An article in the Hechinger Report highlighted Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park’s research findings on the relationship between heat and student test performance. Air pollution and heat are becoming increasing concerns as a result of climate change, and research indicates that these factors may inhibit student performance in classrooms. In a study conducted in New York City, Park found that hot testing days reduced students’ performance on Regents exams, which are required for graduation in New York, thus decreasing the probability of a student graduating from high school. He found that students are 10% more likely to fail an exam when the temperature is 90 degrees than when it’s 72 degrees. Park also co-authored a study that examined PSAT scores across the country and found that students “had lower scores if they experienced hotter school days in the years preceding the test, with extreme heat being particularly damaging.”
By Mary Braswell
Tessa Azani remembers the look on her mom’s face when they came across the new major outlined on the very last page of UCLA’s transfer admission guide.
“Developing leaders engaged in social change,” began the text describing the bachelor of arts in public affairs.
“I start reading the description to my mom and I swear I saw her jaw fall on the floor. And she says, ‘They literally made this major for you. They knew you were coming,’ ” Azani recalled.
The transfer student from Moorpark College, who had been struggling to find a course of study that fit her goals, is now one of the “Trailblazers” — UCLA Luskin’s undergrad Class of 2021, the first group of students formally admitted to the new major.
Azani joins 69 other other students who launched into upper-division public affairs coursework in the fall. It’s a diverse group: Three-quarters are women, 67 percent identify as nonwhite, 13 are transfer students, and more than 20 percent come from outside California, traveling to UCLA from every region of the nation and from countries including Mexico, India, Great Britain and Austria.
In just its second year, the UCLA Luskin undergraduate program has grown to a total of more than 270 students, including 200 lower-division “pre-majors.” The Trailblazers are the program’s pioneers. They’ll be the first to experience one of the major’s signature elements: a three-quarter internship and seminar series in the senior year that will immerse students in their community. Their feedback will be crucial in shaping the program.
“I am in awe of our Trailblazers,” said Alexis Oberlander, director of student affairs for the program. “These students had other plans for their time at UCLA, they had other majors, but once they learned about our program they immediately connected to our mission and shifted gears without hesitating.”
That was true of the very first student to join the program. Long Hoang was a freshman in the spring of 2018 when he read about the major in the Daily Bruin. He sought out Oberlander, asked many questions, then eagerly registered as a pre-major.
As more joined the ranks, they forged a tight bond as they moved, almost en masse, from class to class, all trying to complete prerequisites in just one year.
“I really feel like we’ve connected as a class,” Hoang said. “It’s funny because moving from high school to a school with 30,000 people, I did not expect to have such a close-knit community.”
The public affairs major resides in a School known for its top-ranked graduate programs, and Hoang found an important mentor in a student pursuing a master’s in urban planning. As a teaching assistant, Michelle Einstein shared her passion for data science and digital mapping, and Hoang got hooked. He’s now pursuing a minor in Geographic Information Systems and Technology with an eye toward bridging his interests in data analysis, environmental health and community outreach. And he remains in touch with Einstein, who graduated last June.
Nate Singer’s journey to a public affairs education began when he moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles as he began high school. To get around town, he started taking the Metro public transit system, and the more he rode, the more he became fascinated with the way the region was stitched together.
“I realized how integral transportation is to the social structure of a city, the economic structure of a city,” he said. “The beauty of being interested in something like cities is they’re so dynamic and they’re so interconnected that you can kind of have your foot in many, many places at the same time.”
As a transfer student from Los Angeles City College, Singer knew two things: He wanted to study urban planning and he wanted to stay in Southern California. Google led him to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs site, and he realized the undergrad program was a great fit. He became an early ambassador for the program by sharing what he learned with his LACC counselors.
Singer once owned a motorcycle but now travels by bicycle and bus. “I figured I can’t say car-based infrastructure is destroying our cities while also utilizing it on a daily basis,” he said.
While all the Trailblazers must show great discipline to meet their major requirements, Rimsha Saeed has a unique challenge: She aims to complete her degree in three years.
“The counseling team has been amazing, so accommodating and always trying to make sure that I’m on track,” said Saeed, who is interested in human rights law and policy.
She had looked at UCLA’s majors in political science and international development studies but gravitated toward the hands-on learning in the public affairs curriculum.
“I want to do something that makes real change in the world, and that was exactly what the public affairs major was offering,” she said. “It literally gives us the tools to make actual lasting change.”
Saeed says she is grateful for the “extras” the staff offers, such as bringing in dynamic speakers and sharing off-campus opportunities. “They’re always trying to help us get connections out in the world, and that’s really helpful for someone who’s trying to figure out what they want to do,” she said.
She has only praise for Associate Professor Meredith Phillips, the department’s chair who also teaches a course on using data to understand society.
“Professor Meredith, she’s probably really busy, but she would literally sit with me and explain everything as many times as I needed it. That really left an impression on me,” said Saeed, who had no previous statistics experience but is now motivated to pursue upper-division coursework. “I found it really interesting how you can combine two fields that seem so different, like social science and coding, and make it into something that’s used out there in the real world.”
For Tessa Azani, “everything fell into place” after she discovered the public affairs major. She had been seeking an education that paired policymaking and social welfare but wanted to veer away from politics, with all its “arguing and debating and winning and losing.”
“My brother and I both talked about how we loved the idea of being able to create change using government and politics — but we hate actual politics,” she said.
Her dream, she said, is to launch a nonprofit that encourages sports teams — and their fervent fan bases — to sponsor local schools. “Since almost every kid in America, K through 12, has to go to school, why don’t we make school the best place in the entire world?”Azani said.
The Trailblazers, Oberlander said, “are passionate about their life goals, all of which involve making our world a more equitable and just place, and they are willing to take the chance and put in the hard work to achieve those goals.
“I can’t wait to see them in their experiential learning capstones and beyond as they become the future leaders of our world.”
View more pictures of the Trailblazers on Flickr.
A larger turnout than anyone could remember showed up for the 9th annual Block Party in late September to help UCLA Luskin kick off another academic year. The event-filled week also included the annual Orientation for new graduate students, and an open house and information session for undergraduates. Staff volunteers from throughout the School provided helping hands and welcoming smiles to assist Director of Events Tammy Borrero in creating a Block Party to remember. Before he introduced Renee Luskin to lead a toast to the School’s 25th anniversary, Dean Gary Segura reminded the enthusiastic crowd that 2019-20 not only marks UCLA’s 100th anniversary, but it’s also a year of milestones at UCLA Luskin. “We have a lot to celebrate tonight,” Segura said. “We celebrate our founding as the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs — we’ve been in existence 25 years, but our mission has lasted a lot longer. In Public Policy last year, we celebrated some 20 years in existence. Later this year, we’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of Urban Planning. And this is the 72nd year of operation of UCLA Social Welfare. Together, we have sent 8,000 alumni into the world to do good things.” A large contingent of those alumni were on hand at the Block Party, and you can view their pictures along with photos of the entire UCLA Luskin community on our Flickr feed or by clicking through the individual galleries below.
The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin was featured in a Public Seminar essay that highlighted the institute’s continuing collaborative efforts to support “organizations that conduct critical work on behalf of the dispossessed, including debtors, those displaced by gentrification and the formerly incarcerated.” Student debt and the prospect of tuition-free public universities have lately moved from fringe debate to a mainstream topic of discussion among Democratic presidential candidates. The institute has served as a model for creating reciprocal relationships between academia and debt relief organizations, often giving voice to academics who argue that “educational institutions that run on debt are in conflict with those who critique such models or who are working to concretely transform them.” This is “all the more reason for activists … to work in collaboration with those who may have access to resources but whose institutional affiliations may limit them in other ways,” the essay said.
On Thursday, Feb. 21, the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program presented “Flip The Script: Stories of Social Change,” featuring guest speaker Funmilola Fagbamila, founding member of the Black Lives Matter movement, and five student presenters who showcased their work. The event began with one simple question: “What does social change mean to you?” Each presentation sought to answer that question in a uniquely personal way. Student Mei Blundell performed a piece called “The Escape of Lin Cong” on the yangqin, or Chinese hammered dulcimer, featuring a haunting and complicated melody. Next, Carolyn Travis performed an original poem called “Mujeres” —spoken alternatingly in Spanish and English — about violence toward women and how so much of it often goes undocumented and unreported. Hua Chai presented an animated short discussing technology and conditioning in an abstract manner. Sahfa Aboudkhil performed an original song “For Emilie” on acoustic guitar about women speaking up in light of sexual violence. Alejandro Xipecoatl Juarez performed a dynamic spoken word poem, “Let Me Free,” about Chicano identity in our society. Kate McInerny, a freshman pre-major in public affairs, was emcee of the free event at the Kerckhoff Grand Salon. The evening ended with a talk and Q&A by Fagbamila, who was an inaugural Activist-in-Residence at UCLA Luskin’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy. She spoke about her experience in the social and political arenas and shared her views on modern activism as told through an allegorical story about three archetypal black activists. — Jackson Belway
View photos from Flip the Script on Flickr:
The recent teacher’s strike in Los Angeles stoked a discussion of the role of “magnet schools” in L.A.’s school district. In an article from Next City, Urban Planning Professor Gary Orfield, also the co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, said, “A good magnet requires a commitment to invest and train people to offer distinctive programs, and of course magnet schools that are run under good civil rights policies have to offer transportation.” Magnet schools, which were originally opened as part of a desegregation plan to increase diversity, are based around a specialized academic focus that attracts students across school district lines and zones. Due to their rising popularity, these schools have also been magnetizing much of the funding that has been allocated to regular L.A. schools. Many school administrators have been considering transforming their schools into magnets, much to the concern of various teachers’ unions.
UCLA Luskin kicked off another academic year in late September during Welcome Week 2017, with events that included Orientation, Research Center lunches, EPA Training and the 7th annual Luskin Block Party. Assisted by a swarm of volunteers from throughout UCLA Luskin, Director of Events Tammy Borrero juggled hundreds of details to ensure the School was able to, in her words, “make a spectacular week come alive!” A sample of images from the week’s activities can be found on the Luskin Flickr feed, including this gallery of images from the Block Party:
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