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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.

Growing to Meet the Challenge of a Changing World UCLA Luskin faculty additions bring new expertise to help keep pace with a rapidly evolving society

By Stan Paul

Retreating coastlines. An information revolution. The ever-evolving ethnic makeup of the United States. These are times of rapid change, presenting new challenges to how and where we live and work.

Meeting the challenges of this new normal and finding solutions to shifting problems and populations, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has undergone unprecedented growth. In fall 2018, nine new scholars joined Luskin’s faculty in positions that cross disciplinary lines within the School and across the campus. This follows the addition of six other new faculty members since 2016. Four more are being recruited.

This expansion is partly tied to the launch of a new undergraduate major in public affairs, but it’s about more than filling out a schedule of classes. The School has become one of the most diverse and interdisciplinary units in the University of California system, Dean Gary Segura said. The additions were designed to expand “expertise and social impact,” making the school “profoundly well-positioned to engage, educate, study, and contribute to California’s diverse and dynamic population.”

Among the new faculty, six are women and four are Latino.

Some already have strong interests in Los Angeles as well as ties to UCLA and the region, and others will have the opportunity to incorporate Los Angeles into their work.

“I’m extremely excited to be coming home, living on the Eastside and working on the Westside,” said Chris Zepeda-Millán, associate professor of public policy and Chicana/o studies. Zepeda-Millán, a political scientist who grew up in East Los Angeles, studies how mass protest impacts public opinion, policy preferences, identities and political participation. His book, “Latino Mass Mobilization, Immigration, Racialization, and Activism,” received awards this year from the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association.

Zepeda-Millán is thrilled to be at UCLA: “It’s truly a dream come true.”

Martin Gilens, professor of public policy, previously taught political science at UCLA. After a long stint at Princeton, he returned to UCLA, where he has multi-generational ties — his parents and grandfather are

Bruins. A native Angeleno, Gilens studies race, class, social inequality and their representational effects in the political system. He teaches courses to graduate and undergraduate students.

“I’m looking forward to the interdisciplinary environment of the Luskin School,” Gilens said. “My Ph.D. is in sociology, and I’ve taught in political science and public policy, so I’m a walking embodiment of interdisciplinarity.”

Natalie Bau adds global perspective and reach. She is an economist studying development and education, with a particular interest in the industrial organization of educational markets. She looks at cultural traditions — such as bride price and dowry practiced in some countries — and their role in determining parents’ human capital investments in their children, and how they evolve in response to the economic environment.

In Zambia, she and research colleagues are tracking the outcomes of 1,600 adolescent girls to evaluate the effects of an experiment that randomly taught negotiation skills.

“My research interests include understanding factors that impact police decision-making and public trust in police,” said Assistant Professor of Public Policy Emily Weisburst, who studies labor economics and public finance, including criminal justice and education. “I am also interested in how interactions with the criminal justice system affect individuals, families and communities.”

Amada Armenta earned her doctorate in sociology in 2011 from UCLA and returns as an assistant professor in UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.

“I am thrilled to be back, to contribute to a university that has played such a formative role in my education,” said the author of the award-winning book, “Protect, Serve and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement.” Most recently she has examined how undocumented Mexican immigrants navigate bureaucracies in Philadelphia.

“Put briefly, I study the social impacts of climate change and how cities are adapting,” says Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov. “My research specifically focuses on the adaptation strategy known as ‘managed retreat,’ the process of relocating people, un-building land, and restoring habitat in places exposed to flooding, sea level rise, and other effects of climate change.”

Koslov is working on a book aptly titled, “Retreat,” that follows residents of Staten Island in New York City whose houses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and who subsequently decided to relocate rather than rebuild in place.

Like Koslov, new Urban Planning colleague V. Kelly Turner conducts research with an environmental lens. Her work addresses the relationship among institutions, urban design and the environment through two interrelated questions: How does urban design relate to ecosystem services in cities? And to what extent do social institutions have the capacity to deliver those services?

Turner said her approach draws from social-ecological systems frameworks to address urban planning and design problem domains. She has used this approach to investigate microclimate regulation through New Urbanist design, water and biodiversity management through homeowners associations, and stormwater management through green infrastructure interventions.

Joining UCLA Luskin Social Welfare is Amy Ritterbusch, who has led social justice-oriented participatory action research initiatives with street-connected communities in Colombia for the last decade, and also recently in Uganda. Her work documents human rights violations and forms of violence against the homeless, sex workers, drug users and street-connected children and youth, and subsequent community-driven mobilizations to catalyze social justice outcomes within these communities.

“My current research contemplates the dilemmas within our social movement in terms of how to create protective environments for social justice researchers and activists in the midst of working on and against acts of violence and injustice,” Ritterbusch said.

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Carlos Santos draws on diverse disciplines, theories and methods to better understand how oppressions such as racism and heterosexism overlap to create unique conditions for individuals.

With a background in developmental psychology, Santos believes that developmental phenomena must be studied across diverse disciplines and perspectives. He draws on the largely interdisciplinary interpretive framework of intersectionality, which is a view “underscoring how systems of oppression overlap to create inequities.”