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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.”

 

Making Connections at Fall Internship Fair

Fifty-five employers from the public, private and nonprofit sectors gathered at the UCLA Faculty Center on Nov. 5 to meet Luskin School graduate students seeking real-world experience through internships. More than 30 UCLA Luskin alumni were among the employers who came to the Fall Internship Fair to recruit student interns for positions beginning in January. From the public sector, local municipalities were well-represented, along with agencies at the county, state and federal levels. Planners, consultants and communications experts from the private sector were joined by nonprofits engaged in health, housing, immigration, families and racial equity, among other issues. The Fall Internship Fair focused on the Luskin School’s public policy and urban planning students; social welfare students are placed in yearlong internships at the beginning of the academic year. The fair is one of several programs organized by UCLA Luskin Career Services to prepare graduate students for a competitive job market. In April, a Career Fair and Alumni Networking Event will bring employers together with students from all three graduate programs who are pursuing job opportunities.

View more photos from the Fall Internship Fair on Flickr.

Making the Most of the Student-Mentor Connection Annual Senior Fellows Leadership breakfast puts spotlight on a successful partnership

By Mary Braswell

A student and mentor brought together by UCLA Luskin’s Senior Fellows Leadership Program shared stories of their rewarding yearlong partnership at an Oct. 24 breakfast launching the initiative’s 23rd year.

The gathering at the UCLA Faculty Center gave this year’s class of 45 Senior Fellows a chance to meet the graduate students they were matched with and hear insights from Tom Epstein, president of the California Community Colleges board of governors, and Irma Castañeda, a second-year master of public policy student.

“The best thing about being a fellow here is you get to work with so many smart, conscientious and diverse students,” said Epstein, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow since 2015.

Castañeda said she applied for the program last year to broaden her understanding of career options in the public policy field.  She accomplished that and much more, she said.

“I’m a first-generation college student and a first-generation professional, and I was navigating this space as a new student,” she said. By the end of the year, Epstein had helped her to build a professional network in Los Angeles and Sacramento and land a summer internship tailored to her interests in higher education.

At their monthly check-ins, Epstein and Castañeda talked about classes, career goals, internships and job prospects. Epstein also provided email introductions to key figures in his field and invited Castañeda to a meeting and dinner of California Community Colleges governors.

The life of a graduate student can be filled with coursework, campus activities and outside jobs, Castañeda said, but “it’s really important to prioritize this experience.” The Senior Fellows Program offers a rare gift — sustained one-on-one access to a leader in the public, private or nonprofit sector — and students should make the most of it, she said.

She also encouraged her classmates to take full advantage of the resources offered by UCLA Luskin’s Career Services team, led by Executive Director VC Powe.

View more photos from the Senior Fellows breakfast on Flickr.

The first step, Castañeda said, is to ask questions — lots of them.

She learned this during her search for a summer internship that would help her learn more about the community college system. Finding none, she consulted career counselor Donna Lee Oda, who helped her edit her resume, craft a cover letter and pitch herself as a summer intern candidate.

Epstein connected her with the deputy chancellor of California Community Colleges, who created a research internship just for Castañeda. She spent the summer conducting analysis for the governmental relations division and presenting her findings at a legislative briefing at the state Capitol.

“It was something that I wouldn’t have imagined, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if I hadn’t asked,” she said.

Epstein said he is grateful for the chance to serve as a Senior Fellow, recalling that an internship while he was at UCLA Law launched a rewarding career. He thanked his own mentor, Zev Yaroslavsky — then a young city councilman and now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin — who was present at the breakfast.

Epstein’s career journey took him through politics, healthcare, insurance, media and the environment, in addition to higher education. He has worked in the White House, state government and the private and nonprofit sectors.

Students mentored by Epstein through the Senior Fellows program are now working at the California Endowment, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the California Department of Finance, Green Dot Schools and L.A. Care. One is a doctor with Kaiser Permanente and another is a teaching assistant at UCLA, he said.

Epstein addressed the public policy, social welfare and urban planning students gathered at the breakfast. “I’m grateful for your commitment to public service,” he said, “because our country needs you.”

This year, 37 returning Senior Fellows were joined by eight new mentors:

Warren T. Allen MPP ’03, founding member and attorney with WTAII PLLC

Nahtahna Cabanes MSW ’13, vice president of strategic partnerships with L.A. Works

Ken Chawkins BA ’85, business policy manager with the Southern California Gas Company

Elizabeth Forer CEO, Venice Family Clinic

Louise McCarthy MPP ’04, president and CEO at Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99, BA ’97, executive vice president of Community Coalition

Sarah Smith, senior director of education for the International Rescue Committee

Nancy Sutley, chief development officer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Overcoming ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and Other Tips for Women in the Workplace

UCLA Director of Ombuds Services Kathleen Canul shared insights about navigating gender politics in the working world with UCLA Luskin students and staff at an April 25, 2019, workshop. Bias and discrimination persist in some workplaces, requiring women to armor up, forge alliances with other women and at times employ “ninja-like maneuvering” to advance in an organization, she said. Drawing from her career in psychology and conflict resolution, as well as her experiences parenting three young women, Canul talked about the pitfalls of “impostor syndrome.” Self-doubt can derail career opportunities and damage self-esteem, she said, but she shared a secret with the audience of about 30 women: “You’re not alone.” Impostor syndrome afflicts even those at the highest rungs of power. The cure, she said, is developing a keen understanding of one’s own value — “that internal sense of who you are and why you’re here and what you’re good at.” A person’s viewpoints are shaped by gender, culture and upbringing, and women should embrace these differences, Canul said. “We have the ability to be disarming, belying stereotypes and shifting perspectives,” she said. “As we continue to enter the workforce, as we continue to advance in corporations and higher education, the more people know us — and I mean know us for our experiences, our gender, our ethnicity and our cultural and racial background — it will open doors for others.” The workshop was sponsored by UCLA Luskin’s Association of Master of Public Policy Students; Diversity, Disparities and Difference (D3) Initiative; and Career Services.

Graduate Students Recruited for Their Drive and Passion Employers from a wide variety of industries seek candidates for jobs and internships at the 2019 Career Fair

By Myrka Vega

More than 200 UCLA Luskin students and graduates got a chance to connect with potential employers at the annual Job and Internship Career Fair on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019.

Held at the UCLA Ackerman Grand Ballroom, the fair drew more than 60 employers, many represented by UCLA Luskin alumni who had returned to recruit graduates from all three departments — Social Welfare, Urban Planning and Public Policy.

Barbara Spyrou MPP ’17 of the Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection, who had attended career fairs during her years at the Luskin School, said it was different being on the other side of the table.

“It’s nice to see it from both perspectives,” Spyrou said. “I think the most exciting part is when you see someone really excited about this work and you’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s make a connection!’ ”

Recruiters from a wide swath of industries came to UCLA looking for talented, passionate employees and interns. Graduate students and alumni looking for full-time jobs, internships and fellowships gathered at the fair ready to network.

“I’m interested in transportation, and there are transportation firms here that I am specifically interested in working at when I graduate,” said Kidada Malloy, a second-year MURP student. “I got to talk with them, I got to make connections, I got some business cards, and I got to learn more about the actual projects that they’re working on.”  

 Krystal Sims of LA Family Housing, which provides homeless services and real estate development, came to the career fair to fill both full-time and internship positions. Within the first 30 minutes, she had already spoken to 10 to 15 candidates.

“We are looking for individuals that are really innovative and passionate about the work that we do,” Sims said. “Anyone that’s interested in working for homeless services, there’s an opportunity out there.”

The UCLA-based WORLD Policy Analysis Center was represented by Rachel Bleetman and Brianna Pierce. Bleetman said the enthusiasm level was high at the fair, and Pierce said she was impressed by the UCLA Luskin crowd.

“We’ve met some great students, and they seem really excited about the next steps in their careers,” Pierce said.

A series of workshops held before the fair prepared the students to clearly communicate their goals and make a strong first impression.

The fair’s 62 employers represented an increase over previous years, so the event had to be moved to a larger venue, said Executive Director of External Programs and Career Services VC Powe.

“It was bursting in there because there were so many people,” including a striking number of alumni representing employers, she said.

“Our alumni really turned out, and I am really excited about that. More than half of the employers were alumni,” Powe said. “Students can not only talk to them about jobs right now, but they felt more comfortable saying, ‘Can I call you later and have a cup of coffee?’ ”

 

View additional photos on Flickr.

2019 Job and Internship Career Fair

 

 

Events

Career Talk: What is Your Personal Mission?

Community leader Marcia Choo discusses issues of equity, social justice and how they align with career decisions. Choo is vice president of community development at Wells Fargo Bank. Her experience includes facilitating policy initiatives between the city of Compton and the Samoan community following a double police shooting. She also engaged in training and community building efforts around boycotts, protests and public policy disputes in the aftermath of the 1992 riots and civil unrest in Los Angeles. Click here for full bio.

RSVP HERE by July 3 to receive ZOOM link.