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KCRW President Emphasizes the Value of Open Dialogue UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow Jennifer Ferro stresses the good that can come just from a willingness to truly listen

By Les Dunseith

Jennifer Ferro was still a UCLA undergrad in the early 1990s when she landed an internship at KCRW, the public radio station in nearby Santa Monica.

“Jennifer had an internship that turned into a job,” noted Sarah Burtner, a second-year student in public policy at UCLA Luskin who helped introduce Ferro to a crowd of about 75 people, mostly students, who gathered Jan. 18, 2018, to hear Ferro’s Senior Fellows Speakers Series presentation. Ferro has been with KCRW for 25 years now.

“Millennials, on average, change jobs every three to five years, so this type of longevity is truly lost on us,” said Burtner with a smile.

Today, KCRW is the flagship public radio outlet in Southern California and Ferro is the station’s president. She is also an active participant in the UCLA Luskin Senior Fellows program, serving as a mentor for current students such as Burtner and Andres Carrasquillo of urban planning.

“We were drawn to Jennifer’s work at KCRW to help us understand how we might use the tools from the field of communication in thoughtful, engaging ways to help the public navigate the complexities of our fields,” Carrasquillo told the audience in the California Room at the UCLA Faculty Center.


Ferro’s presentation focused on a central question: “What role can public media play in making good people?”

“At KCRW and in public media, we do very high quality work. And I do think it matters that when your goal and your mission is to serve people and not to get the largest audience,” Ferro said. “It means that you attract people with integrity and talk to people who care about integrity.”

She leads a radio outlet that is among the nation’s largest, best-known and most prolific, producing more than 100 hours of public interest and music programming each week. Her station offers hard news reporting as well as feature coverage of trendsetters in fields such as food, art, Hollywood or culture.

“Most of all,” Ferro said, “we believe in disseminating truthful information — which seems like something that we would not even need to talk about, until recently.”

Ferro tailored her presentation in part to the policy interests of her audience, most of whom were from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. She noted, for example, that many people have the mistaken perception that public radio exists mostly on money doled out to stations by the federal government.

In reality, just 6 percent of the station’s budget comes via taxpayers. “KCRW receives close to half of its $20-million budget annually from individuals who decide, voluntarily, to support it,” she said. In all, about 55,000 people donate to the cause. The remaining funding “comes from sponsorship, or what we call underwriting,” Ferro explained.

She and her colleagues try to use those funds wisely, Ferro said, covering stories in ways that will enlighten listeners and broaden their perspectives.

Noting the overriding sense of political division in the country of late, Ferro played a couple of audio clips from public radio programs that tried to bridge the divide between left and right by including voices from both sides on controversial topics.

In one piece that aired prior to the 2016 presidential election, a woman who supported Donald Trump speaks of her beliefs, including the idea that radical Islamists had been infiltrating the country in large numbers with the intent of doing harm to Americans. An interviewer points out that white men have been responsible for the vast majority of terrorist violence in this country, but the woman refuses to believe him.

Ferro said this piece sticks out in her memory not because of the woman’s views but because of the reaction the interview generated among many listeners.

“If you are like me, you presume that people who listen to public radio are rational and reasonable — kind, even,” she said. “Of all the media consumers, public radio people would be like Canada, you know, tolerant and nice.”

Yet, after that interview aired, the woman who expressed her conservative views on air was flooded with hateful emails and tweets, including many that were vile — even death threats.

“One of the things I hear all of the time is that we just need to listen more to each other,” Ferro told the crowd. But when people with opposing views do try to communicate, “sometimes I feel that what we really want is to wait for them to stop talking so that we can then persuade them to think the way that we think.

“It comes from this notion, this concept, that ‘I’m right, and you’re wrong.’ But that’s what the other person is thinking about you too.”

As a Senior Fellow at UCLA Luskin, Ferro engages with students who benefit directly from her experience and efforts to expand their worldviews. She and other participants in the mentorship program provide other benefits too.

VC Powe, who organized Ferro’s talk as part of her role as director of career services at UCLA Luskin, generated a buzz among the crowd when she told them of a new donation by Edmund J. Cain, vice president of grant donations for the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, that will provide $5,000 stipends to UCLA Luskin students who land summer internships that would otherwise be unpaid. The catch? The stipends can only go to students whose internships are somehow connected to a senior fellow.

That won’t be a problem at KCRW, which still offers internships like the one that first got Ferro her foot in the door there. Now, as station president, she continues to delight in the opportunity that public media provides for open, honest communication.

“We let people tell their own stories, in their own voices,” Ferro said, while urging that it’s important that all voices be heard. “Are we going to allow ourselves to hear things that we don’t agree with, that we think are absolutely wrong, that we find personally repulsive?”

She continued, “I think there’s a better goal in all of this, and it’s the goal of exercising our humanity. You should go and meet your neighbors. You should talk to people about anything besides politics,” Ferro said. “You should try to like people in spite of who they voted for.”

Guiding the Next Gen of Leaders UCLA Luskin welcomes new and returning Senior Fellows from the public, private and nonprofit sectors

By Stan Paul

For more than two decades the Senior Fellows Leadership Program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has matched the School’s students with professionals.

UCLA Luskin Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning students have enhanced their academic experience with real-world, practical applications by making direct connections with individuals working in their areas of interest.

This year is no exception. Now in its 21st run, the program has fielded an outstanding class of fellows representing a wide range of professional expertise. The 2017-18 class includes a former U.S. Congresswoman, a current U.S. Foreign Service officer, the president of a popular local news media and cultural outlet, and an advocate for children’s rights.

“We are particularly proud of this group of Senior Fellows in part because it’s one of the largest groups of new and returning fellows,” Dean Gary Segura said in his opening remarks at an Oct. 26, 2017, welcome breakfast marking the kickoff of the 2017-18 Senior Fellows. “We are overwhelmed by your generosity. More importantly, we are overwhelmed by your willingness to share some of your valuable time with the next generation of leaders in Los Angeles and beyond. And, I mean by that, the 575 young people that make up the student body of the Luskin School of Public Affairs.”

Among the returning Senior Fellows is David Carlisle, president and CEO of Charles Drew University of Medicine. Carlisle, who also is an adjunct professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, served as keynote speaker for the gathering at UCLA’s Faculty Center.

“This is one of the most wonderful activities that I do every year … and I look forward to coming back because of the interaction with young people that this program provides,” Carlisle said to Luskin student mentees, faculty, staff and guests.

In his presentation, Carlisle, who has served as a Senior Fellow since 2007, stressed the continued importance of the mentor program. In an economic sense California is experiencing a “golden age,” Carlisle said. But “we are still challenged by meeting demands cultivating personal capital in the state of California and the United States … human capital. And, there are too many places in our state where people are still challenged to participate fully in the economic engine that is the state of California.”

For second-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning student Sonia Suresh, an interest in affordable housing development and working with homeless populations led to her choice of Anita Nelson as a Senior Fellow mentor. Nelson is the CEO of SFO Housing Corporation, a Los Angeles-based organization committed to providing housing and support services for homeless and low-income people.

“We had a great conversation on our backgrounds and interests, as well as the type of affordable housing her organization builds,” said Suresh, who is also a member of Planners of Color for Social Equity at UCLA Luskin. “We have set up a day for me to shadow her and her development team.”

Second-year Master of Public Policy student Bei Zhao and first-year urban planning student Alexander Salgado were partnered with returning fellow Steven Nissen, senior vice president, legal and governmental Affairs, for NBC Universal.

Zhao, a native of China who has worked in investment banking in Beijing, said that the breakfast and mentor program provided the opportunity to talk about participants’ backgrounds and professional experience. She said she was amazed by Nissen’s experience bridging the private, public and nonprofit sectors, “which is also the direction I want to build for my own career.” Zhao said she hopes to apply her public policy and finance experience in the public sector of a nonprofit organization.

Nissen and his mentees have already planned on continuing their conversation. “At the end of the breakfast, he invited us to visit NBC Universal for further meetings … which shows his generosity for the future generation,” Zhao said.

The Senior Fellows Leadership Program is part of the Luskin School’s Leadership Development Program which is led and organized each year by VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development.

In addition to Nelson, new members of the Senior Fellows are:

  • Elizabeth Calvin, senior advocate, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch
  • Rick Cole, city manager, city of Santa Monica
  • Efrain Escobedo, vice president, civic engagement & policy, California Community Foundation
  • Christine Essel, president and CEO, Southern California Grantmakers
  • Jennifer Ferro, president, KCRW
  • Anne Miskey, chief executive officer, Downtown Women’s Center
  • Erica Murray, president and CEO, California Association of Public Hospitals
  • Rick Nahmias, founder/executive director, Food Forward
  • Seleta Reynolds, general manager, Los Angeles Department of Transportation
  • Michelle Rhone-Collins, executive director, LIFT-Los Angeles
  • Lynn Schenk, former Congresswoman, California 39th Congressional District
  • Dan Schnur, director, American Jewish Committee; former director, USC Unruh Institute of Politics
  • Heather Joy Thompson, diplomat-in-residence based at UCLA Luskin; Foreign Service Officer, U.S. State Department
  • David Wright, CEO, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

More information on the Senior Fellows Leadership Program, Senior Fellow bios and a full list of returning Senior Fellows are available online.

Connecting the Dots on American Diplomacy, Foreign Policy and Religion Peter Kovach’s lecture and the annual Senior Fellows Breakfast mark start of the 20th year for Luskin School mentorship program

By Stan Paul

As a former senior Foreign Service officer for the U.S. State Department, Peter Kovach’s decades-long diplomatic career took him around the globe, from assignments in Japan, Jordan and Morocco to posts in Pakistan, Yemen and Bahrain. His accomplishments include groundbreaking work incorporating aspects of religion, values and civil society into U.S. diplomacy, with his most recent assignment leading the Office of International Religious Freedom.

The former Diplomat in Residence at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who has also held posts in Washington D.C., delivered the first in a new Senior Fellows speaker series made possible by the generosity of Luskin donors. Kovach, also a Luskin Senior Fellow, discussed how religion and philosophy can influence identities — political and social — in his presentation, “Religion and Diplomacy — A Slow but Steady Courtship,” providing a historical perspective of religion and U.S. foreign policy around the world.

“It (religion) has got a bad rap as sort of a creator of conflict,” Kovach said. “The fact is, I think, according to conflict theory, it’s kind of a downstream element,” adding his observation that insecurity — physical and economic — rather than religion is the most immediate cause of conflict.

Kovach, who began his diplomacy career in 1980, said his personal education as a religion major in college and a spiritual journey while an undergraduate led him to India where he studied under the tutelage of a French Benedictine and swami who embraced both Catholic and Hindu traditions.

“I have Jewish, Catholic and Muslim antecedents, and my parents were militant agnostics — if not atheists — but we lived as an extended family and I had some very devout Catholic relatives growing up in Irish Catholic Boston,” Kovach said.

Explaining why he shares his own religious background, Kovach said, “I do this because one of the real cornerstones of engaging as a diplomat with faith-based civil society is knowing your own biography and being able to be open about it.”

Kovach said the theme of his talk was inspired by a conversation he had with the CEO of a major U.S. cable and satellite television network who told him, “culture trumps strategy.”

“I think that is such a good comment on several levels but definitely in bureaucracies and in governments,” Kovach said, expanding on his premise that religion and philosophical values matter on personal and communal levels. “They’re embedded in all human endeavors.”

Kovach also talked about impediments to engaging the secular with the non-secular, the history of that engagement and finding overlaps, such as ethics, to “the great traditions” of the world. “Economic decisions and cooperation are influenced by faith communities at times, by values, by institutions,” he said.

“That’s where as a diplomat we get very, very interested. I’m a public diplomacy specialist and we’re all about influencing foreign audiences — if they don’t buy our policy — to at least understand where we’re coming from and what values they’re based on to have a more discriminating view of the United States,” Kovach said.

Kovach’s lecture, co-sponsored by the UCLA Burkle Center, followed the Luskin School’s annual Senior Fellows Breakfast, adding 13 new fellows to the list of those who have served since the program was founded in 1997. Several Senior Fellows from past classes have remained connected to the school and will continue to serve as mentors for students this year, according to VC Powe, director of Career Services and Leadership Development at Luskin.

At their first official meeting of the year, the fellows and their students, representing the departments of Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, were already making their plans for the year ahead and the opportunities afforded by the program’s mentors.

Darin Chidsey, chief operating officer for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), who was introduced by Luskin Interim Dean Lois Takahashi, provided tips to new mentors. Chidsey, who represented veteran Senior Fellow Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of SCAG, has co-mentored Hasan’s students and has supervised past Luskin Leadership fellows.

Among this year’s class of Senior Fellows is UCLA alumna Wendy Greuel, a former member of the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles city controller who has remained involved with UCLA and Luskin.

“This is my first year as a fellow,” Greuel said. “I’m excited about doing it and I have two wonderful students who are interested in local government and recognize the importance of it. That makes me not just excited, but over the moon because too many young people are only looking nationally and don’t understand the importance of local government. I’m looking forward to exposing them to even more activities and opportunities here, in particular at a great university like UCLA.”

Greuel’s current role is chair of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). “In L.A., there is nothing more local than the homeless that are living on the streets,” she said. “I started my career working for Mayor (Tom) Bradley as an intern from UCLA and ultimately worked on the homeless issue and know how difficult it is. I’m excited to be part of it again and expose these two students to solutions to some tough problems.”

Dennis Avila, a second-year Master of Public Policy (MPP) student, was matched with returning Senior Fellow Thomas Epstein, vice president of public affairs for health care provider Blue Shield of California, who will be taking on a new role as incoming vice president on the board of California Community Colleges.

Avila said his personal interest as a former community college student led to his match with Epstein. Avila said he already has made plans to make his first trip to Sacramento through the program, “to get to know the State Capitol and see how it actually works, how it plays out from the top down.”

Through this partnership with leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, many students have benefitted from the advice and experience of their Senior Fellow mentors. Many have also launched careers that started from their experiences as students at Luskin. Still others have come back as leaders to serve as Senior Fellow mentors in their own right.

The Class of 2016-2017 Senior Fellows:

Paul Arevalo, city manager, city of West Hollywood

Donna E. Deutchman, CEO, Habitat for Humanity (San Fernando/Santa Clarita)

Shane Murphy Goldsmith, president and CEO, Liberty Hill Foundation

Wendy Greuel, commissioner, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA)

Lisa Hasegawa, executive director, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development

Lorri L. Jean, CEO, Los Angeles LGBT Center

Mitchell Katz, MD, director, Los Angeles County Health Agency

Vickie Kropenske, executive director – Hope Street Family Center

Ann-Louise Kuhns, president and CEO, California Children’s Hospital Association

Shawn Landres, co-founder, Jumpstart Labs; chair, board of managers, Impact Hub LA

Adrienne Luce, executive director, HMC Architects Designing Futures Foundation; CSR Consultant

Barbara Osborn, director of communications, Los Angeles County Supervisor

Gene Seroka, executive director, Port of Los Angeles