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Public Policy Celebrates 20th Anniversary, Alumna of the Year Honored Jaime Nack ’02 is recognized for entrepreneurship, leadership and impact at UCLA and beyond

By Stan Paul

Since graduating its first class of 17 students in 1998, the Master of Public Policy program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has equipped nearly 900 more for careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The highly competitive MPP program that now admits about 70 students each year celebrated its second decade with alumni, faculty, staff, friends and family Sept. 22, 2018, at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center.

As part of the MPP program’s milestone anniversary, Jaime Nack MPP ’02 was named Alumna of the Year.

An entrepreneur and environmental consultant, Nack was a Luskin School Public Policy minor before pursuing her graduate degree. She credits UCLA with helping her meld her interests and foster her career.

“I always knew I wanted to focus on ‘impact’ and figuring out a way to effect change around the landscape around me, and public policy felt like the best place where I could actually explore those interests,” Nack said. “Whether it be transportation or housing or social welfare, all of the pieces that I was interested in my impact puzzle I found at Luskin, I found in public policy.”

Also during the celebration, five current students were given the UCLA Luskin MPP Alumni Fellowship Awards for outstanding leadership and service. The students, nominated by their classmates, were: Marissa Ayala, Robert Gamboa, Gabriela Solis, Caio Velasco and Erica Webster.

“A lot’s happened since many of you graduated,” Dean Gary Segura told the crowd, citing a list of accomplishments that included 19 new UCLA Luskin faculty hires, nine of whom are in Public Policy; the addition of new research centers; the launch of an undergraduate major in Public Affairs this fall; and, “more importantly, the training of a generation of MPPs who’ve gone off and made the world a better, cleaner, more just place to live.”

“We have impact on things that we care about,” such as climate change, water pollution, public education, health care, civil society and social inequality, Segura said. “All of these things are things that faculty at Luskin Public Policy work with students every day to understand, to explain, to search for solutions.”

On hand to celebrate two decades of growth and success was Public Policy chair JR DeShazo, who recalled his more than 20 years on the School’s faculty.

Despite the growth of the Public Policy community, “we need all the MPPs we can get in this day and age,” said DeShazo, who is also director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

“We share a common goal of creating a more just society and opportunities for all of its members,” he added. “We gather today because we are part of a community committed to strengthening our civil society, and we gather here today because we all know that our future depends on us investing in staying connected and supporting one another.”

Former Public Policy chairs including Mark Peterson and Michael Stoll attended the anniversary celebration.

“We have all watched the department and program grow from the excitement of the founding moment to become an institution of considerable reputation and influence,” Peterson said prior to the event. “You can see it in our graduates, where they go and what they do.”

Peterson added, “There is no better embodiment of that impact than Jaime Nack.”

Nurit Katz MPP ’08, who currently serves as UCLA’s chief sustainability officer and executive officer of facilities management, presented the Alumna of the Year Award to Nack, crediting her leadership in sustainability and climate issues nationally and internationally.

Nack’s accomplishments as an entrepreneur include founding Three Squares Inc., an environmental consulting firm, and serving as director of sustainability and greening operations for the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions, marking the first time the DNC took measures to reduce the events’ environmental impact on host cities. She also has served as a member of the National Women’s Business Council — an Obama Administration appointment — and is on UCLA’s Alumni Association Board of Directors. In 2011, Nack was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Nack described her career journey as “non-linear” but said she found a path to environmental consulting because it was a “perfect blend of policy, business and impact.”

“So the last 20 years have take me through the Arctic to the White House,” said Nack, who returned recently from an Arctic expedition sponsored by FutureTalks, and more recently served as head of sustainability for the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

“It’s been great to be a part of and play a role in some of those, but I definitely think that a big part of who I am comes from my experiences on campus with professors, with staff. I owe a debt of gratitude. … I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings for Luskin.”

View a Flickr album from the event.

 

Immersed in the Real World The yearlong Applied Policy Project puts MPP candidates on the front lines to grapple with issues close to home and far afield

By Mary Braswell

It’s a year’s worth of exacting work, whittled down to a 20-minute talk.

And for some, it’s over in a flash.

“We were all talking about it afterward. ‘That was 20 minutes? It felt like five minutes!’ ” Ramandeep Kaur said of her team’s Applied Policy Project presentation, a rite of passage for all Luskin School MPP candidates.

Kaur’s team was one of 13 to stand before a packed lecture hall over three evenings in May. Each succinctly presented a policy issue, reviewed their research, made a case for the wisest course of action — then fielded a barrage of questions from their peers and professors. They also produced polished reports laying out their findings in detail.

In short, they were using skills each will need as they leave UCLA Luskin and put their master’s degrees to work.

“These Applied Policy Projects are extremely beneficial to our MPP students as they are an opportunity to put all of their policy analysis skills to work in a real-world setting,” Public Policy Vice Chair Manisha Shah said.

“In their first year, students learn so many of the tools necessary to do policy analysis, and then in their second year, they get to implement these tools in the APP,” Shah said. “The final product is an important piece of policy analysis on topics ranging from health to housing to the environment to social justice issues … and the list goes on.”

This year’s APP teams conducted rigorous research on issues near and far — from the drinkability of Los Angeles tap water to human rights abuses in Europe.

Some of the teams formed a year in advance, as students with similar interests and complementary skill sets banded together. Knowing they would work on the APP during their entire second year, they chose topics close to their hearts.

“I knew I wanted to do a project I was passionate about, a project that had an advocacy lens on it,” Kaur said.

Teammate Annia Yoshizumi had worked with the UCLA Luskin-based Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) and suggested pursuing a project on housing. Allan Nguyen and Xiaoyue Zheng brought strong data analysis skills to the team, Kaur said.

Their research on the impact of drastic rent increases in unincorporated L.A. County benefited two clients, CNK and the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action.

“For me personally, I did grow up in L.A., and my parents did live in a rent-controlled apartment, and they were able to then save a lot of money and purchase a house,” Kaur said. “But that’s not an opportunity that many people have. So how do you tell that story so that people understand?”

Another team focused on preserving undocumented patients’ access to healthcare in a time of anti-immigrant rhetoric. Two of the team’s members are earning concurrent MPP and M.D. degrees through UCLA’s Prime Program, including Joe Torres, who was undocumented himself until he became a U.S. citizen in 2016.

Working with Venice Family Clinic, which has provided medical care to vulnerable populations in West Los Angeles for nearly 50 years, the team paired data analysis with extensive surveys in English and Spanish. Among the findings: In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, 64 percent reported more fear or anxiety about ICE raids specifically at clinics, and 39 percent felt less safe taking their U.S. citizen children to the doctor.

To maintain the trust of its patients, Venice Family Clinic should step up the security of its patient records and forge partnerships with legal advocates in the community, the team recommended.

This year’s APP clients were a diverse lot, including the Partnership for L.A. Schools, the Clean Power Alliance, the European Implementation Network, an administrative judge for the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission and several local government entities.

One team that shared an interest in international development took on the World Bank as a client. Their focus was assessing financial incentives for hospitals in the Kyrgyz Republic to improve infant and maternal mortality rates.

Key to the project were interviews conducted with agencies on the ground, team member Tanya Honey said.

“That’s the thing I love to do — I love doing outreach,” said Honey, who spent hours on international calls with the World Health Organization, United Nations and USAID. She credits faculty advisor Wes Yin with pushing the team to use these conversations with experts to provide context to their data.

“I think that was extremely valuable to our project,” Honey said, adding, “I’ve never heard so many Russian accents!” With a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, Honey speaks Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, Hindu and English, but “not Russian — yet.”

To prepare for their APP presentation, Honey’s team recruited students from the Luskin School’s third-floor Commons to serve as a mock audience.

“We were definitely a little bit nervous,” she said, but fortunately her team had substantial experience in public speaking. Teammate Parshan Khosravi is an officer and advocate with the Graduate Students Association, and others have taught classes as teacher’s aides or presented papers at symposiums.

Another APP tradition also helped calm nerves: dressing like you mean business. “I actually feel more confident when I dress up,” Honey said.

Following each APP presentation is a question and answer period that can be daunting. While everyone in the audience is supportive of the presenters, many are also experts in their fields and can readily spot holes in data, assumptions and methodology.

Kaur’s team knew that its main policy recommendation — a rent stabilization ordinance — was controversial.

“A lot of economists do not like RSOs, so we knew we were going to be hit with a lot of questions about that,” she said.

But her team was confident in their analysis and ready for any challenge they might face.

“We did a mock presentation in front of both of our clients, and had them ask us really hard questions that they get in the field when they talk about any sort of tenant protection policy,” she said. “So that really prepped us.”

Also important to Kaur’s team was putting a human face on their policy analysis. They included tenants’ voices because “we really wanted to frame it in a way that people understood who this policy was going to impact.”

Faculty advisors for this year’s APP teams were Shah, Yin, Meredith Phillips and John Villasenor. “What’s great about the experience is that, while it is a real-world experience, it is also a guided experience in that each group is assigned to a Public Policy professor who advises them through the entire process,” Shah said.

This year, three APP projects were singled out for special recognition:

  • Highest honors: Reducing Delay to Promote Civil Rights: How Administrative Judges at the EEOC Can Resolve Employment Discrimination Complaints in a Fair Yet Efficient Manner (Delvin Turner, Elizabeth Joun, David Lyons)
  • Honors: Social Determinants of Health Literacy: Optimizing Public Health Outreach and Education Strategies in Long Beach, California (Stephanie Berger, Marisa Conner, Alexander Fung, Taylor Wyatt)
  • Honors: LA TAP (Tap Water Action Plan): Evaluating the Customer Experience of Tap Water in Los Angeles (Virdiana Auger-Velez, Rachel Lacoe, Caleb Rabinowitz, Bei Zhao)

Find more photos from the 2018 Applied Policy Project presentations on Flickr

Applied Policy Project presentations 2018

Hot Weather Lowers Students’ Ability to Learn, New Study Finds UCLA Luskin scholar Jisung Park documents the negative effects of warm temperatures on educational performance

By Mary Braswell

An expansive study tracking 10 million American students over 13 years confirms what children, parents and teachers already suspected: When classrooms grow uncomfortably warm, students struggle to learn.

Low-income and minority students are particularly affected, and the problem stands to worsen as global temperatures rise, according to the research co-authored by UCLA Luskin assistant professor of public policy Jisung Park.

In some schools, a remedy is within reach. The negative effects of hotter days are almost entirely offset in classrooms equipped with air-conditioning, the researchers found.

Park said the study was launched to understand the effects of climate on educational performance. “Specifically, we were interested in whether a hotter-than-average schoolyear can actually reduce the rate of learning,” he said.

The researchers found that, without air conditioning, each 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in schoolyear temperature reduces the amount learned that year by 1 percent. The decline in learning was detected when outdoor temperatures exceeded 75 degrees “but becomes really problematic at 85, 90 and above,” Park said.

“I think it’s worth highlighting the fact that racial minorities and low-income students seem to be affected much more negatively,” Park said. “So with the same heat shock — in the same year with 10 more hot days — black or Hispanic students on average would experience roughly three or four times the negative impact than a white student would.

“A lot of that seems to be because of different rates of air conditioning, both at school and at home.”

Park points out that “the United States is still one of the most highly air conditioned countries in the world.” In countries like India and Bangladesh, where both temperatures and poverty levels are high, the effects of heat on cognitive development are likely to be more profound, he said.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, assessed test scores from 10 million high school students who took the PSAT exam multiple times, between 2001 and 2014. An individual test-taker’s scores dipped in years when higher temperatures were recorded, the research found.

“An important distinction to make here is, in this paper, we’re not actually studying how temperature during an exam affects your performance,” Park said. “You could have someone who’s very well-educated have a bad test day. That’s very different from someone who, because they weren’t able to focus enough times over an extended period, is actually not very well educated. We wanted to test that latter hypothesis.”

He noted that the research was motivated, in part, by a desire to make our society more resilient to climate change. The study forecasts the impact of hot temperatures on student learning over the next three decades. One model assumes no changes in school infrastructure, and another assumes that the rate of air conditioning is increased.

“There’s a very big difference,” Park said.

But he added that the research should not be interpreted as a mandate for schools to install air conditioning.

“As always, we need to weigh the costs and benefits,” he said. “The costs are going to vary tremendously, and maybe it still doesn’t make sense for a school up in northeast Maine to revamp their hundred-year-old building at a $20-million cost.”

Park holds a joint appointment with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, where he is an assistant professor of environmental health sciences. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and National Science Foundation fellow at Harvard University, he pursued research in environmental and labor economics, specializing in the impact of climate change on human capital.

Park’s latest study, “Heat and Learning,” was co-authored by Joshua Goodman, associate professor at Harvard University; Michael Hurwitz, senior director at the College Board, which administers SAT and PSAT exams; and Jonathan Smith, assistant professor at Georgia State University.

Diplomacy at Work Luskin School-based Diplomat in Residence Heather Joy Thompson speaks to students about the prospects and joys of working for the U.S. State Department.

By Zev Hurwitz

Students looking to pursue careers in diplomacy had a firsthand look at working in the field during a lunchtime talk with Diplomat in Residence Heather Joy Thompson.

In her talk, titled “Careers in Diplomacy: An Insider’s Perspective,” Thompson walked through her own journey to the diplomatic corps as well as what it takes to join the Foreign Service.

The first step is taking the Foreign Service Officers Test, which has both exam and essay components, Thompson said. Applicants with high enough scores are invited to Washington, D.C., for an in-person interview that can take an entire day.

“This was the toughest interview I ever had in my life,” Thompson told the crowd of about 40 undergraduate and graduate students at the May 24, 2018, talk.

Successful applicants are placed into a pool of prospective diplomatic officers. If selected for assignment, they spend six to eight weeks in what Thompson calls “Diplomacy University” in Arlington, Va., learning foreign languages and developing professional skills for their careers in the service—all the while receiving salary to do so.

“I have never heard of a job where you are in school full-time and don’t have to report to an office but still get paid,” Thompson said.

Prospective diplomatic officers choose a desired track, including economics, politics, management and media relations, Thompson said. They remain in the pool for up to 18 months, after which they must apply again.

Thompson said her path to the Foreign Service was “unique.” Originally a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, Thompson’s experience working in a region with no plumbing or electricity forced her to do a “deep dive” into her education.

“In a lot of ways, it settled me in a way that other positions probably couldn’t,” she said.

Following the Peace Corps, Thompson earned her law degree but decided against pursuing a career at a firm. A mutual acquaintance introduced her to a diplomat who steered her toward the State Department.

Thompson also once worked for Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs after winning a YouTube competition to be the rapper’s assistant.

In the Foreign Service since 2008, Thompson has been stationed in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Washington, D.C., and most recently worked as an economic officer in Mexico City’s U.S. Embassy.

At the UCLA Luskin talk, the final event of the 2017-2018 Senior Fellows Speaker Series, Thompson said the current political environment is somewhat challenging to the goals of her team. Nonetheless, she believes it is important to persevere.

“We are still here to do the work of the American people,” Thompson said. “Unless you are self-employed, it’s hard to find an employer with whom you agree 100 percent of the time.”

On the whole, Thompson said she very much enjoys her work as a diplomat.

“I think I have the best job on the planet,” she said. “The experience my colleagues in Foreign Service and I have are unparalleled in the private and public sector.”

Thompson is this year’s Diplomat in Residence for the State Department’s Southern California region, which includes Hawaii and Nevada. Diplomats in Residence are housed at UCLA Luskin, where they often engage with students through the Senior Fellows Program.

“Working for the U.S. State Department can be an outstanding career for the right person,” VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development at UCLA Luskin, said after Thompson’s talk. “UCLA Luskin is fortunate annually to host a Diplomat in Residence for the benefit of the greater UCLA community.”

 

The Art of Shaping Opinion: Lessons From Three Experts Visiting Public Policy faculty draw on rich life experiences to share their wisdom about influence, advocacy and persuasion with UCLA Luskin’s future leaders

 By Stan Paul

The U.S. Constitution, by design, sets up a weak and limited government. In short, “it is set up to fail,” says William Schneider, a visiting lecturer this spring at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“The wonder is that it actually does work. What makes it work is public opinion,” says Schneider, a leading U.S. political analyst and professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, who is teaching the undergraduate course “Public Opinion and Public Policy.”

Schneider, who has covered every U.S. presidential and midterm election since 1976 for numerous news outlets and publications, is among a group of top scholars from across the nation adding depth and breadth to the world-class faculty at the Luskin School.

Schneider’s class follows offerings from visiting professors Steven Nemerovski from Columbia University and Gary Orren from Harvard, who taught during winter quarter. All three visitors from the East Coast explored influence, advocacy and opinion-making as tools to effect policy change.

For Schneider, the Constitution works when there is “a strong sense of public urgency. In other words, a crisis.”

He explores this thesis — “and why the U.S. is more bitterly divided than at any time since the Civil War” — by looking at policy battles over civil rights, the financial crisis and terrorism. The course also focuses on the way public opinion has shaped policy on issues such as abortion, immigration, same-sex marriage, gun control, health care and military intervention.

A core element of American populism is the belief that politics is the enemy of problem-solving, he says. “That’s why we often elect political outsiders,” says Schneider, whose new book, “Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable,” will be published in May 2018. Schneider hopes his students will learn that “there is a reason why you can’t run government like a business. Business is not a democracy.”

When Orren, the V.O. Key, Jr., Professor of Politics and Leadership at Harvard, arrived at the Luskin School this winter, he made a convincing case for taking his graduate-level class, “Persuasion: The Science and Art of Effective Influence.”

“Persuasion lies at the heart of our personal and professional lives, whether the goal is to convince one person in a face-to-face encounter, influence a small group in a meeting, sway an entire organization or win over the public,” his course description said.

“It is challenging enough to lead those who agree with us,” says Orren, who has taught at Harvard for nearly half a century and also worked as a political advisor in local, state, national and international election campaigns. “But inducing others to willingly follow us when they are initially skeptical or opposed to our goals — persuading them — is the greatest challenge facing aspiring leaders.”

That pitch, and a recommendation from a Harvard alum she knows, convinced second-year MPP student Farah Setyawati to take Orren’s course.

“I like the course because it has a unique exposure to psychology. It got me thinking a lot about human behavior,” Setyawati says.

She now pays attention to body language and “reading the room,” and recognizes the importance of knowing the client. She also likes the required “three-minute pitch” exercise that allowed her to practice her presentation skills.

When Nemerovski brought his popular undergraduate course, “Advocacy and the Legislative Process,” from Columbia to the Luskin School, he immediately brought up the dreaded “L word” — “how society feels about lobbyists and are they the scourge of the earth or something. We talk about that up front and get past that immediately,” Nemerovski says. “Then the whole class is about strategy, … the role of advocacy and the tools needed to navigate successful outcomes.”

In addition to a career as an academic, the Columbia professor has worked as a political lobbyist, TV program host and author of “Third Party,” a series of political novels. He drew on that vast experience to bring in a number of guests with first-hand experience in advocating for legislation:  a state representative from Illinois; two former California Assembly members; and Dan Glickman, a former member of Congress from Kansas, U.S. secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration, and former head of the Motion Picture Association of America.

When students have “heard four or five people in this industry say it’s all about trust, your word is your bond, when they leave the class … they’re going to understand what this is about — trust and word and bond,” Nemerovski says.

“One of my guest speakers actually commented that my class asks better questions than the more sophisticated groups he speaks to. That really speaks for the class and their enthusiasm for the speakers,” he says.

UCLA undergraduate student Axel Sarkissian says the course has been among the most interesting he has taken and has given him a better understanding of “how lobbying is done, an important lesson for those of us interested in government and for anyone interested in public engagement.”

“I have particularly appreciated Professor Nemerovski’s efforts to integrate practitioners — politicians, lobbyists and others — into the course. Hearing their perspective on how they interact with each other and what effect this has on policy has been fascinating,” says Sarkissian, who is completing the Luskin School’s undergraduate minor in Public Affairs.

Nemerovski challenges his students to become “citizen lobbyists.” During winter quarter, they were asked to lobby their congressperson on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), also known as the Dream Act.

“I can’t tell them what to think — whatever side they may be on — so they have to decide what they think and they have to act on it,” says Nemerovski, who notes that part of the exercise is to wrangle not only with the issue but what actions they need to take. “I’ve been watching them struggle with it — ‘how am I really going to do this?’”

Nemerovski also places students on each side of a bill. Some must develop strategies to pass it, others to defeat it.

“They will walk in with a strategy and I will poke holes in it,” Nemerovski says.

But he adds: “I always tell my kids the first day of class they’re going to have fun.”

Shackling the Leviathan Balancing the citizenry’s wants with the state’s needs is critical for a successful society, says 2018 Perloff lecturer Daron Acemoglu

By Zev Hurwitz

Governments with too much or too little power can be problematic. Just ask Daron Acemoglu, the 2018 Perloff lecturer at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In his remarks on May 8, 2018, at the Luskin School, Acemoglu reviewed some of his most recent work about institutions and societal outcomes. The event shared a title with his upcoming book, “The Narrow Corridor to Liberty: The Red Queen and the Struggle of State Against Society,” which he is co-authoring with James A. Robinson.

When it comes to issues of authority, Acemoglu said, striking the right balance is key. Too much or too little state power can lead to catastrophic violence and warfare.

“A lot of social and political theory is built around avoiding these sorts of scare scenarios,” he said.

At one extreme, a society where the government loses its means to govern can lead to chaos. Acemoglu shared a picture of the decimated city of Mosul, Iraq, following an ISIS takeover in 2014.

“This is an iconic case of what happens when a government’s law enforcement function collapses and anarchy prevails,” Acemoglu said.

On the flip side, governments with too much power can perpetrate the chaos directly. Such is the case with the state-led persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

“What’s remarkable about this is that it wasn’t caused by the collapse of the state but was actually perpetrated by the state,” he said.

Another example of a government’s unchecked power, Acemoglu said, is China’s use of mass-pooled data to maintain social order.

Acemoglu’s upcoming book discusses the notion of “Shackling the Leviathan.” The Leviathan, as he describes it, is a large-scale controlling state entity, either a governmental institution or a ruler. “Shackling” the Leviathan is the process by which the state’s non-elite public obtains control of the Leviathan’s operations by instituting checks and balances. Acemoglu cites the United States and United Kingdom as nations that have successfully tamed the Leviathan.

“Once you create an environment in a society where its citizens shackle the Leviathan, not only does this pave the way for the emergence of liberty, but it fundamentally changes the nature of politics,” he said.

Even in modern times, some societies have managed to exist largely in peace with either extreme or absent governing structures. The Tiv in Nigeria operate without any centralized government, Acemoglu noted.

For states that successfully shackle the Leviathan, Acemoglu says, the challenge becomes maintaining the status quo. The “Red Queen” refers to a line in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” in which the monarchic leader notes, “It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place.” Maintaining such a balance between state and citizen control is often a work in progress, and a painful one at that.

“You have to keep on running,” he said.

Acemoglu is an economics professor at MIT focusing on political economy. His prior work includes research on the role of institutions in economic outcomes for various countries.

The Harvey S. Perloff Lecture Series is named for the founding dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, which has since evolved, in part, into the Luskin School. The event was sponsored by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Public Policy and by Global Public Affairs.

Urban Planning Professor Michael Storper introduced the speaker by noting similarities between Acemoglu’s lecture and Perloff’s own work in regional economics.

“There’s a kind of interesting continuity over time with the themes of this lecture,” Storper said. “Institutions are the foundations of economic and social work.”

Nearly 75 students and faculty members were in attendance at the evening lecture, which was followed by a reception.

Major News: UCLA Luskin Launches Undergraduate Degree The B.A. in Public Affairs combines rigorous methodology with community engagement, connecting the dots between theory and action

By Mary Braswell

The Luskin School’s world-class resources in public policy, social welfare and urban planning will soon be available to a much wider circle of UCLA students.

Beginning in the fall of 2018, the School will offer a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs, a major that is unique in the University of California system. A clear public service ethos lies at the heart of the program, which combines critical thinking, social science methodology and deep engagement in the community.

The major will connect the dots between theory and action, said Meredith Phillips, newly named chair of the undergraduate program. Phillips is an associate professor of public policy and sociology who has taught at UCLA for two decades.

“Every class will be focused on societal problems, issues that students care about, and how we can develop reasonable solutions,” Phillips said. “In our classes, we’ll discuss competing values, empirical data and evidence, and different conceptual frameworks for understanding the world. Our students will be developing skills in the service of solving problems, which is really what distinguishes this major from others.”

The impetus for the new program is simple, said UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura: “It’s part of our mission.

“This is a land-grant university that was created to serve the public, to serve California,” Segura said. The program, he said, will attract students “who wanted to come to a prestige institution and take that degree back to the communities they came from and create change there.”

We hope to play a great role in the community service learning opportunities for undergraduates because we already have a lot of experience … with  community-based organizations.”

— Laura Abrams,

Social Welfare chair

 

The B.A. in Public Affairs will provide a wide-ranging education, Phillips said. Students will delve into power politics, microeconomics and human development. They will look at competing social science theories with a critical eye, and master tools for collecting and analyzing data. And they will learn to make written and oral arguments with clarity and conviction.

Unique to the program, she said, is a yearlong capstone project that will immerse seniors in a field and research setting where they can apply their scholarship in the real world.

“The students will be embedded in these organizations, learning from staff and clients about what’s going well, what’s not, and thinking about how to do things even better,” said Phillips, who has co-founded two educational nonprofits.

“They will apply the skills they’ve learned in our classes to those experiences. And what they’re learning on the ground will undoubtedly turn out to be quite informative and will change how they think about what they’re learning in the classroom,” she said.

The emphasis on service learning is what drew UCLA freshman Leyla Solis to explore the Public Affairs B.A.

“All throughout high school, I did a lot of field work in areas I was passionate about,” said Solis, who attended a Northeast Los Angeles charter school that encouraged political engagement. Before coming to UCLA, Solis advocated at the United Nations for the rights of indigenous people, and developed a keen interest in effective governance and environmental law.

A political science major, Solis had been considering the Luskin School’s minor offerings and even looking ahead to a graduate degree. Now she is mulling whether to go for a double major.

“What the people in the Public Affairs Department are doing is not just studying it but going out and experiencing it firsthand,” said Solis, who mentors students from her charter school and tutors low-income children at Santa Monica’s Virginia Avenue Park.

“This is a real opportunity for us to give back to the undergraduate community, to include them in our mission as a school to improve the performance of government and nonprofits.”

— J.R. DeShazo,

Public Policy chair

 

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. Faculty from each department were instrumental in developing the major, making it a true multidisciplinary partnership, Phillips said.

Creation of the major had been in the works for several years, in response to rising student demand. The Luskin School’s current undergraduate courses draw around 1,500 students a year, and its minor programs are among the most popular at UCLA, said the School’s undergraduate advisor, Stan Paul.

Last year, UCLA Luskin faculty voted unanimously to proceed with the undergraduate major. Jocelyn Guihama MPP ’03, deputy director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, helped turn this aspiration into reality, shepherding the effort through every stage. UCLA’s Academic Senate gave final approval on April 19, 2018, and the first of an expected 600 students will enter the major this fall, though many more are expected to take courses offered as part of the major.

Students interested in learning more about the major can visit the UCLA Luskin site or email the department at undergraduateinfo@luskin.ucla.edu.

The creation of an undergraduate major at a UCLA professional school is a rare occurrence, Segura said. “It represents a substantial addition to the undergraduate offerings at UCLA, and we think it’s going to be broadly attractive to a whole swath of incoming young people,” he said.

The B.A. in Public Affairs is just one sign of “a new infusion of energy” under Segura, said Meyer Luskin, who, along with his wife, Renee, is the School’s major benefactor and namesake. “I think he’s going to do a lot of outstanding projects for the community and the School, and I’m very enthused about our future.”

“I expect so much energy and commitment coming from our students in the undergrad major. That is going to have tremendous ripple effects in what we teach in our graduate programs.”

— Vinit Mukhija,

Urban Planning chair

 

The new major comes at a time when a growing number of students are seeking the scholarship and training to effect social change.

“These young people are not simply resisting political and social forces with which they disagree — they’re also resisting knowledge-free policymaking,” Segura said of the spreading youth movement on such issues as gun violence, Black Lives Matter and immigration reform.

“They want to be informed by facts. What we do at Luskin is provide them with the infrastructure to think analytically, with enough training so that they can solve the problems they’ve identified as important to their generation,” he said.

Creation of the major greatly expands undergraduate access to UCLA Luskin’s faculty and resources, and it will also benefit the entire School, Segura said.

“There will certainly be an infusion of energy that only undergraduates can bring. All of a sudden we’re going to have 600 change agents running around the building who are youthful and energized,” Segura said.

In addition, the hiring of new faculty members to support the expansion of class offerings has also opened up avenues for graduate research, he said, and master’s and Ph.D. students in UCLA Luskin’s other degree programs will gain access to teaching assistantships and other leadership roles.

“I think from a scholarly perspective, from a resources perspective, from an experience perspective, it’s a big, big win for the School,” Segura said.

Reimagining CO2: UCLA Team Advances to Carbon XPRIZE Finals Carbon Upcycling team, which developed eco-friendly concrete, is sharing in the $5 million prize

Working to upend one of the most stalwart of construction materials, a team of UCLA engineers, scientists and policy experts has advanced to the finals of the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE by successfully creating a version of concrete that is nearly carbon-dioxide-neutral.

The international competition, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to conclude in 2020, challenged teams to develop carbon technologies that convert carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into viable products. The eco-friendly building material, called CO2NCRETE, was developed by the UCLA Carbon Upcycling team and offers similar strengths and functionality as traditional concrete.

Ten finalists have been selected from a field of 27 semifinalists by an independent judging panel of eight international energy, sustainability and carbon dioxide experts. The teams have been awarded an equal share of a $5 million milestone prize.

“As the son and grandson of civil engineers, I have always been fascinated by construction, and reaching the XPRIZE finals by doing what I am most passionate about is perfectly aligned with what I value,” said Gaurav Sant, professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “The concrete and construction industries are ripe for disruption and the ability to make a positive impact in these sectors, while lessening our carbon dioxide footprint, is a worthy cause for the entire UCLA team.”

Sant is the head of the team, whose leadership also includes J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Richard Kaner, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UCLA College and of materials science; and Mathieu Bauchy, professor of civil engineering. Additional team members include Gabriel Falzone, a doctoral student in materials science; Iman Mehdipour and Hyukmin Kweon, post-doctoral scholars in civil and environmental engineering; and Bu Wang, a project scientist in civil and environmental engineering, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

To secure a place in the finals, the UCLA team had to demonstrate that their technology consumed 200 kg of carbon dioxide in 24 hours. During a 10-month period, they were challenged to meet minimum technical requirements and were audited by independent verification partner Southern Research. The team was then evaluated by the judges based on the amount of carbon dioxide converted into CO2NCRETE, as well as the economic value, market size and carbon dioxide uptake potential of the construction material.

“The competition provides an opportunity for UCLA’s cutting-edge academic research to be applied in the real world,” Sant said. “The performance-based measures of CO2NCRETE have been useful in showing that this effort is not only viable, but scalable. And, of course, the support provided by the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Foundation has been foundational to our success.”

Traditional forms of cement are formed from anhydrous calcium silicate, while CO2NCRETE is composed from hydrated lime that is able to absorb carbon dioxide quickly into its composition. As a result, producing CO2NCRETE generates between 50 to 70 percent less carbon dioxide than its traditional counterpart.

The unique “lime mortar-like” composition also helps reduce the nearly 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emitted from the production of ordinary portland cement, the binding agent used in traditional concrete.

The most compelling advantage CO2NCRETE offers when compared to other carbon capture and utilization technologies, Sant said, is that the carbon dioxide stream used in its production does not have to be processed before use. The manufacturing process allows for carbon dioxide borne in the flue gas of power and industrial plants to be captured and converted at its source. This advantage creates a cost-competitive business model that avoids the expense of a carbon dioxide enrichment or treatment facility.

“These teams are showing us amazing examples of carbon conversion and literally reimagining carbon. The diversity of technologies on display is an inspiring vision of a new carbon economy,” said Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE senior director of energy and resources and prize lead. “We are trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by converting them into useful materials, and do so in an economically sustainable way.”

In the final and most ambitious stage of the competition, teams must demonstrate carbon dioxide utilization at a scale of two tons per day — a scale that is 10 times greater than the semifinals requirements — at an industrial test site. The UCLA team will compete at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, a carbon research facility in Gillette, Wyoming, co-located with the Dry Fork Station coal power plant. This final stage of the competition will start in June 2019 and conclude in early 2020.

Sant is also the director of the Institute for Carbon Management at UCLA, which draws on UCLA’s campus-wide expertise to create innovative solutions to the climate change challenge. Launched this spring, the institute is developing advanced technology and market-driven strategies for mitigating the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

 

 

 

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