By Stan Paul
Elizabeth Salcedo, a recent graduate of the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, has a simple, emphatic message for those contemplating a career in social work, urban planning or public policy — “Just Apply!”
“I did, and I got in,” beamed the 2013 alumna at the Luskin School’s first all-school Diversity Recruitment Fair held Dec. 3 UCLA’s Ackerman Grand Ballroom. Like many students contemplating life after their undergraduate studies, Salcedo said she was reluctant and had self-doubt. Now working as an analyst in community development for the City of Long Beach, Salcedo can confidently articulate a good reason to apply and why diversity is important: “We need your voice.”
Salcedo participated in a panel of UCLA Luskin alumni — representing the School’s three departments, Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning — who shared their firsthand experiences of life during and after Luskin. The daylong event also included a panel of the School’s three department chairs and informational breakout sessions for their respective departments. Resources and advice concerning admissions and financial aid were also offered to prospective students, as well as a “suite of tools” they might need for their careers.
Urban Planning breakout sessions included topics such as “Our ’Hoods, Our Stories” to “Planning Post Trump.” A panel of current Master of Public Policy (MPP) students talked about building a “career toolkit” and what future students would need to do to prepare themselves – or, as first-year MPP student Isaac Bryan described it, “to be in that room” – where policy-making, discussion and analysis are taking place — from the local to the federal level.
“You are creating a baseline to create change,” said Joanna Williams MSW ’14, a social worker in Orange County who also participated in the alumni panel. She added that while challenging, graduate study at UCLA Luskin also offered an opportunity to explore options to collaborate and to form important and lasting bonds with classmates.
Panelist Jen Tolentino, a 2010 graduate of the MPP program said that for her, “the Public Policy degree has framed how I think about my work and framed how I think about problems,” which includes looking at issues through the lens of social justice.
Urban planning alumnus Richard France MA UP ’10, advised potential applicants that while finding a specific purpose for graduate study, “know that is it wide open,” referring to the field and careers that will follow graduation. He also reinforced the connection with peers at UCLA Luskin. “You will see your classmates out there. Your cohort is going to be one of your greatest resources and they are going to bring a diversity of experiences,” said France, who now works for a prominent strategic consulting firm headed by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumnae.
Former Los Angeles City Councilman (2001-2013) and Urban Planning alumnus Ed Reyes served as the keynote speaker for the fair, organized in cooperation by each of the School’s departments and staff, as well as diversity groups from each of the School’s three disciplines.
“In you, I see hope. In you, I see optimism,” Luskin Senior Fellow Reyes said to the potential applicants while balancing encouragement with a bit of practical advice. “I’m not going to candy-coat it, it’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be a straight line. But, it’s going to be worth it.”
Attendees energized and motivated by the event included applicant Kathleen Ann Sagun, who works in administration for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. She said that she was appreciative of all of the valuable information provided during the day, but, more than that, “It was empowering” to hear the stories of the alumni and to learn about “the advantages they had from doing there graduate studies here, at UCLA.”
“By the end of the day, we hope you will be motivated to join Luskin,” said Gerry Laviña, director of field education and associate director of the D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities) Initiative at UCLA Luskin, who was part of the network of Luskin organizers who made the day possible.
“You belong here because we believe in diversity as a necessary component of what makes each department, each profession, Luskin and UCLA excellent,” said Laviña, a 1988 graduate of the School’s MSW program. “You see that excellence in our students and in the student organizations that we have. You see that in the excellence in the research of our faculty and our research centers. You see that excellence in the communities and causes we believe in.”
In wrapping up the event, he said one thing became clear: “We must continue to value and validate diversity in order to maintain our excellence. The communities we serve deserve this.”
Others who helped organize the event included Jennifer Choy, associate director of admissions and recruitment for the Luskin Department of Urban Planning; the Public Policy student group Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity (PPDE); Social Welfare’s Diversity Caucus; and Urban Planning’s Planners of Color for Social Equity. Choy and her colleagues, Public Policy’s Sean Campbell and Social Welfare’s Tiffany Bonner, also held Q&A sessions for interested applicants.
“We hope events like this encourage prospective students from underrepresented groups to feel a sense of belonging at UCLA Luskin and inspire them to join our commitment to social justice in serving disadvantaged communities,” Choy said.