVID-19 crisis. As director, she will continue to lead the department during emergencies and natural disasters, providing support for communities when gyms, regional facilities and local parks are needed as shelters for residents and livestock.

In 2016, García-Gonzalez helped with an equity ballot measure in L.A. County aimed at directing resources to refurbish park amenities in high-need neighborhoods, particularly in low-income communities of color.

In a Parks and Recreation news release, García-Gonzalez said, “Our parks are the backyard of Los Angeles County residents, and I look forward to leading the department with empathy, a vision for equity, an unwavering commitment in serving our communities and working with the Board of Supervisors to create a pathway for Los Angeles County’s recovery.”



Tim Casey MPA ’77, the retired city manager of Laguna Niguel, kept notes of some of the funnier and most memorable moments throughout his professional journey, always hoping to document those moments in a book. The time is now here.

The Mayor Married Who?” is a fun insider’s look at the daily challenges, unexpected curveballs, occasionally embarrassing failures, and successful triumphs that local elected officials and professional administrators face every day in our city halls and county halls of administration.

Through short stories capturing a 40-year management career, Casey’s sense of humor, passion for public service and compassion for others permeate every chapter.

His work is now available in paperback and digital form through Amazon. The book is also featured among publications from the International City/County Management Association.


After 35 years, Dennis Murata MSW ’84 retired from his role as deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

Murata was a longtime advocate for underserved communities, as well as cultural and ethnic diversity and inclusion.

After graduating from UCLA, his first county role was psychiatric social worker. In addition to his role as deputy director, he held positions such as acting chief deputy director and served in a leadership role in many of the department’s major initiatives, including implementation of the Mental Health Services Act.

Murata was selected as the Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year in 2007 at UCLA.


In Memoriam: VC Powe A pivotal figure for decades at the Luskin School, Powe oversaw career counseling and programs in which public officials, community leaders and alumni mentor students

By Les Dunseith and Stan Paul

Longtime UCLA Luskin staff member VC Powe, executive director of external programs and career services, died Sept. 16 following complications from a serious illness. She was 66.

Powe BA ’75, MBA ’77 joined the School in 1998 and served in a variety of roles over the years, including director of alumni and government relations. From 1990-97, she worked for the UCLA Alumni Association. Powe also was an adjunct faculty member at Los Angeles City College, where she taught marketing and management.

At the time of her death, Powe, a longtime Culver City resident who was born in Los Angeles, oversaw counseling, internships and fellowships, plus the Bohnett Fellows and Senior Fellows programs, at the Luskin School. Powe, who was widely known on campus simply as VC, was instrumental in developing deep ties to civic leaders. 

“VC Powe was a powerful advocate for the Luskin School, its students and alumni,” Dean Gary Segura said. “She worked tirelessly to draw attention to our excellent students, and she never stopped trying to expand opportunities for them to partner with leading members of the Los Angeles community.”

Segura noted that her work with the Luskin Senior Fellows program connected UCLA Luskin students with elected officials, CEOs and the leaders of nonprofit, educational and philanthropic organizations.

“She paved the pathways for more careers in public affairs than we can count. The Luskin School of Public Affairs lost a bit of its heart this week,” Segura said. “VC will be deeply missed.”

Powe’s death was unrelated to COVID-19. Angelus Funeral Home in Los Angeles made arrangements amid the ongoing pandemic for an Oct. 6 viewing, where friends and family paid their respects.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any gifts in VC’s honor be made to the VC Powe Memorial Fund, which will support UCLA Luskin-wide fellowships, Career Services and the Senior Fellows program. Gifts can also be made by check payable to the UCLA Foundation. Please include “Fund #14300” in the memo field and mail to the UCLA Foundation, PO Box 7145, Pasadena, CA 91109-9903.

Anyone wishing to send cards and other non-perishable items in her memory can address them to VC Powe’s family in care of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, 337 Charles E. Young Drive East, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1656. Please note that on-campus mail delivery is only available via the U.S. Post Office at this time.

A Luskin School memorial will be announced at a later date.

In recognition of her role strengthening civic life in the region, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors announced that it will adjourn in her honor on Sept. 29. The Los Angeles City Council will also adjourn in her honor that day.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who has longstanding ties to the Luskin School’s leadership programs, called Powe the “perfect combination of supreme competence, kindness and empathy.” 

“VC advocated tirelessly for students and worked to help so many individually,” Kuehl said. “When I was lucky enough to serve as a Regents’ professor, I would have been completely lost without her generous time. She will be deeply missed.”

Associate Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning, noted Powe’s contributions to vital programs such as Senior Fellows and Luskin City Hall Day and her guidance in helping students start their careers.

“It is so hard to imagine our Luskin School without VC. She was the nicest, kindest person, and utterly committed to our school and its alums,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “She did her work with tremendous professionalism and grace, and always with a smile on her face.”

Loukaitou-Sideris added that Powe’s longtime role at the annual commencement was especially memorable.

“I will always remember VC, hidden from the large crowds, steadily guiding us toward one more commencement, orchestrated to perfection,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. 

Powe’s involvement in commencement was also a fond memory for Bill Parent, who recently retired from the Luskin School after serving as an instructor and member of the staff, where he worked alongside Powe for many years.

“My favorite mental image of VC Powe will forever be her standing front and center on the Royce Hall stage at the very end of commencement, smiling radiantly, her arms raised to signal the graduates to rise and go take on the world,” Parent recalled.

Powe’s enthusiastic guidance of UCLA Luskin students and alumni is well-known, but she was equally supportive of staff members such as Caroline Lee, who joined the Luskin School in July 2019 as a career counselor. 

“VC was the most amazing mentor and boss,” said Lee, the assistant director of career services. “She is the reason that I felt so comfortable moving across the country to begin a new chapter in my life. She had the unique quality to make people feel at ease and always welcome.”

Lee continued: “I have never seen someone more dedicated to the success of students.” 

Her contributions were many, but Powe’s success with the Senior Fellows program stands out to many as a signature accomplishment. Before she took over, Parent recalled, the fledgling Senior Fellows program was “pretty weak tea,” but that did not deter Powe.

“Year-by-year, fellow-by-fellow, student-by-student, event-by-event, VC nurtured the program into a rewarding honor for scores of fellows and hundreds of students, a centerpiece of engagement for the Luskin School and UCLA in the world of public leadership,” Parent said. 

Past and present fellows include elected officials, corporate CEOs, government leaders, entrepreneurs, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, prominent educators and numerous public servants with ties to the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. 

Powe was adept at matching the expectations of students to what fellows could reasonably offer as mentors, then maintaining contact and paying attention to the details to make things work, Parent said. This approach led to similar success with the Bohnett Fellows program and a wide range of internship programs under Powe’s guidance. 

“Near as I could tell, VC’s strongest faith was in the power of education — as a teacher, an administrator, and as a lifelong student of management and leadership,” Parent said. “She believed in UCLA. She believed in the Luskin School and the missions of our three graduate departments. In other words, she believed deeply in us. She dedicated her career, as a vocation, to helping every one of us succeed.”

Powe was also known as someone who went out of her way to welcome new additions to the Luskin School.

“When I first came back to UCLA in 2015, one of the first people who took me under her wing was VC,” recalled longtime elected official Zev Yaroslavsky, a UCLA alumnus who is now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the Luskin School. “Her engaging smile, understated demeanor, intense commitment to our students, soothing voice, and total embrace of me let me know that I was back home.”

Yaroslavsky recalled that during his time as a public official he came to know Powe as UCLA Luskin’s emissary. 

“She came to meetings in my office, asked for advice on how to place more students in jobs, and proselytized me on the great work being done at Luskin,” Yaroslavsky said of Powe’s relentless efforts to advance the School and its students. “She was preaching to the converted.”

Former colleagues across the UCLA campus recalled some of Powe’s other contributions. Keith Parker, a former assistant vice chancellor of government and community relations, said Powe was a friend and colleague for more than 25 years.

“She was someone that always offered a smile, extended a helping hand and took a moment to let you know that she cared about you,” Parker said. “I always told her VC stood for ‘Very Caring.’”

In the 1990s, when Powe was working for the UCLA Alumni Association, outreach to alumni of African American descent was a key focus. “She developed a number of successful outreach programs that brought alums back to UCLA as engaged, supportive alumni,” Parker said. “She worked on the initial Summer Youth Employment Program that brought low-income high school students to UCLA for not only employment experiences, but also exposure to the benefits of higher education.” 

After she moved over to the Luskin School, Powe was the principal partner with UCLA Government and Community Relations in the annual School of Public Affairs Day at City Hall during which UCLA Luskin graduate students visit with the mayor, council members and department heads for the City of Los Angeles. 

Those meetings focus on an important issue facing the city each year, and the students subsequently produce a white paper with well-researched recommendations, Parker said. “The City Hall Day programs could not have happened without VC.”

Powe’s career history in the late 1970s and 1980s includes employment at May Co., as well as positions in advertising and marketing at the Los Angeles Times. She worked for five years with Inroads, helping to produce business seminars, and she taught business economics at the junior high school level for two years.

She was a former United Way/Kellogg Training Center certified volunteer trainer, a member of the Southern California Leadership Network and a volunteer for the UCLA Alumni Association’s scholarship selection programs. 

She held professional certifications in Organization and Human Resource Development (sponsored by the American Society for Training and Development) and Online Teaching from UCLA Extension. 

Powe was preceded in death by her mother, Vivian Carrell (Burbridge) Hines. She is survived by her father, Bolden Eugene Hines; her husband, Keith Powe; and three sisters, Brenda Kelly, Roberta Lecour and La Lita Green.

Friends and former colleagues of VC Powe are encouraged to contribute their reminiscences for an online tribute page by commenting on the UCLA Luskin Facebook page or by emailing

Message From the Dean

My Friends:

It is with tremendous sadness that I share with you the terrible news that our colleague and friend, VC Powe, passed away suddenly overnight. Her husband reached out to us this morning.

VC was a pivotal figure in the history of the School of Public Affairs. She has been with the School since shortly after its founding, and with UCLA for 30 years! She advised a generation of Luskin grads. As executive director of external programs and career services, VC oversaw counseling, internships and fellowships, the Bohnett Fellows Program and the Senior Fellows Program, and she developed long and deep ties to the community and its leadership — political, civic and philanthropic. In my four years as Dean, as I have traveled around Los Angeles and its institutions, there is no single name associated with the School more widely known and more favorably commented upon than VC’s. She was a passionate advocate for our students and alums. She will be deeply missed.

I will share more details when they are available, including arrangements. In the interim, we will reach out to her husband Keith on behalf of the School.

With great sadness…


Gary M. Segura
Professor and Dean

A longer remembrance of VC Powe will be published soon.

Luskins Honored as UCLA Alumni of the Year University also recognizes Bill Coggins MSW '55 with award for community service

The UCLA Award for Community Service was awarded to Wilfred “Bill” Coggins MSW ’55.

Meyer and Renee Luskin, namesakes and major benefactors of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, have been recognized as the 2020 Edward A. Dickson Alumni of the Year, UCLA’s highest alumni honor.

The university’s Alumni Association also honored Wilfred “Bill” Coggins MSW ’55 with this year’s UCLA Award for Community Service, which recognizes alumni who have worked for the enrichment of others and the betterment of their communities.

The Luskins are entrepreneurs, philanthropists and lifelong friends of UCLA.

“Together, Renee and Meyer have shaped UCLA’s greatness for nine decades, transforming UCLA through their many gifts benefiting students, families, communities and institutions around the globe,” the Alumni Association said in announcing the award.

Meyer Luskin earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1949, then went on to launch Scope Industries, which recycles bakery waste to make an ingredient in animal feed. Renee Luskin earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1953.

“The Luskins have transformed their success with an extraordinary generosity of spirit and resources to help UCLA impact countless lives,” the association said.

In 2019, the Luskins were awarded the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor. At a reception at the university conference center bearing their name, Chancellor Gene Block said, “What drives Meyer and Renee is precisely what drives UCLA: a desire to solve society’s biggest challenges and to create opportunity for all through education and research.”

Coggins was honored for his decades of stewardship of the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center, which helps families achieve academic and personal success, the Alumni Association said.

Amid the unrest of 1960s Los Angeles, Kaiser Permanente hired Coggins, an Army veteran, Fulbright scholar and psychiatric social worker, to develop a program that would meet the social and emotional needs of the Watts neighborhood.

“Coggins established trust with the community to create an organization that serves as an essential mental health and educational resource,” the association said.

“Bill Coggins has been called the heart and soul of the center, which continues to thrive due to his creative and thoughtful leadership that benefited generations of Watts residents,” it said.

Coggins, who retired as the center’s executive director in 1998, has been inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction. In 2018, he became the first recipient of the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Lifetime Achievement Award.

The UCLA Alumni Awards have recognized distinguished Bruins since 1946. This year’s honorees were announced in the spring; a celebration of their achievements will be planned at a later date.

Read more about the 2020 UCLA Alumni Awards.

Alumni Notes Urban Planning alumni provide leadership in El Monte and Cincinnati; a '96 MSW and triple Bruin oversees the L.A. County Office of Education

El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero MA UP ’01, JD ’01 and City Manager Alma Martinez BA ’01, MA UP ’13.


El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero MA UP ’01, JD ’01 and City Manager Alma Martinez BA ’01, MA UP ’13 reflected on how their UCLA Luskin education helped shape their respective paths and prepared them for careers in government office.

The two alumni apply the skills they developed as graduate students in urban planning to make collaborative decisions to solve problems and maximize the well-being of the residents of their San Gabriel Valley city.

After earning degrees in sociology and political science from UCLA as an undergraduate, Martinez returned to earn her master’s in urban planning at UCLA Luskin.

“I knew I wanted to work with the faculty in the department,” Martinez said. As an undergraduate, then-faculty member Leo Estrada, who died in 2018, had encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning, and he became an important mentor during her time in the program.

Looking back, Martinez’s Luskin School education “taught [her] to look at planning and development from a holistic point of view — not only how they affect the city itself but the surrounding communities as well.”

She keeps that holistic perspective in mind as she makes decisions as city manager that she knows will affect thousands of people.

Martinez said the interdisciplinary nature of the UCLA Luskin program gave her “the ability to shift priorities and understand the immediate needs of the community and approach it from a point of view of proactiveness and compassion.”

Quintero received his undergraduate degree in political science from UC Riverside, where he served as student body president

and president of the statewide University of California Student Association.

“I knew I wanted to have a life of public service,” Quintero recalled.

Being able to earn a dual degree from UCLA Luskin and the UCLA School of Law made for an appealing combination when he sought out graduate education.

“While the joint degree was a challenging academic experience to balance, the faculty were amazing and helped me get through as a first-generation student,” he said.

Looking back, Quintero said the joint-degree program made him a more well-rounded student.

“The experience and training that I received at UCLA were essential to what I believe to be good decision-making,” he said.

Quintero was elected in December 2009 as mayor of El Monte. He and Martinez have been working closely together since Martinez was elected city manager two years ago.

“I’ve always aspired to have a strong, collaborative relationship with the city manager, and I finally have that,” Quintero said. “I have a city manager that I can collaborate with at a very high level, and I enjoy our intellectual conversation.”

Having a city manager with a similar academic background creates “a wonderful environment for collaboration.”

Any advice for current UCLA Luskin graduate students?

“Be bold, develop relationships and pursue their passion,” Quintero recommended.

Because planners populate many different departments of city organizations, he recommends that students “go out and find what niche they would like to be involved in. Cities need good and experienced planners who can shape policy at a much higher level.” — Zoe Day


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA Luskin alumni across the world stepped up to lead their communities through an unprecedented crisis. It’s just that Debra Duardo’s community happens to be bigger than most.

Duardo is a triple Bruin. She received her undergraduate degree in women’s studies in 1994, then got an MSW at UCLA Luskin in 1996 before going on to a Ph.D. in education in 2013.

As superintendent since 2016 of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), Duardo has oversight of 80 school districts and more than 2 million preschool and school-age children. LACOE is the country’s largest regional educational agency. Her 30-year career in the Los Angeles Unified School District included positions in health and human services and academic counseling.

During the health crisis, Duardo’s proactive communication was credited with preparing Los Angeles schools to respond quickly in the face of a rapidly shifting landscape. She had the foresight in February to lay contingency plans for school districts to transition to online learning and continue essential services, doing so at a time when fewer than five cases had been confirmed in Los Angeles County.


The charge for every graduate of the Luskin School is the same: Be a change agent and bring solutions to your community’s most pressing issues. For Sara Sheets MA UP ’97 that has meant supporting urban community development in her home state of Ohio for over 20 years.

First making her way to Los Angeles via Teach for America, she taught elementary school for two years. The experience of educating students who lived in underserved neighborhoods beset by a lack of quality housing, rampant crime and unequitable access to food and transportation inspired Sheets to change course. UCLA Luskin’s focus on social justice and community development drew her to enroll as a Master of Urban Planning student.

Upon graduation, Sheets took her UCLA Luskin training and hands-on experience back home to Ohio.

Initially, she worked in community development, seeking to revitalize once-neglected areas of Cincinnati. Currently, she is a loan officer at the Cincinnati Development Fund, supporting real estate lending in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in attempts to bring affordable housing and new businesses to those parts of town that have been struggling.

She said she is especially proud of Cincinnati’s tremendous growth in the decade after the 2008 Great Recession.

More recently, in the face of COVID-19, that growth was threatened, and Queen City tenants have been counting on Sheets’ leadership and creative thinking more than ever. She is working extensively with small business owners and other borrowers in Cincinnati to help them pay rent, pay their workers, and keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic.

Her initiative quickly turned into a statewide effort to support other businesses and borrowers across Ohio, including with groups like the Cincinnati Development Fund.

“Even though it has been 23 years since graduation, I feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend UCLA,” Sheets said. “I remember feeling consistently inspired by my professors — Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Jackie Leavitt, Allan Heskin — as well as my fellow classmates who came to UCLA with rich personal and professional backgrounds and a deep commitment to equity.”

Although Sheets said she often misses Los Angeles, “I also love the benefits of living in a smaller city and being able to contribute in large and small ways to my community.”

Alumni Accolades Career changes and other updates from the alumni of UCLA Luskin

Svetha Ambati MURP ’17 is now the senior planner for the city and county of San Francisco, working on the Land Use and Community Planning team.

Jonathan S. Bell Ph.D. UP ’14 assumed the role of vice president of programs at World Monuments Fund in Washington, D.C. Formerly, he was the director of the
Human Journey Initiative at National Geographic.

Karen Diaz MURP ’19, MPH ’19 is the associate relationship manager at NeighborWorks America in Los Angeles. Diaz is an advocate for issues of poverty and racial equity.

Jasdeep Chahal MSW ’18 brings a strong background in working with diverse populations to her new position
as associate clinical social worker at the Elizabeth Hospice in Escondido.

Janine (Berridge) N’jie David MPP ’14 is back on campus as the deputy director for the Luskin School’s new Global Lab for Research in Action. The Global Lab pursues evidence-based solutions to critical health, education and economic challenges faced by children, adolescents and women around the world.

Jacklyn Oh MURP ’17 was promoted to project manager from associate project manager at Community HousingWorks, and she is working in the development of affordable housing.

Erica Ontiveros MSW ’18 is now deputy probation officer for Santa Barbara County. Working in juvenile services, she facilitates treatment opportunities for youth and their families while monitoring their progress.

While Tony Rodriguez MPP ’16 is studying for his MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School, he began a new position as MBA consultant at Citi Ventures at Citi in the London office.

Sam Stalls MPP ’19 is based in Washington, D.C., as a researcher for Collaborating for Resilience (CoRe), where he reviews field guides for practitioners building stakeholder platforms.

Jennifer Vallejo BA ’07, MSW ’12 was appointed as the mental health deputy for Hilda Solis, the Los Angeles County supervisor for the 1st District.

Taylor Liebolt Varner MURP ’15, in addition to holding the roles of planning commissioner for La Quinta and board member of the Desert Valleys Builders Association, has started a new position as regional affordable housing planner at Lift to Rise in California’s Coachella Valley.

Sara Estes (Cohen) White MPP ’08 is currently the worldwide industry lead – government at Apple. Emergency response/management and technology have been a focus of her career, particularly as it relates to innovative use of social media in disaster relief.


Alumni Offer Advice on an Uncertain Job Market Class of 2020 hears words of encouragement from two who graduated during the Great Recession

By Mary Braswell

Joey Shanley and Andy Sywak know what it’s like to look for a job in an economy shaken by uncertainty. The two UCLA Luskin alumni graduated in 2009 as the nation struggled to emerge from the Great Recession.

Each embarked on career paths that took surprising-but-welcome turns, and each emerged with insights about job strategies that work, including adjusting your mindset to weather unpredictable times.

At an online panel hosted by UCLA Luskin Career Services, Shanley and Sywak shared their wisdom with graduates entering the workforce during a downturn that has eclipsed the recession of a decade ago. Their words of advice to the Class of 2020 were both practical and encouraging.

“You have a master’s degree from one of the top top-tier universities in the world. I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you when you will find a job, but I will tell you that you will find a job,” said Shanley, who earned his master’s in social welfare and now manages transgender care programs at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Before and after he earned his master’s in public policy, Sywak worked in journalism, government, nonprofits and the private sector. He now uses policy and planning skills as a compliance manager for the West Hollywood startup AvantStay, which specializes in high-end short-term rental properties.

In each position he has held, Sywak pursued his longstanding interest in local government, and he encouraged students to “find that common thread” when presenting resumes with a wide range of experiences.

‘The thing that we always look for is people who can create solutions.’ — Andy Sywak MPP ’09

Shanley pursued politics and film before dedicating his life to social work, and even then a few unexpected turns awaited him.

“If you pulled me aside five years ago and said, you know, Joey, you’re going to be neck-deep in transgender health, I would have said that sounds great but that’s not my career path,” said Shanley, who manages Kaiser’s gender-affirming surgery program and is helping to launch a pediatric transgender care clinic.

“This is where my career has gone, and it’s been beyond even my wildest hopes.”

The May 29 panel launched a series of Career Services activities aimed at supporting students and alumni throughout the summer. At the next event, a Zoom conversation on July 7, Marcia Choo, vice president of community development at Wells Fargo Bank, will discuss how to align career decisions with equity and social justice.

Shanley and Sywak invited freshly minted policy, planning and social welfare graduates to remain in touch, to seek career advice or simply to strengthen the UCLA Luskin alumni connection.

The power of networking can be tapped well before graduation, Shanley noted. He recalled poring over the entire list of MSW field placements, then scouring websites of employers that piqued his interest. Whether or not they had active job listings, he reached out to set up introductory meetings and always followed up with both an email and a written note.

“I’m still old school,” he said, and hiring managers may be, too. “When all the candidates look equal but there’s a nice, handwritten thank-you card from you, that’s going to actually help elevate your position in the rankings.”

Both in interviews and on the job, the ability to communicate clearly and think creatively are key, Sywak added.

“When you work at a startup, people are given pretty big responsibilities pretty easily. … The thing that we always look for is people who can create solutions,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made certain skill sets essential on the job, the alumni added. Employees who have transitioned to a virtual environment, with clients or with colleagues, should master new technologies, design skills and ways of communicating to remain relevant, they said.

Both Shanley and Sywak counseled the graduates to view their hard-won master’s degrees as the beginning, not the end, of their education.

“There’s a lot that we can learn in those first few years out of grad school,” Shanley said. “Make sure that you’re listening, make sure you continue to have curiosity. …

“Especially now, life is hard for everybody. Make sure that you can funnel that into a place that’s effective in the workplace. Help find the solutions.”


Alumni Accolades Career changes and other updates from the alumni of UCLA Luskin

Lande Ajose MA UP ’95 of Oakland has been appointed to the Advisory Selection Committee for the Regents of the University of California by Gov. Gavin Newsom. This year, she also was named a senior advisor on higher education in the Office of the Governor.

Christopher Ayala ’15, MSW ’18 now holds the position of medical social worker at Harborview Medical Center in Washington state.

Megan Ebor ’04, MSW ’12, an instructor at CSU Dominguez Hills and UCLA, is an affiliate researcher at the Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Dora Epstein Jones MA UP ’96, Ph.D. ’04, an architecture educator, theorist and scholar, was appointed chair of architecture at the Texas Tech University College of Architecture.

Margaret Gross MSW ’18 relocated from California to the East Coast and is now working as a crisis clinician at First Call for Chittenden County at the Howard Center in Burlington, Vermont.

Dylan Jouliot MURP ’18 was promoted from transportation specialist to senior transportation specialist at Commute Seattle in Seattle, Washington.

Ramon Quintero MURP ’16, after working in the Bay Area, is now a community urban regional planner for the state of Florida, based out of Sarasota.

Vicente Romero De Avila Serrano MURP ’14 worked in Spain before relocating to San Francisco. He is assistant transportation planner at the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Ben Russak MURP ’14, a leader at the Liberty Hill Foundation, recently took on the role of acting director of environmental health and justice.

Elsie Silva, MSW ’16 is a medical social worker at the Elizabeth Hospice in San Diego.

Jenn Tolentino MPP ’11 is now a senior project manager at the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Innovation Team after working as vice president of impact and innovation at Rock the Vote.

Darryl Yip MURP ’15 returned to the Bay Area and was recently promoted to transportation planner for policy and long-range planning for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

A Passion for Diversity UCLA Luskin showcases its programs — and its people — who are pushing for all voices to be heard on issues of public concern

By Les Dunseith

The social justice ethos and commitment to diversity that form the backbone of UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs were front and center during the fourth annual Diversity Fair.

Dozens of graduate student recruits came to campus in November for a full day of discussions and workshops. Key speakers included Dean Gary Segura and the chairs of each graduate department: JR DeShazo of Public Policy, Laura Abrams of Social Welfare and Vinit Mukhija of Urban Planning, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion during which six alumni talked about why they chose UCLA Luskin and offered insightful advice about how the graduate school experience can help people with a passion for change figure out ways to turn their ideals into action.

“How do governments create safe spaces for immigrants? How do we improve the basic services that government provides so that it actually fits the needs of the people who are using them? All of those things were in my mind as I started the program,” said Estafanía Zavala MPP ’18, who is now project lead, digital engagement, for the city of Long Beach. “I feel like the program really helped me gain a good understanding of what was actually going on in the world and how to process it.”

Taylor Holland MURP ’19, assistant project manager at PATH Ventures, a nonprofit agency that works with the homeless population in Los Angeles, said that she chose UCLA in part because of its vast alumni network in Southern California. She said she met “great alumni by coming to events like this. We have super-active alumni who you can really tell are pushing for change in different systems throughout urban planning.”

Several panelists said that UCLA Luskin helped them to further develop a social justice perspective, and they talked about their own efforts to foster inclusiveness.

Ulises Ramirez MSW ’96 is a clinical social worker and therapist in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and he said that mental health service protocols are too often developed only with English-speaking clients in mind.

“The community that we serve at Harbor UCLA is very diverse. We see a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and my goal there has been to provide top treatment to monolingual, Spanish-speaking clients,” Ramirez said. “It’s an underserved population, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Christina Hernández MSW ’17, community accompaniment coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants in Santa Monica, said her clients come from immigration detention centers.

“They are asylum-seekers; they’re refugees; they’re immigrants. These are people coming from all over the world,” she said. “Our goal is that the documents that we have for English speakers, we also make available for other languages as well.”

The speakers noted that racial minorities and women have traditionally been underrepresented in some of their fields.

“I think our perspectives as folks of color are so important in transportation planning,” said Carolyn “Caro” Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles and now works as a planning consultant. She makes an extra effort to encourage minorities to pursue planning careers.

“If you ever need anything, hit me up,” Vera told the prospective students of color in attendance at the Diversity Fair. “It’s hard to get into the field. It’s daunting. But we need you in that field.”

Wajenda Chambeshi MPP ’16, a program manager for the city of Los Angeles, noted that a lack of diversity in some professions starts with decisions by young people from minority communities about which courses of study to pursue.

“Some of these professions that we overlook make really, really important decisions about where funds are going to be allocated, how they are going to be allocated and, ultimately, who receives what. That’s why we need diversity,” Chambeshi said, “so when we graduate, we will be able to filter into those positions that are able to divert resources — or even just rethink how we think about planning and public policy.”

As “the housing person on this panel,” Holland talked about the ethnic component of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

“We have 60,000 people on the streets in L.A. on any given night, and it’s largely a black crisis. We have 9 percent of the city that is black; 40 percent of our homeless population is black,” she said.

Holland said her focus is on chronically homeless people, many of whom are people of color.

“They are … people who have been forgotten about in every aspect of their lives and cannot be pulled up by their bootstraps. Looking at social justice and housing — it’s particularly in a crisis in L.A. right now,” she said, directing her attention to the prospective students of color in the audience. “And we need all of you guys to help out as you can.”

The alumni panelists spoke passionately about the advantages of being actively involved as students, and they urged attendees to build expansive personal and professional networks.

Vera said she battled depression during her time as a UCLA student and suffered a panic attack during an exam that threatened her opportunity to graduate. But friends helped her through.

“Always advocate for yourself. Create peer networks and check in on each other,” she said.

Noting that the pressures of academic life can be especially difficult for first-generation college students from disadvantaged populations such as herself, she continued: “You are more prone to having depression and anxiety when you come into a program that just doesn’t look like what you are accustomed to.”

Building a network as a student was important to Ramirez as well. He cited his involvement in the Latinx Caucus as a particularly beneficial connection, “and 23 years later, we still get together.”

Hernandez echoed those experiences.

“I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants, and navigating these spaces was very difficult for me,” she said. “So networks were a lifesaver.”

Hernandez ticked off the names of UCLA faculty and staff members who helped her as a student and remain close. “It was amazing to have people who look like me, Latinos, as advisors and as supervisors, who I could go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck with this issue.’”

She continued: “That is the beauty of joining this school. Even after you graduate, you still have folks who are going to be there to support you regardless of the situation.”

View more images from the event on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2019


Social Welfare Alumni Gathering & Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year

Dean Segura & the UCLA Luskin Department of Social Welfare cordially invite all social welfare alumni to join us for an evening of camaraderie & celebration at the annual UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Alumni Gathering to honor

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99

Executive Vice President of Community Coalition

2017 Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year

>>RSVP by Thursday, May 18th.<<

We look forward to seeing you!


First Fridays: UCLA Luskin Mixer – DTLA

UCLA Luskin alumni, students, faculty, and friends gather in the seating area near G&B Coffee on Hill Street. Start your day off by saying hello to old friends, meet new ones, and get the latest updates from alumni and colleagues alike! Drop in any time between 8am and 9:30am, and stay for as little or as long as you like.

Visit UCLA Luskin’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook accounts to learn more about this month’s mixer.

UCLA Urban Planning Coffee Mixer with Vinit Mukhija – DTLA

Grab your morning coffee & meet incoming urban planning chair, Vinit Mukhija. Alumni, students, and staff are all welcome to join us in the seating area near G&B Coffee in Grand Central Market. Start your day off by saying hello to old friends, meeting new ones, and sharing your ideas with Professor Mukhija! Drop in any time between 8am and 9:30am, and stay for as little or as long as you like.