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Government Leaders Join Scholars to Discuss Policy Solutions During UCLA Luskin Summit Congresswoman Karen Bass opens the inaugural convening of a research-informed, cross-sector conference about issues facing the region

By Les Dunseith

Elected officials, scholars, civic leaders, and difference-makers in the nonprofit and philanthropic spheres came together April 24 to learn the results of the annual Quality of Life Index and discuss policy issues during a half-day conference put together by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Congresswoman Karen Bass provided the morning’s keynote address for “Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.,” an event that also kicked off the 25th anniversary celebration at the Luskin School.

Bass opened the conference by jokingly telling more than 300 people in attendance at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center that she “wanted to tell you about what we are doing in D.C. because, if you watch some TV news, you have no idea what we are doing in D.C.”

Bass has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011. She said that “Democrats and Republicans actually do work together” in the nation’s capital.

“We don’t hate each other,” Bass said, smiling broadly. “Our accomplishments unfortunately don’t sustain media attention. So you might hear that we passed legislation on something like gun control … and then somebody tweets, and that’s all you hear about for the next several hours.”

The congresswoman’s remarks set a cooperative tone for the inaugural Luskin Summit, which focused on finding solutions through research and policy change. The conference emphasized a Los Angeles perspective during breakout sessions moderated by UCLA faculty members that focused on issues such as public mobility, climate change, housing and criminal justice.

Providing a framework for those discussions was the unveiling of the fourth Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment under the direction of longtime Los Angeles political stalwart Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. The survey asks county residents to rate their quality of life in a range of categories and to answer questions about important issues facing them and the region.

“The cost of living, and particularly the cost of housing, is the single biggest drag on the rating that residents ultimately give to their quality of life in Los Angeles,” Yaroslavsky told Luskin Summit attendees. “The unmistakable takeaway from this project continues to be the crippling impact of the cost of living in Los Angeles County, punctuated by the extraordinary cost of housing.”

The housing affordability crisis was echoed throughout the event and in the days that followed as Yaroslavsky explained details of the survey in coverage by news outlets such as the Los Angeles Times, local radio news programs, and broadcast television reports by the local affiliates for NBC and ABC.

The coverage by KABC (also known as ABC7 Los Angeles) included segments on daily news broadcasts and a follow-up discussion with Yaroslavsky scheduled to air May 26 on the station’s weekly public affairs program, “Eyewitness Newsmakers.” That program is hosted by Adrienne Alpert, a general assignment reporter at ABC7 who served as the moderator for the Luskin Summit.

Alpert also hosted a panel discussion that closed the conference, during which mayors of four cities in Los Angeles County — Emily Gabel-Luddy of Burbank, Thomas Small of Culver City, James Butts of Inglewood and Tim Sandoval of Pomona — spoke frankly about the challenges their cities face in dealing with issues such as the rising cost of housing and its potential to lead to displacement of low-income residents.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a former colleague of Yaroslavsky on the Los Angeles City Council, was also in attendance at the conference. Padilla engaged in a lively exchange about election security and voter registration efforts with UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura during a lunch meeting of panelists, faculty members and sponsors that took place immediately after the summit.

Segura also provided remarks during the morning session, introducing Bass and giving attendees a preview of the day to follow.

“Today you will hear from a series of dedicated public officials who understand that as great as our nation is, it can be better,” Segura said. “And they are taking action to make our country and our city more effective, more innovative, more fair and more inclusive.”

During her remarks, Bass offered her perspective on the recently released investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“One thing that is a responsibility by the Constitution for Congress — we are supposed to provide oversight and investigation of the administration,” Bass said. “Most of the time it’s not that controversial, and you don’t really hear about it. But it’s made to be super-controversial now because we are in a hyper-partisan situation.”

The bitter partisanship prevalent in Washington today does have a positive aspect, she said, in that Americans seem to be paying closer attention to government and political issues.

“I am hoping that this trauma that we have collectively gone through will lead to a change in our American culture,” Bass said, “because as a culture we tend not to be involved politically.”

Bass said that more people seem to have a deeper understanding of political actions related to “immigration, the Muslim ban, the environment — all the kind of negative things that this administration has done,” said Bass, a Democrat who has been critical of many Trump administration policies. “I think he has sparked a new level of awareness and involvement, where we are working across our silos. I think, ultimately, we can take advantage of this period and bring about transformative change.”

The idea of initiating transformative change was a popular notion among many attendees at the Luskin Summit, as was the focus on making Los Angeles a more livable place.

“I can’t think of a better topic than how to make our city more livable and touch on all of these different aspects of life and the built environment and our environment in Los Angeles,” said Nurit Katz MPP/MBA ’08, the chief sustainability officer at UCLA.

Wendy Greuel BA ’83 is a former Los Angeles city controller and past president of the Los Angeles City Council. She noted that the research presented during the Luskin Summit was timely and focused “on issues that matter to Los Angeles, but also to this country and this world.”

Greuel served as the chair of the UCLA Luskin Advisory Board committee that helped plan the Luskin Summit. “I think that UCLA Luskin is at the forefront of really focusing on issues that matter and being able to give us real-life solutions and address the challenges,” she said.

Another UCLA Luskin Advisory Board member is Stephen Cheung BA ’00 MSW ’07, who is president of the World Trade Center Los Angeles and executive vice president at the L.A. County Economic Development Corporation.

“I think anything that has to do with sustainability and the growth of Los Angeles as a whole is very important to the economic vitality of this region,” Cheung said as the event got underway. “So this summit and all the information that’s going to be provided will really set a roadmap in terms of what we need to do, addressing public policies in terms of creating new opportunities for our companies here.”

Jackie Guevarra, executive director of the Quality and Productivity Commission of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, said she attended the Luskin Summit because of her interest in the issues under discussion, including housing affordability.

“Homelessness is a big issue that L.A. County is tackling right now,” Guevarra said. “That is an issue that touches all of us. … The more that we have that conversation, the more people we can get to the same way of thinking about how to address the need — so that maybe we can all say, ‘Yes, we need affordable housing, and it’s OK for it to be here in my community.’”

Misch Anderson is a community activist with the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, a volunteer organization created in 2013 after a series of fatal crashes involving cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

“I was feeling like my activism put me in touch with such a small, kind of silo-ized community mindset, and I really want to break out of that and connect with people on a larger level,” said Anderson about her reason for attending the summit. “I just wanted to get some inspiration.”

Her takeaway from the summit?

“The idea that we need cultural change, essentially. I think the realities of globalism should be forcing us as individuals to think more widely, more as a larger group, and not be so xenophobic,” Anderson said. “I keep hearing about cultural change [at the summit] and thinking about what can I do — what can each of us do.”

Among the UCLA students in attendance was Tam Guy, a second-year Urban Planning Ph.D. candidate who is studying equity in the city, which encompasses housing, transportation and environmental design.

“One thing that interested me about this summit in particular is that they’re bringing in people from outside academia to talk about the issues, people who are actually on the ground dealing with policy day-to-day,” Guy noted.

The Luskin Summit drew a large crowd to the UCLA campus, and several hundred people watched a live stream of selected presentations. It drew interest near and far. A prime example was a group seated together near the back of the vast ballroom during the opening session — high school students from New Zealand!

The youths had been traveling up and down the West Coast with Joanna Speed, international coordinator with Crimson Education, a college admissions consulting service that exposes teens to potential careers and educational opportunities abroad. Coincidentally, the group scheduled its campus tour of UCLA for April 24. When they saw that the summit was happening that day, they asked to attend.

“It’s been an incredible experience for them,” Speed said.

Mary Braswell and Stan Paul also contributed to this story. 

View additional photos from the UCLA Luskin Summit

UCLA Luskin Summit 2019: Livable L.A.

Watch videos recorded during the event:

Segura Receives Distinguished Career Award

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura received the Distinguished Career Award during the annual convention of the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago. The honor was presented April 5, 2019, by the association’s Latino/a Caucus, which also recognized Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College in Atherton, California. Named UCLA Luskin’s dean in 2016, Segura helped launch the School’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative, a research laboratory tackling domestic policy issues affecting Latinos and other communities of color. He is also co-founder and senior partner of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions. Segura’s work focuses on political representation, social cleavages and the politics of America’s growing Latino minority. He has written several publications, directed expansive polling research and served as an expert witness on the nature of political power in all three of landmark LGBT marriage rights cases in 2013 and 2015.


 

UnidosUS President Janet Murguía will deliver the keynote address at the June 14 UCLA Luskin Commencement. Photo courtesy of Violetta Markelou Photography

National Civil Rights Leader Named 2019 Commencement Speaker Longtime UnidosUS President Janet Murguía has worked to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy

By Les Dunseith

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, has been named the 2019 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Murguía has led UnidosUS since 2005. She will deliver the keynote address during the UCLA Luskin ceremony at 9 a.m. on June 14 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.

“Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice,” Luskin School Dean Gary Segura said. “In this very difficult time for the Latino population, I am excited to hear her share her insights and determination — developed and refined over decades of advocacy — with our graduating class.”

‘Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice.’

— Dean Gary Segura

During her tenure at the organization, which changed its name from the National Council of La Raza in 2017, Murguía has sought to strengthen the work of UnidosUS and enhance its record of impact as a vital American institution. Murguía has also sought to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy.

A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Murguía earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish, and a juris doctorate, from the University of Kansas. She has also received honorary degrees from Cal State Dominguez Hills, Wake Forest University and Williams College.

Murguía began her career in Washington, D.C., as legislative counsel to former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery from her home state. She worked with the congressman for seven years before joining the Clinton administration, where she served for six years as a deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton, including deputy director of legislative affairs.

Murguía went on to serve as deputy campaign manager and director of constituency outreach for the 2000 presidential campaign of Democrat Al Gore, during which she was the primary liaison between former Vice President Gore and national constituency groups.

In 2001, Murguía returned to the University of Kansas as executive vice chancellor for university relations, where she oversaw KU’s internal and external relations with the public. She is credited with coordinating the university’s strategic planning and marketing efforts at KU’s four campuses.

Over the course of her career, Murguía has been featured in various magazines and newspapers for her work and leadership. This includes being highlighted on Hispanic Business Magazine’s “100 Top Latinas” and “100 Most Influential Hispanics” lists, Washingtonian magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women in Washington,” the NonProfit Times’ list of top 50 leaders of “Power and Influence,” People En Español’s “100 Most Influential Hispanics,” Newsweek’s third annual women and leadership issue, Poder magazine’s “The Poderosos 100,” Latino Leaders magazine’s “101 Top Leaders of the Hispanic Community” and Hispanic magazine’s “Powerful Latinos.”

Murguía was the first Latino to give the keynote speech at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham, Alabama. And she received Alpha Phi’s Frances E. Willard Award in 2018.

Murguía is currently a board member of Achieve, an independent and nonpartisan education reform nonprofit organization, and the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility. She also serves as a member of diversity advisory councils for Bank of America, Charter Communications, Comcast/NBC Universal and Wells Fargo.

Learn more about the 2019 Commencement at UCLA Luskin.

 

Visiting Professor Steven Nemerovski

Visiting Professors Encourage Careers in Government With a dysfunctional government and Election 2020 firing up interest in politics, faculty stress importance of getting involved

By Stan Paul

“If government is so dysfunctional, why should I work there?”

That question guided a noontime discussion hosted by Visiting Professor of Public Policy Steven Nemerovski on Feb. 20, 2019, at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

One answer, Nemerovski said, is that when nothing is getting done — at the federal level in particular — “that’s the time when you need talented people the most.”

Nemerovski is one of three visiting professors — all with decades of experience — at UCLA Luskin in the winter quarter. Citing his own unique career path, which has spanned politics, government, business and law, the adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs encouraged the gathered students to consider government as a starting point for developing a successful and multifaceted career.

“There is no right way” into politics, said Nemerovski, who is teaching an undergraduate and graduate-level course in advocacy and legislation. He said government experience should be looked at as an extension of education, an early step in a student’s career process. “You have to go into it thinking that way,” he said.

Another teaching visitor this quarter is Gary Orren, the V.O. Key, Jr., Professor of Politics and Leadership at Harvard University, who is again teaching a graduate course “Persuasion: Science and Art of Effective Influence,” which he says “lies at the heart of our personal and professional lives.”

Orren, who has taught at the East Coast institution for nearly half a century, is also able to share his experience as a political advisor in local, state, national and international election campaigns.

Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, has also returned to campus this winter, as he has for more than two decades. Dukakis is co-teaching a course on California policy issues in the School’s new undergraduate major as well as his graduate course on institutional leadership.

In January, Dukakis led a Learn-at-Lunch discussion with UCLA undergrad students on the 2020 campaign. He noted that, since the 2016 election, young people’s interest in politics has increased dramatically and current events have only fired them up.

“They are streaming into my office asking about public service,” he said.

That sentiment was heard at the lunchtime conversation with Nemerovski, who offered a number of career lessons and insider tips.

Nemerovski, who has served as an attorney in government service, a campaign manager and lobbyist, and now president of a consulting firm specializing in advocacy at the state and federal levels, explained that his own career path did not start in a straightforward way or as early as he recommends to students.

He highlighted the importance of “picking a team” and “finding a cause” — of connecting passion with expertise. Admittedly, he said, he did not have a particular calling from the start in his home state of Illinois, but by becoming involved in lobbying, he developed a true career-long passion for health care issues.

He cautioned that becoming an expert can only get a person so far and stressed the importance of establishing relationships. He said he still has important connections from more than four decades of work in his various roles, and he has invited many in his network to speak to his classes. This quarter, Nemerovski’s students had the opportunity to hear from several current and former legislators from Illinois and California.

One of the many benefits of maintaining relationships with people throughout a career, he said, is that “you will grow with them.”

Nemerovski also shared a few enduring political rules of thumb: “In the world of government and politics, you have to be from somewhere” and “We don’t want anybody that nobody sent.”

And in launching and nurturing a career involving work in and out of government, Nemerovski said, “There’s nothing wrong with a little luck.”

Orfield on Role of Magnet Schools in Los Angeles

The recent teacher’s strike in Los Angeles stoked a discussion of the role of “magnet schools” in L.A.’s school district. In an article from Next City, Urban Planning Professor Gary Orfield, also the co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, said, “A good magnet requires a commitment to invest and train people to offer distinctive programs, and of course magnet schools that are run under good civil rights policies have to offer transportation.” Magnet schools, which were originally opened as part of a desegregation plan to increase diversity, are based around a specialized academic focus that attracts students across school district lines and zones. Due to their rising popularity, these schools have also been magnetizing much of the funding that has been allocated to regular L.A. schools. Many school administrators have been considering transforming their schools into magnets, much to the concern of various teachers’ unions.


 

Kevin de León Joins UCLA Luskin Former state legislative leader who bolstered California’s role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy will teach public policy courses and provide insight on issues of special importance to Latinos

President pro Tempore Emeritus of the California State Senate Kevin de León has joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs as a distinguished policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst.

“Kevin de León has led the way for more than a decade on issues as important as environmental protection and climate, immigration, education, and so much more. Our students and researchers will both benefit greatly from his insights and vision,” Dean Gary M. Segura said in announcing the appointment.

De León began his new role at UCLA Luskin on Jan. 22, 2019, and will teach his first courses at UCLA in the spring quarter that begins in April. His courses will focus on topics of interest to the School’s graduate students studying public policy and to undergraduates in UCLA Luskin’s new major in public affairs.

As the first Latino in more than a century elected to the position of president pro tem of the California Senate, de León championed California’s global leadership role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy. He also focused his attention on rebuilding the state’s infrastructure; improving public education; ensuring workplace and health care equity for women, immigrants and low-wage workers; and enhancing public safety.

In Sacramento, de León also led the creation of a first-of-its-kind retirement savings program for low-income workers. He pushed for a requirement that a quarter of all carbon cap-and-trade revenue — now totaling over $8 billion — be spent in disadvantaged communities. As Senate leader, he shepherded legislation that set California on the path to a 100 percent clean energy future — the largest economy in the world to do so — thereby creating the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation.

His role at UCLA Luskin will include an advisory position with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), which is a multifaceted laboratory designed to support Latinos around domestic policy challenges. Research and policy briefs from LPPI tackle major legislative issues that directly impact Californians, particularly communities of color.

In December 2017, de León served as keynote speaker for the launch of LPPI, saying that UCLA is “arguably the finest public institution in the nation, if not the entire world.” De León also spoke enthusiastically of the promise that LPPI represents for elected officials. “We need the empirical evidence, and it’s about time we have this institution established at UCLA.”

Last year, de León launched a historic challenge to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He prevailed in a tough primary battle, earned the overwhelming endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party, and secured more than 5 million votes.

He has an extensive record on women’s rights, gun-violence prevention and workers’ rights. De León has also worked to create solutions to address the state’s transportation, housing and infrastructure goals.

Another aspect of de León’s appointment at UCLA Luskin will be a collaboration with the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) to design implementation strategies for signature laws that he shepherded during his time in the State Capitol, including legislation to ensure that disadvantaged communities have access to clean transportation options.

Other collaborations with LCI will advance efforts to move the state to 100 percent zero-carbon energy and provide support for policies designed to ensure that California continues to lead the country with its climate policies. De León will help craft community-based solutions that advance these statewide goals.

De León attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, and he graduated from Pitzer College.

Activists-in-Residence Bring Pedagogy and Methodologies of Social Change to UCLA The 2019 activists are a co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, an archivist at the Southern California Library, and a UCLA Luskin alumna who is a storyteller, politico and campaign strategist

By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith

The 2019 UCLA Activists-in-Residence were introduced Jan. 16 to about 100 students, faculty, staff and community supporters who did not let a steady rain deter them from welcoming activists Micah White, Yusef Omowale and UCLA Luskin alumna Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07.

During their residency at UCLA, each of the three activists will pursue a project designed to advance their commitments to social justice. They will also engage with UCLA faculty and students to share their methodologies for social change.

The Activist-in-Residence Program was launched in 2016 by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center to advance core research themes concerned with “building power to expose and tackle various forms of dispossession in unequal cities,” said Institute Director Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “We have insisted on turning the public university inside out.”

Micah White, Ph.D., is an author, public speaker and lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries. His first book, “The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution,” was published in 2016.

“This kind of opportunity for the critical pedagogy of activism is as rare as it is needed,” White said prior to the reception. “Activism and the ways we protest must change if it is to regain its effectiveness. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to bring the rigorous thinking of academia to bear against the deep strategic and theoretical challenges facing practicing activists.”

White’s time at UCLA is focused on whether activism can be taught — and how to do it. He and Roy are exploring that issue by co-teaching a course on housing justice activism and protest as part of an effort known as Activist Graduate School.

During her opening remarks, Roy said, “Micah has brought to UCLA Luskin his latest project, Activist Graduate School, which I see as an urgently necessary effort to build pedagogy an infrastructure in these troubled times.”

As archivist at the Southern California Library, Yusef Omowale has been a participant in collective memory work to document the impacts of policing, incarceration, displacement and poverty. He has been involved in political education workshops, campaign support, and the offering of spaces for healing and material support to ease the day-to-day sufferings of individuals in need.

Founded over 50 years ago, the Southern California Library holds extensive collections related to the history of community resistance.

“I am thankful to receive this Activist-in-Residence position for the respite and resources it offers,” Omowale said. “Coming from a struggling nonprofit, having access to all the university affords is no small thing.”

Even so, Omowale said his acceptance of the fellowship carries with it a measure of trepidation.

“The university, consorting as it is with racial capitalism and its progeny, neoliberalism, is not a safe place for most of us,” he explained.

Working in South Central Los Angeles, Omowale is regularly confronted “with dominant imaginings of the violence that we must have to contend with in our work. And certainly, we encounter the violence of poverty, environmental toxins, policing and the interpersonal kind. From this reality, the university is meant to represent a safe haven — a north star.”

Yet, he said, the geography of the university is bounded and sustained in part by the “violence it enacts on communities like the one I work in.”

He continued: “Whether intended or not, this residency has a discursive role in legitimizing the university, erasing its violence, through appropriation of ‘activism.’ I cannot ignore this function, nor my participation in it.”

On the other hand, “there are so many people laboring in the university that I love, and I am thankful for the opportunity to join them in their collective projects for freedom. I will take the advice of Harney and Moten that ‘in the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can,’” Omowale said, referring to the book, “The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study,” by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten.

During his residency, Omowale will extend his work on building an archival practice that can document displacement and dispossession in Los Angeles.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC) selected Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed as its 2019 UCLA Activist-in-Residence because of her “creative use of storytelling, art, social media and digital technology to advance Asian American social justice movements that is path-breaking and fits perfectly with our center’s digital initiatives ” said AASC Director Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. She further noted that while pursuing her Master of Public Policy degree at UCLA Luskin, Ahmed was part of a student-led initiative to bring critical race theory into public policy.

Ahmed is co-host of a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim” and an avid essayist. She was honored as alumna of the year by UCLA Luskin Public Policy in 2017.

Ahmed said that “digital tools have become one of the most democratizing ways to access movement knowledge, history and analysis to inspire this community forward.”

She continued, “As a community, we have to tell our own counter-narratives and contemporary histories that keep getting sidelined — and what better way to do that than a digital storytelling project rooted at UCLA?”

Ahmed will explore the intersection of digital storytelling with the building of political movements by developing an audio advice column for new Asian American activists.

Her fellowship is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies, which honors the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee.

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy fellowship program is supported by a gift from the James Irvine Foundation.

View more photos from the reception on Flickr:

2019 Activists-in-Residence Reception

5 Luskin Alumni Are Among New Senior Fellows They join other professionals as mentors for graduate students

For the first time, five alumni of UCLA Luskin are included in the new group of Senior Fellows — two each from Public Policy and Social Welfare, plus a graduate of Urban Planning. In the Senior Fellows Leadership Program, professionals in careers associated with fields related to the School’s academic programs volunteer to mentor graduate students. Senior Fellows also provide UCLA Luskin students with career guidance and arrange an on-site visit at their organization.

The five alumni additions:

  • Michael Alvidrez MA UP ’83 is external ambassador and CEO emeritus of Skid Row Housing Trust
  • Seth Jacobson MPP ’03 is senior director of energy and water programs for Climate Resolve
  • Cheryl Mathieu SW Ph.D. ’05 is founder and CEO of AgingPro
  • Paco Retana MSW ’90 is vice president of programs at Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic
  • Emily Williams MPP ’98 is senior deputy for human services and child welfare for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

A New Wrinkle at UCLA Luskin — Undergrads Within months of official approval, the undergraduate degree in Public Affairs was already educating scores of pre-majors and providing them an avenue for activism

By Mary Braswell

The rising excitement over UCLA Luskin’s new undergraduate program increased by at least a hundredfold as the first prospective Public Affairs majors stepped onto campus this fall.

Just weeks into the fall quarter, more than 100 students had formally opted in and dozens more had reached out to hear about the ambitious program, which combines critical thinking, social science methodology and deep engagement in the community.

In a year when young people are leading the charge for gun reform, transgender rights, climate change and more, the new major provides an avenue for activism.

“There will certainly be an infusion of energy that only undergraduates can bring,” said Dean Gary Segura.

Freshman Callie Nance was immediately attracted to the public service ethos at the heart of the major.

“I was undecided and feeling a little anxious about that, so I looked through all the majors on the UCLA website. When I came across Public Affairs, I realized it hit all of my passions,” said Nance, who spent time in high school working to create educational and employment opportunities for young people.

“This major doesn’t just expand knowledge,” she said. “It shows us how to do something with that knowledge, to make an impact.”

That sentiment is reflected in the undergraduate program’s motto: Developing Leaders Engaged in Social Change.

“Our students are developing knowledge and skills in the service of solving society’s most pressing problems, which is really what distinguishes this major from others,” said Undergraduate Affairs Chair Meredith Phillips, who is also an associate professor of public policy and sociology.

No other campus in the UC system offers a Public Affairs bachelor’s degree that draws from the three fields UCLA Luskin is known for: public policy, social welfare and urban planning.

This partnership has created an infectious energy that was on display during an undergraduate open house during the first week of school. Phillips led the welcoming committee, along with more than 20 faculty from across the School and Dean Segura, who noted that he too will teach an undergrad course this year, Foundations and Debates in Public Thought.

The event offered a glimpse of the resources available to students pursuing the B.A. in Public Affairs. Freshmen and sophomores freely mingled with professors who teach graduate-level courses and conduct cutting-edge research. And the undergraduate staff, who came together this summer to ensure the major was launched without a hitch, was out in force to answer questions and offer encouragement.

The networking continued the following evening at the Schoolwide Block Party, where the entire UCLA Luskin family — students, faculty, staff and alumni — came out to celebrate the new academic year.

“It was a good chance to talk to some alumni, to see what they are currently doing,” said freshman Navkaran Gurm, whose interests lie in law, politics, economics and public service.

Over the summer, another alumni connection led Gurm to the new major. He had enrolled in a Fresno City College economics class taught by Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, and ended up volunteering for Esparza’s campaign for Fresno City Council.

In the classroom and on the trail, Gurm spent hours talking to Esparza, who urged him to take a look at the Luskin School’s new bachelor’s degree. Gurm was sold. He plans to double-major in Economics and Public Affairs, with an eye toward attending law school.

“What I saw in the Public Affairs major was a way to show us how to make the world a better place, and that was something that really appealed to me,” said Gurm, who is keenly interested in battling disparities that put youth in rural communities, like his hometown, at a disadvantage.

A poll ahead of the November 2018 midterm elections found a remarkable level of civic engagement among young Californians. They talk politics, volunteer and allow political values to guide their purchases, the survey of 16- to 24-year-olds found. A full 80 percent said they considered themselves part of a social movement, according to the poll funded by the California Endowment.

Rising student demand led to creation of the Public Affairs major, which UCLA Luskin faculty unanimously endorsed in 2017. The university’s Academic Senate gave final approval in April 2018, and the first cohort was recruited over the summer.

Ricardo Aguilera switched to the pre-major as soon as it was announced. “For me, it was right on, concentrating on social advocacy within the community and just giving back,” he said.

Aguilera is one of several dozen sophomores who are working closely with the undergraduate staff to complete pre-major requirements in a single year. The School also continues to offer undergraduate minors in Public Affairs, Gerontology and Urban and Regional Studies.

Aguilera, Nance and Gurm have been struck by the personalized attention they receive in the relatively small Public Affairs program. Weekly emails share information about jobs, internships and campuswide events, and keep the cohort connected, they said.

Gurm said he attended informational sessions for other majors where students clamored to get their questions answered. At the Public Affairs workshop, “there were four of us and Brent, and it was as if we were having a one-on-one conversation,” he said, referring to undergraduate advisor Brent Showerman, who explained both the vision and the requirements of the program.

“I really like that whole support system, the feeling that they are guiding us in the right direction,” he said.

Minority Health Improves in Positive School Environment, Study Finds

Low-income minority boys’ health improves when they are in high-performing school environments, according to a recent study by UCLA Luskin Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber and co-authors from the David Geffen School of Medicine. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, used admission lotteries for high-performing public charter schools in Los Angeles and surveyed 1,270 students who applied. Over a four-year period, their behavior was tracked. Among boys, the study found less marijuana use, less truancy, more time spent studying, greater teacher support for college and less school mobility. The study did not find any significant health improvements among girls. “Future studies targeting school-based social networks and school culture … can begin to identify the pathways through which to build healthier schools,” the researchers said. They concluded that investing in higher-quality public education will reflect positively on the students’ health. The study, titled “Assessment of Exposure to High-Performing Schools and Risk of Adolescent Substance Use: A Natural Experiment,” was co-authored by the School of Medicine’s Rebecca Dudovitz and Paul Chung. News coverage of the report appeared in U.S. News and World Report, Business Insider and other publications.