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When Congress Comes Calling, UCLA Luskin Students Are All Ears Former lawmakers and their spouses share their insider view of life in leadership and legislation

By Stan Paul

Reaching across the table was good form at a luncheon discussion with a bipartisan group of former members of Congress visiting the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on Oct. 7.

The former U.S. representatives — two Republicans and two Democrats — and their spouses held informal breakout discussions with Luskin Master of Public Policy (MPP) students and undergrads in the school’s Public Affairs minor program. UCLA Political Science graduate and undergraduate students also participated.

“Congress has come to us,” said Mark Peterson, chair of the Luskin School’s Department of Public Policy, as he introduced the guests, all members of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC). The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting an understanding of the role of Congress and the importance of public service in the United States and abroad.

Lynn Schenck (D-CA, 1993-95) shared her experience in public service and fielded questions from students on subjects ranging from the California ballot to emerging democracies.

“Democracy is hard work,” said the UCLA alumna (BA ’67) and lawyer who served in California Gov. Jerry Brown’s cabinet — in his earlier term — and as deputy secretary for the state’s department of business, transportation and housing. She later became the first woman to represent San Diego in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“You have to have an interest in people,” Schenk advised the future leaders and policymakers, stressing the importance of making connections. “Start now — stay in touch with people.”

Joining Schenck and Pete Weichlein, CEO of the Former Members of Congress Association, were Bob Clement (D-TN, 1987-2003), Phil Gingrey (R-GA, 2003- 2015), and Peter Smith (R-VT, 1989-1991), all of whom had a front row seat to the inner workings of Congress and life in Washington. Conversations with the couples buzzed from the start, a wide range of talking points that included this year’s historic presidential election, the economy, social media, taxes, immigration, super PACs and the pressures of fundraising.

Ramandeep Kaur, a first-year MPP student, said she appreciated the opportunity to participate one-on-one in a discussion with a former Republican representative.

“I am definitely not a conservative Republican but this gets me out of my bubble,” said Kaur, who spoke with Gingrey and his wife, Billie.

Also part of that discussion was MPP student Estefania Zavala, who said she gained insights about the difficulty of working across party lines as well as the time and effort spent on running for re-election. “What I took away from the conversation is that the process needs to be streamlined so that our elected representatives can focus on policy and not partisan politics,” Zavala said.

Axel Sarkissian, a political science major completing the Public Affairs minor at the Luskin School, said that hearing about the day-to-day aspect of governing “from the people who did it” was an invaluable experience.

“As a student of government, I study Congress and policymaking from an academic perspective,” Sarkissian said. “Being able to hear the candid thoughts of political leaders who put these things into practice created an interesting frame of reference for my future studies.”

One topic brought up by students dominated the conversation, said Peter Smith, a former representative from Vermont and founding president of Open College at Kaplan University: “Where did all the partisanship come from at the expense of compromise? When did it change and how can we get it back?”

“I was very impressed with their preparation from their studies and their interest,” said Smith, who also served as a state senator and lieutenant governor in Vermont. “They are looking for ways to be involved in public policy that can be productive.”

UCLA Luskin Salutes the Class of 2015

UCLA Luskin celebrated the graduating class of 2015 Friday, welcoming 68 students in urban planning, 56 students in public policy and 101 students in social welfare to the ranks of its alumni.

“This is how change is made,” Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., said in his opening remarks. “It starts with a small group of people who believe.”

His words resonated with the audience of faculty, family and friends, who have watched UCLA Luskin’s graduate students develop as change agents over the course of their education.

Three students addressed the crowd during the ceremony. Ana Tapia, who graduated with a master of urban and regional planning and who came to UCLA as an undocumented student after her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1994, spoke of how her degree encouraged her to follow her dreams. Urban planners, she said, “are people who turn dreams into reality. We not only dream and plan, but make things happen.” She urged her fellow students to “go dream, go plan and go on to do great things.”

Public Policy graduate CC Song cast her cohort as the “architects of the future,” devising and deploying policies to help build equity and create a better world. She spoke of being ready to take on life after graduate school, asking her fellow students to “find the courage to seek what makes you curious, fulfilled and challenged.”

Jennifer Chou, a graduate of UCLA Luskin’s Master of Social Welfare program, spoke about the “acceptance of not knowing” when confronted with an uncertain future. Her heartfelt speech included a rendition of a verse from the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.”

The invited speaker, newly installed Uber public relations executive Rachel Whetstone, brought in the perspective of a group not often mentioned on Commencement day — those who “don’t dream well.” Whetstone put herself in that category, and told the story of a career that proceeded not by some overarching grand scheme but instead progressed as a series of steps from college to internships to opportunities at various organizations.

She said her experience had taught her that hard work helps make up for the absence of a dream. “Pour yourself into your job,” she said, “even if it seems like a chore.” As she acknowledged and embraced the persona of the stereotypical overworked Silicon Valley executive, she relayed a story of a visit with a psychiastrist friend, who said something that stuck with her: “Has it ever occurred to you, Rachel, that hard work is what makes you happy?” Hard work can open up new horizons, she said, and she urged the graduating students to apply themselves to their work, “because if you don’t try, you will never, ever know.”

The ceremony was a mix of pomp and celebration, with a sense of impending change on the horizon. Dean Gilliam summed up the mood best through his quotation of, as he described it, a “classic of American Cinema,” the movie Friday.

“For most people, Friday’s just the day before the weekend,” he said. “But after this Friday, the neighborhood will never be the same.”

Debra Duardo Named Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Debra Duardo, a 1996 Master of Social Welfare graduate from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and LAUSD Student Health Director, has been selected to receive the Joseph A. Nunn Award

By Joe Luk

Debra Duardo, a 1996 Master of Social Welfare graduate from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, has been selected to receive the Joseph A. Nunn Award, honoring her as the department’s Alumna of the Year. The award will be presented to Duardo in a ceremony on Saturday, April 20.

The Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year award recognizes outstanding social work professionals who have contributed leadership and service to the school, university, and/or community, and who have otherwise distinguished themselves through commitment and dedication to a particular area of social work.

Duardo is currently the executive director of student health and human services for Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the United States. As the executive director she is responsible for the administrative oversight of support services and district programs designed to address the physical health, mental health, and home and community barriers that prevent student academic success, including student medical services, school nursing, pupil services, dropout prevention and recovery, school mental health, community partnerships, and Medi-Cal programs.

In this role she manages a $100 million budget and over 3,000 employees including directors, specialists, pupil services and attendance counselors, psychiatric social workers, nurses, organization facilitators, and healthy start coordinators.

After graduating from UCLA with a major in Women Studies and Chicana/o Studies in 1994 Duardo earned her Master of Social Welfare degree at UCLA in 1996 with a specialization in school social work. Since that time she has earned her school administrative credential and is currently completing her Ed.D. in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. Following completion of her MSW, Debra started her career serving as a school social worker and the Healthy Start project director at Wilson High School.

She advanced to being the LAUSD Healthy Start District Administrator. Since that time she has served as assistant principal at Le Conte Middle School, the director of dropout prevention and recovery for LAUSD, and director of pupil services for LAUSD.  Through all of these positions she has maintained her focus on the important of health and social services for children and families.

The Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year award was established to honor Joseph A. Nunn, former director of field education at the Department of Social Welfare at UCLA. Dr. Nunn brought leadership and service to UCLA and the Social Welfare program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for over two decades. Dr. Nunn received his B.S., M.S.W. and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA. After working as a probation officer for 15 years, he became a member of the field education faculty in 1980, and except for a three-year, off-campus appointment, remained at UCLA until his retirement in 2006. During his last 15 years, he served with distinction as the director of field education and, simultaneous for the last decade, as vice chair of the Department of Social Welfare, where he supervised the field education program.

Luskin Center sets out to make L.A. a greener place to live, work The Luskin Center for Innovation has set a goal to produce research that will help Los Angeles become more environmentally sustainable

By Cynthia Lee

Green power. Solar energy incentives. Renewable energy. Smart water systems. Planning for climate change. Clean tech in L.A. For the next three years, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has set an ambitious goal to produce research that will help Los Angeles and state and federal agencies reach the Holy Grail of environmental sustainability.

Five Luskin scholars are working on initiatives that could change how residents, businesses, industries and government meet the challenge of living more sustainably. The Luskin center is carrying out a mission that was broadly outlined by Chancellor Gene Block in his inaugural address on May 13, 2008: to marshal the university’s intellectual resources campuswide and work toward intense civic engagement to solve vexing local and regional problems. “I believe that UCLA can have its greatest impact by focusing its expertise from across the campus to comprehensively address problems that plague Los Angeles,” the chancellor told an audience in Royce Hall.

With an agenda packed with six hefty research initiatives, the center is diving into that task under the leadership of its new director, J.R. DeShazo, an environmental economist and associate professor of public policy who also heads the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. DeShazo took the reins in October when the center moved from the Chancellor’s Office to the School of Public Affairs, a move that took advantage of the school’s outward orientation. “It’s focused on policy solutions, so this is a natural place for us to grow,” DeShazo said. “But even though the center is located here, we’re very cross-disciplinary. We have researchers from chemistry, public health, engineering, the Anderson management school, the Institute of the Environment (IoE) and public policy.”

The five scholars working on the six initiatives are DeShazo; Yoram Cohen, an engineering professor and director of the Water Technology Research Center; Magali Delmas, professor of management and the IoE; Hilary Godwin, professor of environmental health sciences; and Matt Kahn, professor of economics in the departments of Economics and Public Policy and IoE. “We started off by identifying problems that our community is facing and that it can’t solve,” DeShazo said. Then, they asked two questions: “Does UCLA have the research capacity to address this deficit? And can we find a civic partner who can make use of this new knowledge?” Proposals were prioritized by a 16-member advisory board with a broad representation of business and nonprofit executives, elected officials and a media expert. Among the high-profile board members are State Senators Carol Liu and Fran Pavley; Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board; Los Angeles Council President Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel; Assemblymember Mike Feuer; John Mack, chairman of the Police Commission; and William Ouchi, professor of the Anderson School and chairman of the Riordan Programs.

“We take our research ideas and develop real-world solutions that can be passed on to a civic partner with whom we can engage and support,” DeShazo said. “We let them carry through with the politics of policy reform as well as the implementation. We don’t get involved in advocacy.” An array of local green research DeShazo recently completed Luskin’s first initiative with his research on designing a solar energy program for L.A. that would minimize costs to ratepayers. His research – the basis of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s new energy policy – proposes a solar feed-in tariff that would help everyone from homeowners and nonprofits to commercial property owners buy solar panels and be able to sell their solar energy to utility companies for a small profit.

Other Luskin research initiatives involve creating smart water systems for Southern California with water reclamation, treatment and reuse (UCLA researcher Cohen will work in partnership with the Metropolitan Water District); helping local governments plan for climate change (DeShazo with the California Air Resources Board and the Southern California Association of Governments); and reducing toxic exposures to nanomaterials in California (Godwin with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.) In another initiative in partnership with the Mayor’s Office and the California Air Resources Board, researchers are compiling a database of jobs created by clean tech activities in L.A. County and will document best practices that other cities have used to attract and support clean tech development. Luskin’s Kahn is working with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to pinpoint what determines how much electricity is used by residential and commercial consumers and how the district can market its major green energy programs to increase participation.

Finally, Delmas is looking into whether the Green Business Certification Program approved recently by the City Council will reduce the overall carbon footprint of small businesses. The program offers incentives and assistance to small business owners in L.A. to become more efficient and less wasteful in their everyday practices. Those businesses that meet certain “green” criteria will be certified as being environmentally friendly. Her partner in this venture is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

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