UCLA Social Welfare scholars from around the country returned to campus this week to recognize milestones in teaching and research over the past 75 years, as well as the work still ahead to advance justice in both academia and the broader society. The gathering of Social Welfare PhD students, doctoral alumni, faculty and staff, held at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center on the evening of Nov. 14, kicked off a yearlong commemoration of the Social Welfare program’s diamond anniversary. Professor Emeritus Rosina Becerra shared insights from her three decades in leadership positions at the university, including as dean of the School of Social Welfare in the 1980s and ’90s and later as vice provost of faculty diversity and development. Guests also heard from Karina L. Walters PhD ’95 MSW ’90 BA ’87, a professor of social work at the University of Washington and member of the Choctaw Nation, and Darcey H. Merritt PhD ’06 MSW ’03, associate professor at New York University and co-editor-in-chief of the research journal Children and Youth Services Review. Merritt will soon join the University of Chicago faculty as a full professor. Becerra, Walters and Merritt are distinguished scholars and also women of color, and they spoke of progress yet to be made to achieve full equity in the academy. The celebration of UCLA Social Welfare’s 75th anniversary will continue throughout the academic year, culminating on Saturday, May 6, with an alumni reunion and the annual presentation of the Joseph A. Nunn Alumnus of the Year award.
Julene Paul, a Ph.D. student in urban planning, was named the 2021 student of the year by the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center, a federally funded network of eight partner campuses in Arizona, California and Hawaii. Paul works closely with the Institute of Transportation Studies and the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin. Her research includes a study of the effects of COVID-19 on transportation behavior, an investigation into trends in automobile ownership, and a deep dive into BlueLA, an electric-car-sharing program that provides services to low-income areas of Los Angeles. She has presented some of her work at national conferences and has been published along with her co-authors, including her advisors, Evelyn Blumenberg and Brian Taylor. Paul’s interest in transportation was stoked while studying urban policy and working as a research assistant for the Education Innovation Laboratory as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Later, while pursuing her master’s degree in city and regional planning at Rutgers University, Paul worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. After graduating from Rutgers, she went on to work as a program manager at the Federal Transit Administration. When asked for advice for the current generation of urban planning students, Paul recommended taking advantage of internship opportunities and seeking out mentors from these experiences. She also encouraged students to venture out beyond their required classes when possible. Paul said a UCLA Law course in employment law challenged her to think critically about transportation policies and their effects on workers.
Dean Gary Segura hosted a trio of virtual town hall-style discussions this month, inviting students to discuss issues of concern. In the past, Segura held one session per year, but he has stepped up the frequency and split into separate sessions for the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs because of the challenges of pursuing higher education amid COVID-19. Segura was joined by department chairs and staff, who fielded a broad range of inquiries about remote learning, university finances, racial reconciliation and support for international students. Segura said the School has set aside additional funds to support students in need and noted that a number of faculty hires are in the works. Plans for graduation are taking place on two tracks, in-person and remote, depending on health restrictions, he said. Students shared their experiences with virtual instruction, weighing in on what works and what does not. They also learned about a national campaign in support of paid internships and discussed departmental efforts to update training and curriculum on issues of equity. Although quarterly town halls are planned, the dean stressed that students can offer input at any time. The coronavirus pandemic has required flexibility and forbearance. “It’s a very difficult time, there’s no question about that. People’s patience is starting to wear a little thin — but don’t let impatience put your health at risk,” Segura cautioned. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you’ve got to hang on.”
Hilary Malson, a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA Luskin, has been awarded a three-year Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship to support her study of race, space and community development in American exurbs. In her current research, Malson draws from the wider fields of diaspora studies and black geographies to explore how scattered black and brown communities navigate the expanded regional geographies of everyday life. The Ford Foundation honor “is testament to Hilary’s rigor as a scholar and recognition of her insistence that such scholarship be forged in solidarity with communities facing displacement and erasure,” said Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, where Malson is a graduate student researcher. Malson holds a B.A. in the growth and structure of cities from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and an MSc in urbanization and development from the London School of Economics, where she earned the dissertation prize for her research on insurgent planning and spatial politics in a majority-minority Virginia suburb. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine awards the Ford Foundation Fellowships to increase diversity among university faculties and encourage professors to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Of the 71 national predoctoral fellowships announced this year, six were awarded to UCLA students.
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