Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen spoke to CalMatters about the $500 million in state funding allotted by Gov. Gavin Newsom for affordable student housing. The housing crisis in California has also impacted students, and the funding is meant to help public colleges and universities build affordable housing or renovate existing property through a grant process. Monkkonen noted that the housing aid is a good use of state money. “Unlike grant money or financial aid, housing is a one-time expense that pays dividends because it can be used repeatedly,” he explained. However, experts have agreed that the $500 million package will not be enough to create all of the necessary housing units for public students across California. “A better system would be one in which there’s a long-term plan to grow the stock sufficiently that everyone that wants to live there, can,” Monkkonen said.
A new paper co-authored by Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor assesses the critical role of school staff members in creating a campus climate that fosters student development and achievement. The paper, just published in the Journal of Community Psychology, is a departure from previous research that focused on school climate from the student’s perspective. “School staff members have enormous social responsibility and great influence over students. Understanding their perceptions and beliefs about school climate is critical,” wrote Astor and co-authors Gordon P. Capp of Cal State Fullerton and Hadass Moore of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. To conduct the study, the researchers spent seven months interviewing teachers, secretaries, coaches, counselors, school social workers, principals and district-level personnel at two elementary schools and two high schools in Southern California. They also observed formal and informal staff interactions, classroom and recreational activities, and contacts with parents and other members of the community. The study underscored that the school principal’s vision and efforts to engage staff members are crucial in determining the campus culture. One surprising finding was that a school’s socioeconomic status was not a significant factor in staff discussions of school climate. The research also showed that school staff tend to prioritize the student experience over their own work life when assessing school climate. The authors concluded, “Findings from this study strongly suggest that the quality of climate rests with the staff, and without staff reporting a positive climate, how could there be a positive climate for students?”
A Science News article on the effects of extreme heat on human behavior cited research by R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy. As temperatures rise, violence and aggression also go up while focus and productivity decline, the article noted, adding that lower-income people and countries are likely to suffer the most. “The physiological effects of heat may be universal, but the way it manifests … is highly unequal,” Park said. The article described Park’s research into the impact of hot days on student performance on standardized tests. One of his studies found that students in schools without air conditioning scored lower than would have been expected, and that Black and Hispanic students were more likely to attend school and test in hotter buildings compared to their white counterparts. A separate study by Park, described in Safety+Health magazine, found that hotter temperatures are linked to a significant increase in the risk of workplace injuries and accidents.
Articles in the Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed cited Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber’s efforts to clarify misleading statements about the University of California’s admissions policies. Both articles were written in rebuttal to an Atlantic story arguing that the UC system’s decision to phase out the use of SAT and ACT scores in fact discriminates against poor students of color. The Atlantic article “bootstrapped complex admissions data and procedures into a hot take that cooled upon inspection,” according to the Washington Post opinion piece, which pointed to Reber’s work as a factually accurate explanation of the admissions process. Reber, an authority on the economics of education policy, also weighed in on social media to counter incomplete or erroneous information. Inside Higher Ed called on public universities to do more to shore up public faith in their mission, both by aggressively countering false narratives and by upending a culture that prizes selectivity and prestige in admissions.
Assistant Professor of Public Policy Natalie Bau was interviewed by the American Economic Association about her research on the effect of pension reform on traditional family arrangements in Indonesia and Ghana. Bau explained that she was curious about how traditional customs of sons and daughters living with their parents after getting married might incentivize parents to make educational investments. She found that pensions led parents to invest less in the education of children who would have traditionally supported them in old age, and it also resulted in more of those children leaving home after marriage rather than continuing to live with their parents, as was the customary practice. She noted that even though her research shows that the pension program in Indonesia is reducing female education, there are still benefits. The best solution would be to “combine the pension policy with other policies that mitigate these negative effects on female education,” she concluded.
Excerpted from a Q&A by Katrina Deloso
Max Dubler is a Los Angeles-based photographer, writer, videographer, designer, downhill skateboarder and, now, master’s student at UCLA Luskin.
Dubler began his pursuit of a Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree at UCLA in fall 2021 after more than 10 years working in the skateboard industry. Although he was a sponsored rider for a while, most
of his experience has been as a photographer and magazine writer.
“I lived in a house with a bunch of skateboarders, and we would go out to Malibu and skate hills all day. When it was my turn to drive the car, I would go down ahead of the skaters and shoot photos,” Dubler recalled. When he wasn’t at home in L.A., he was traveling across America and the world making photographs and videos of his friends, which he sold to skateboard companies and skate media outlets.
How did he make the connection from skateboarding to urban planning?
“I wanted to understand skateboarding on a more intellectual level. The skateboard is a simple toy that has been invented thousands of times. Why did it catch on in Southern California in the 1960s?” Dubler said. “I realized that skateboards needed a hard, flat surface to roll on, and that those surfaces did not exist in large quantities until cars took over the built environment.”
In Southern California, concrete embankments are commonplace to prevent erosion. “I figured that those concrete waves made skateboarding fun enough to stick with after you fell for the third time,” he said. “Over the long term, the history of skateboarding mirrors the history of the built environment itself.”
In his travels, Dubler took note of how built environments shaped his sport. The soft sandstone of Southern California produces swooping, banked turns with a flowing quality — he says the one-way downhill Tuna Canyon Road in Malibu is the top-tier experience for downhill skateboarders. But in Colorado, many highways are cut straight through massive granite mountains, making
for a very different style of skateboarding.
“Street skateboarding is very reactive to landscape architecture,” he said. “Downhill skateboarding is more in the civil engineering space.”
Dubler later met planners through personal connections. And when he and his friends were forced to move after a wave of homes on their block in Westchester were bought out, renovated, flipped and sold, “I realized I had to have opinions about urbanism.”
Skateboarding remains banned or heavily restricted in many cities. “Skateboarding is superficially dangerous — kids frequently fall and break their wrists when they’re learning to ride — and since the ’70s there’s been this attitude that if kids are being hurt, we need to ban something,” Dubler said.
Plus, skateboarding culture has portrayed itself as a rebellious, counter-culture activity, for better or worse.
“It’s a creative approach to the built environment and an appropriation of landscape architecture as a space for play,” he said. “You’re not supposed to jump down a handrail — you’re supposed to use it to get down the stairs safely. So, it’s transgressive in its very nature.”
As a planner, Dubler sees a future for skateboarding as something more than a recreational outlet for “teenage white dudes” attempting dangerous stunts.
“The urban planning version of this is complete streets that are not designed solely for cars and parking, but where skateboards could roll next to bikes,” Dubler said. “That’s my vision at least: a lot more women, older people, queer people, people of color riding skateboards for fun and transportation and not buying into this very narrow vision of what skateboarding is and who it’s for.”
By Stan Paul
UCLA Luskin has allied with the Urban Affairs program at France’s prestigious Sciences Po university to offer a joint master’s degree in urban planning starting this year. The School also plans to begin offering a self-supporting Executive Master of Public Affairs degree, or EMPA, for mid-career professionals.
The first students in the dual-degree program will begin taking UCLA-based courses this fall, receiving instruction in development and design, with an emphasis on social, environmental and racial justice. In the second year of study at the Urban School at the Paris campus of Sciences Po, classes taught in English will focus on a comparative and critical approach to public administration and the social transformation of cities.
Graduates will earn a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA Luskin and a Master of Governing the Large Metropolis from the Urban School.
Chris Tilly, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, pointed to strong interest in the program, which had more than 30 applicants from around the world in its first year. Nine will start this program this fall.
“That was great news. Because we just announced the program on Dec. 1 and applications closed Jan. 31 — it was a narrow window — so we weren’t sure how much of a response we’d get,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people in the program interested in working globally, but there are also people who are saying, ‘I want to study globally in order to solve problems in Detroit, or here in Los Angeles, or in my home country,’” Tilly said. The majority of admitted students are from the United States, but “one person we admitted from Nepal wants to solve problems in Katmandu.”
A different student in the program already has studied in Australia, London, Berlin, Vienna and Seoul, whereas another has received all of his education in California. “So, there are people who have already had experiences spanning the globe and people who are really trying to expand their horizons,” Tilly said.
At UCLA Luskin, dual-degree students will have access to the same range of classes as other first-year enrollees, Tilly said. He also noted, “We had a record number of applicants to the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program, more than twice as many as we have ever gotten before.”
Students in the new program will have the benefit of a global experience, Tilly said, but their interests are similar to other planning applicants — housing, labor and economic opportunity, downtown development, transportation systems.
“Probably the largest group is interested in environmental issues, sustainability, environmental justice,” Tilly said of the dual-degree students. Global issues are also popular. “There’s one student who’s really interested in issues of migration and population displacement, for example, by natural disasters.”
The alliance between UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and the Urban School began in 2016 with the launch of a quarter-long student exchange program. Building on that relationship, a team from UCLA Luskin advocated for the dual degree, which required approval from UCLA and the UC Office of the President. Faculty advocates included Professor Michael Storper, who holds appointments at both UCLA Luskin and Sciences Po; Associate Dean and Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris; and Vinit Mukhija, professor and former chair of Urban Planning.
The Executive MPA
The mid-career EMPA focuses on working professionals seeking a degree from UCLA Luskin to advance their careers.
The graduate degree is still in the planning stages. If approved, it will focus on leadership and management. Participants will gain expertise in a broad range of public affairs issues.
With hopes of debuting in fall 2023, the program will be governed and administered by the faculty. The committee overseeing the approval process was led by Public Policy Professor Michael Stoll, working with Tilly and Alfreda Iglehart, associate professor of social welfare.
The program, which is expected to be financially self-sustaining, will consist of three quarters of study, plus two summer components — one before and one after the standard academic year, Stoll said.
“The EMPA will be a hybrid program, including online coursework, that will allow students to continue working during the regular year,” he said.
Thirty percent of the course units (12 of 40) will be online, providing flexibility for working students, with in-residence quarters providing the benefits of face-to-face interactions.
Summer sessions will feature two weeks in residence, plus online offerings. During the standard academic year, EMPA students may join other students on campus or learn remotely.
The program will build upon students’ previous work experience in government, the nonprofit sector, military service or the private sector, either in the United States or abroad.
“I think one of the important things we wanted to do with this program is look outside the 18-to-24-year-old age range,” said Assistant Dean Julie Straub. “We’re looking for a mid-career professional, probably someone five to seven years into their current position, who is looking to advance within their organization into management levels,” she said.
“One thing we are really going to focus on in this program is including classes that meet our strong points — to go with Luskin’s strengths across our three departments,” Straub emphasized. “It will really focus on the core tracks that we currently teach.”
The first cohort is expected to consist of about 30 students, with an expected five-year cap of about 40-50 students.
“We want it to feel like a tight-knit group, teach them what we do best and get them to be Bruins,” Straub said.
By Stan Paul
For Jasmine Hill and four other new full-time faculty at the Luskin School, it will be a homecoming.
The 2011 UCLA alumna, who served as student body president during her senior year as an undergraduate, will begin doing research and teaching at her alma mater as an assistant professor of public policy this summer.
“I think it’s always people’s dream to come back to their undergraduate institution, especially if they had a positive experience, and that was certainly the case for me,” Hill said. “Having received my graduate training at a private school, I got to see how much I value UCLA and public education.”
Hill’s work focuses on economic inequality, specifically on obstacles to social mobility for Black Americans. At UCLA Luskin, she will teach qualitative methods, plus a course about how seemingly well-intentioned policies can lead to racial inequality.
“In the wake of the assassination of George Floyd, I’m thinking a great deal about the disconnect between decision-makers and the public who wants to transform systems of power. If done correctly, I see qualitative methods as a tool to amplify the perspectives of the people and center the needs, and the concerns, of underserved populations,” she said.
Hill is passionate about mentoring students, especially those who traditionally have been marginalized. “I’m excited to support Luskin students who are organizing and fostering social change,” she said. “I’m motivated
Another new faculty member with direct ties to campus is Veronica Terriquez, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology in 2009 at UCLA and will become a professor of urban planning with a joint appointment in Chicana/o and Central American Studies. She will also lead the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. She was previously an associate professor of sociology at UC Santa Cruz.
Terriquez focuses on social inequality, immigrant incorporation and political participation, taking an intersectional approach to understanding how individuals and groups reproduce or challenge patterns of social inequality. Much of her research has implications for policies affecting low-income, immigrant and Latino communities.
“As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I prioritize conducting research that has implications for education reform, immigrant rights, labor rights and racial justice efforts,” said Terriquez, who also holds degrees from Harvard and UC Berkeley.
Mark Vestal has strong personal links not just to UCLA but also to Los Angeles. He was born in Inglewood and can trace his family lineage in the city to the late 1800s. He attended local schools and completed his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees at UCLA.
Vestal, who completed his Ph.D. in history in 2020, joined UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in January as a postdoctoral scholar and will transition to assistant professor in July.
“Being able to teach and do research in the city I have so much invested in, personally — in terms of personal experience, politically and also in terms of family ancestry — perhaps it should be an entitlement, but it feels like an incredible privilege,” Vestal said.
His interest lies in the Black experience of private property, he explained, looking closely at the history of discriminatory planning and housing policy in Los Angeles and beyond.
Vestal is developing his doctoral dissertation into a book, describing it as a social history of working-class property and politics. The findings of his thesis will “force urban historians, and anyone concerned with housing policy, to rethink the central problem of race and housing in the United States.”
Also joining UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in January was Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor whose previous academic post was in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. He holds a doctorate from Stanford and studies environmental economics and transportation.
Working remotely amid the pandemic, Millard-Ball has already taught a class in transportation and environmental issues and another on urban data science.
Millard-Ball originally hails from the south of England. Trained as an economist, geographer and planner, his scholarship analyzes the environmental consequences of transportation and land-use decisions, including parking. He also examines policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Much of my current work is about street network sprawl worldwide — quantifying which places have been really successful in providing connected streets, which are good for walking and biking,” he said.
Noting that transportation is the largest source of emissions in California, Millard-Ball explained, “I’m interested in what can be done to bend that curve.”
The fifth new faculty addition also has UCLA teaching experience. Margaret “Maggie” Thomas, who will become an assistant professor of social welfare, previously served as a lecturer for a second-year graduate course on poverty and welfare.
“I was particularly glad to get to teach last year as a way to really be connected with Luskin in that interim year,” said Thomas, who finished her Ph.D. at Boston University in 2020, followed by postdoctoral work at Columbia University. “It was just such a nice chance to get to know master’s students and start to get a little bit familiar with what the whole feel of teaching is like at Luskin and to meet some colleagues who are also teaching in the MSW program.”
Much of Thomas’ work is policy-oriented,
“so there’s a lot of really natural connections for me between social welfare, public policy and urban planning. Luskin offers such clear opportunities to collaborate with all three departments.”
Thomas holds degrees from Notre Dame and the University of Illinois. She focuses on children and families facing economic hardship, as well as children and youth from marginalized communities.
“We’ve heard conversations about hardship at the national level a lot more this year than we typically do. Whether it’s
food insecurity or housing hardship, the kinds of things I’ve been studying are only that much more prominent and bigger problems to solve,” she said.
By Mary Braswell
People across the country are speaking out against educational inequities in their communities, but how can they get the tools they need to turn that passion into action?
Answering that question has guided Valeria Moedano this year as she became one of the first UCLA Luskin undergraduates to put their public affairs training to the test in a real-world setting.
Moedano’s work with a national nonprofit committed to expanding opportunities for children fulfilled her experiential learning capstone, the signature feature of a major that integrates civic engagement with social science research.
The capstone was the last step before Moedano’s early graduation at the end of winter quarter, making her one of the first students to earn UCLA’s bachelor of arts in public affairs. In June, about 70 other Trailblazers, as this cohort is known, joined her, taking part in the Luskin School’s inaugural undergraduate commencement.
Moedano’s capstone project provided her internship host, Leadership for Educational Equity, with a toolkit to measure its members’ strengths and weaknesses as they enter the community organizing arena.
“We created an assessment that works like a quiz or rubric that our members can take to identify skills they need to develop,” Moedano said.
“A lot of these members are classroom teachers, so they don’t necessarily have skills like writing a policy memo or doing research or using data to tell a story,” she said. “But that’s what they have to do to get wins within their school districts or their states.”
As part of her research, Moedano interviewed organizers from campaigns in Louisiana, Texas and South Dakota that scored big legislative or policy victories in the fight for educational equity. Her aim was to identify strategies that could be shared with the nonprofit’s nationwide network of advocates.
Moedano presented these case studies and unveiled the skills assessment at a virtual gathering of more than 30 of the nonprofit organization’s leaders
in March. The audience included Mollie Stephens MPP MSW ’16, who served as both capstone advisor and career coach. After graduation, Moedano stayed on at the organization as a research and data associate.
Each member of the Class of 2021 completed the rigorous capstone requirement, which includes a seminar series, at least 220 hours of field work and creation of a plan or project designed to bring tangible benefits to the internship host.
Interest in the major has soared as more students have become aware of its multidisciplinary curriculum firmly rooted in public service. Next year’s graduating class is expected to number about 115; the year after that, about 140 and then 165 in 2023-24.
And of the record-shattering 139,463 students who applied to UCLA for freshman admission in fall 2021, 748 selected public affairs as a pre-major.
These numbers put the program on track to meet its enrollment capacity of 600 by the 2022-2023 academic year, which would allow the major to expand its selection of courses.
Among the classes now offered is an examination of the roots of democracy and the forces that threaten to undermine it, taught by UCLA Luskin’s Gary Segura — the rare dean to embrace the opportunity to teach a lower-division foundational course.
“I love teaching undergraduates,” Segura said. “This course gives me the opportunity to open their minds to the core concepts of American democracy and the core cleavages in American society.
“Our major is attracting amazingly talented and committed students who want to be a force for positive change!”
Launching the capstone program amid a pandemic had one silver lining: Internship hosts need not be located within commuting distance of Westwood. The 40-plus capstone sponsors included sites in San Diego, Sacramento, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
Trailblazer Juliette Frank landed a spot in the San Francisco mayor’s office, where she helped craft communications in the department of housing and community development. Hearing the city’s top official use talking points she wrote was a thrill, Frank said.
For her capstone project, Frank and other UCLA interns developed strategies to better inform vulnerable communities about services offered by the city.
“I realized after starting this internship that communication is so key to everything,” she said.
The internship’s location appealed to the New Jersey native, who was considering relocating to the Bay Area as graduation approached. And working remotely helped her manage a hectic schedule.
Frank’s typical day started at 5:45 a.m. on the waters of Marina Del Rey, where she joined her UCLA women’s rowing teammates to prepare for competition. She completed a second internship with the regenerative farming nonprofit Kiss the Ground for her food studies minor. And she’s pursuing her interest in health, digestion and the body’s microbiome as an undergraduate researcher at the university’s G. Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience.
“Food touches every aspect of everything in our world, but our food system is so broken,” said Frank, who aspires to use her UCLA training to help build sustainable food systems.
“I am now fully connecting the dots in terms of my major and minor, and it made me realize my interest in improving our food systems through a policy lens specifically.”
The Luskin undergraduate program has marked one milestone after another since the first public affairs class was taught at UCLA in fall 2018.
Social Welfare Associate Professor Ian Holloway taught the course — PA 80: “How Environments Shape Human Development” — and memorialized the moment by taking a selfie with his students.
“They’re bright and they’re engaged and they come from such a diverse set of life experiences that they’re just a pleasure to teach,” Holloway said of the undergraduates.
Holloway taught PA 80 again this year, this time via Zoom. He looks forward to the resumption of in-person classes, which better suits his teaching style of encouraging dialogue and letting the interplay of ideas guide instruction.
Because the pandemic was tough on students, academically, financially and emotionally, he expanded his office hours to open up time to speak with them one-on-one. “That’s what’s required of this moment,” Holloway said during winter quarter, when the coronavirus was at its peak in Los Angeles.
Ever since the major debuted, Holloway has served as a sounding board for students mulling over whether public affairs is a good fit.
“I try to emphasize the point that our major is a great balance of critical analysis and exposure to theories used to formulate arguments, but also practical skills that equip them to go out and actually do the work of changing the world.”
Marcos Magana’s capstone experience took him back to rural eastern Coachella Valley, where he grew up.
Magana connected with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit that partners with local residents to fight for equitable housing, transportation and environmental policies — and, this year, to educate the community about COVID-19 resources.
For his capstone project, Magana developed a catalog of the area’s scattered clusters of mobile homes, noting who owns the property and the conditions of the surrounding land.
“When our organization does any type of work out here, this will be a resource,” he said. “When you need to communicate with this population, you’ll know who they are, where they are and what their circumstances are.”
As one of a handful of Trailblazers completing an honors thesis in the major, Magana also researched the unintended impacts of Indio’s transformation into a tourist destination since the surrounding Coachella Valley became a mecca for music lovers.
Redevelopment catering to short-term visitors and an increased police presence year-round can have a negative effect on the city’s long-established residents, said Magana, whose honors advisor was Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy.
Concerned about protecting the health of the population, Magana has also measured the effects of contaminated dust storms from the shrinking Salton Sea for his minor in geospatial information systems and technologies. He’ll continue to hone these data-mining skills in the fall when he enters UCLA’s master’s program in GIS.
Magana was already thinking of minoring in public affairs when the new major was announced, and he is glad he made the switch.
“The public affairs major just opened my mind to different ways of thinking,” he said. “They force you to look at issues, problems and life, and just a multitude of things, through different lenses and to understand how other people see the world.”
It is with a mixture of incredible sadness and immense pride that I share the news that JR DeShazo will be leaving UCLA Luskin in the coming weeks. JR has just been announced as the new dean at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. He assumes his new role on Sept. 10.
As all of you know, JR has been a central and transformative figure in the life of the Luskin School. He has served many roles —most recently as chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy — but made his greatest impact in the further development, expansion and institutionalization of the Luskin Center for Innovation, which today is a premier think tank and research operation focusing on the environmental and technological challenges facing California and beyond. Much of UCLA Luskin’s environmental research effort on Californians and their environment is owed to JR’s effective and important leadership and creativity.
I want personally to extend to JR and his family my best wishes and those of the School as he embarks on his new challenge and the leadership of one of the nation’s leading public affairs schools. And I want to thank JR for his incredible work. JR—YOU WILL BE SORELY MISSED!
All the best,
Gary M. Segura
Professor and Dean
Read more about DeShazo and his new role at the University of Texas: