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Luskins Honored as UCLA Alumni of the Year University also recognizes Bill Coggins MSW '55 with award for community service

The UCLA Award for Community Service was awarded to Wilfred “Bill” Coggins MSW ’55.

Meyer and Renee Luskin, namesakes and major benefactors of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, have been recognized as the 2020 Edward A. Dickson Alumni of the Year, UCLA’s highest alumni honor.

The university’s Alumni Association also honored Wilfred “Bill” Coggins MSW ’55 with this year’s UCLA Award for Community Service, which recognizes alumni who have worked for the enrichment of others and the betterment of their communities.

The Luskins are entrepreneurs, philanthropists and lifelong friends of UCLA.

“Together, Renee and Meyer have shaped UCLA’s greatness for nine decades, transforming UCLA through their many gifts benefiting students, families, communities and institutions around the globe,” the Alumni Association said in announcing the award.

Meyer Luskin earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1949, then went on to launch Scope Industries, which recycles bakery waste to make an ingredient in animal feed. Renee Luskin earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1953.

“The Luskins have transformed their success with an extraordinary generosity of spirit and resources to help UCLA impact countless lives,” the association said.

In 2019, the Luskins were awarded the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor. At a reception at the university conference center bearing their name, Chancellor Gene Block said, “What drives Meyer and Renee is precisely what drives UCLA: a desire to solve society’s biggest challenges and to create opportunity for all through education and research.”

Coggins was honored for his decades of stewardship of the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center, which helps families achieve academic and personal success, the Alumni Association said.

Amid the unrest of 1960s Los Angeles, Kaiser Permanente hired Coggins, an Army veteran, Fulbright scholar and psychiatric social worker, to develop a program that would meet the social and emotional needs of the Watts neighborhood.

“Coggins established trust with the community to create an organization that serves as an essential mental health and educational resource,” the association said.

“Bill Coggins has been called the heart and soul of the center, which continues to thrive due to his creative and thoughtful leadership that benefited generations of Watts residents,” it said.

Coggins, who retired as the center’s executive director in 1998, has been inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction. In 2018, he became the first recipient of the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Lifetime Achievement Award.

The UCLA Alumni Awards have recognized distinguished Bruins since 1946. This year’s honorees were announced in the spring; a celebration of their achievements will be planned at a later date.

Read more about the 2020 UCLA Alumni Awards.

Alumni Offer Advice on an Uncertain Job Market Class of 2020 hears words of encouragement from two who graduated during the Great Recession

By Mary Braswell

Joey Shanley and Andy Sywak know what it’s like to look for a job in an economy shaken by uncertainty. The two UCLA Luskin alumni graduated in 2009 as the nation struggled to emerge from the Great Recession.

Each embarked on career paths that took surprising-but-welcome turns, and each emerged with insights about job strategies that work, including adjusting your mindset to weather unpredictable times.

At an online panel hosted by UCLA Luskin Career Services, Shanley and Sywak shared their wisdom with graduates entering the workforce during a downturn that has eclipsed the recession of a decade ago. Their words of advice to the Class of 2020 were both practical and encouraging.

“You have a master’s degree from one of the top top-tier universities in the world. I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you when you will find a job, but I will tell you that you will find a job,” said Shanley, who earned his master’s in social welfare and now manages transgender care programs at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Before and after he earned his master’s in public policy, Sywak worked in journalism, government, nonprofits and the private sector. He now uses policy and planning skills as a compliance manager for the West Hollywood startup AvantStay, which specializes in high-end short-term rental properties.

In each position he has held, Sywak pursued his longstanding interest in local government, and he encouraged students to “find that common thread” when presenting resumes with a wide range of experiences.

‘The thing that we always look for is people who can create solutions.’ — Andy Sywak MPP ’09

Shanley pursued politics and film before dedicating his life to social work, and even then a few unexpected turns awaited him.

“If you pulled me aside five years ago and said, you know, Joey, you’re going to be neck-deep in transgender health, I would have said that sounds great but that’s not my career path,” said Shanley, who manages Kaiser’s gender-affirming surgery program and is helping to launch a pediatric transgender care clinic.

“This is where my career has gone, and it’s been beyond even my wildest hopes.”

The May 29 panel launched a series of Career Services activities aimed at supporting students and alumni throughout the summer. At the next event, a Zoom conversation on July 7, Marcia Choo, vice president of community development at Wells Fargo Bank, will discuss how to align career decisions with equity and social justice.

Shanley and Sywak invited freshly minted policy, planning and social welfare graduates to remain in touch, to seek career advice or simply to strengthen the UCLA Luskin alumni connection.

The power of networking can be tapped well before graduation, Shanley noted. He recalled poring over the entire list of MSW field placements, then scouring websites of employers that piqued his interest. Whether or not they had active job listings, he reached out to set up introductory meetings and always followed up with both an email and a written note.

“I’m still old school,” he said, and hiring managers may be, too. “When all the candidates look equal but there’s a nice, handwritten thank-you card from you, that’s going to actually help elevate your position in the rankings.”

Both in interviews and on the job, the ability to communicate clearly and think creatively are key, Sywak added.

“When you work at a startup, people are given pretty big responsibilities pretty easily. … The thing that we always look for is people who can create solutions,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made certain skill sets essential on the job, the alumni added. Employees who have transitioned to a virtual environment, with clients or with colleagues, should master new technologies, design skills and ways of communicating to remain relevant, they said.

Both Shanley and Sywak counseled the graduates to view their hard-won master’s degrees as the beginning, not the end, of their education.

“There’s a lot that we can learn in those first few years out of grad school,” Shanley said. “Make sure that you’re listening, make sure you continue to have curiosity. …

“Especially now, life is hard for everybody. Make sure that you can funnel that into a place that’s effective in the workplace. Help find the solutions.”

 

Taylor’s Journey From Transfer Student to Professor

A UCLA Newsroom article celebrating transfer students featured Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor and UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow Tom Epstein, president of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, was a Long Beach City College transfer student before getting his bachelor’s in geography and Ph.D. in urban planning at UCLA. “It just so happens that I recently hosted my now retired LBCC economics professor for lunch at the UCLA Faculty Club to thank him for changing my life,” Taylor said. “At the time I was studying to be a travel agent, and he convinced me to transfer to UC to study geography and economics instead.” At UCLA, 92% of transfer students come from California community colleges. “Completing a degree helps students not just to succeed in the economy, but also to contribute more to their community by helping people who are less fortunate or participating in civic affairs,” Epstein said.


 

Nelson Esparza MPP ’15 Named Public Policy Alumnus of the Year New member of the Fresno City Council is honored at alumni reception and luncheon

Public Policy hosted its 21st annual alumni reception and luncheon on May 18, part of UCLA’s campuswide Centennial Launch. Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, who recently won election to Fresno’s City Council, was honored as 2019 Alumnus of the Year. Esparza thanked his UCLA Luskin professors, staff and peers, adding, “When one of us gets elected to office or serves in a position and does good in the community … that reflects greatly upon all of us.” Two first-year students were awarded fellowships made possible by an alumni fund. Irma Castaneda was recognized as “an extremely driven, organized and selfless person who is often looking for ways to help others, especially first-generation students and those who are not well-represented and advocated for in both the MPP and higher education overall.” Devon Schechinger was honored for bringing together classmates in social gatherings aimed at “making our communities and our environment healthier and safer. … She has the quiet determination of an effective change maker.”

UCLA Luskin has followed Esparza’s journey as a public servant:

 

‘My experience at the Luskin School was just invaluable. It wasn’t just the nitty-gritty of the public policy that we got into in the classroom. It was the leadership aspects that I was able to engage in with my peers inside and outside of the classroom.’ — Esparza after winning election to the Fresno City Council in 2018

Read more: UCLA Luskin Alumni Emerge as Local Leaders With Election Wins

‘The Board of Education is especially personal because I am the students of my district. I faced the same barriers and obstacles that students in my district are battling every day.’ — Esparza after winning a seat on the Fresno County School Board in 2016

Read more: A Crash Course in Politics

View photos from Public Policy’s alumni reception on Flickr.

Public Policy Alumni Reception and Luncheon

Alumni Inducted Into California Social Work Hall of Distinction

Four UCLA Luskin alumni were among six individuals inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction in fall 2018. Bill Coggins MSW ’55, Kathleen Kubota MSW ’82,  John Oliver MSW ’64 and Yasuko Sakamoto MSW ’83 were honored at a ceremony on Oct. 7, 2018. They were joined by inductees June Simmons, who received an MSW from USC in 1970, and Diane Takvorian, who earned an MSW from San Diego State University in 1976. The California Social Welfare Archives launched the Hall of Distinction in 2002 to ensure that the contributions of today’s social work leaders, innovators and pioneers will be recognized and preserved for the future. The archives plans to post oral history interviews with each of the six inductees. This year’s honorees leave a remarkable legacy.

A leader in counseling and educational services: Bill Coggins founded the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center, which offers a wide range of mental health and educational resources for free or at minimal cost for the children and families of Watts. Coggins served as the center’s executive director for more than 30 years. In May 2018, Coggins was honored as the first recipient of the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Lifetime Achievement Award.

A dedicated child welfare advocate: As chief of Los Angeles County’s adoption division, project director of the Runaway Adolescent Pilot Project and L.A. County DCFS director of governmental relations, Kathleen Kubota has been instrumental in the advancement of social welfare programs directed toward improving the situations of children across Los Angeles. Kubota has been a trailblazer in bringing together diverse and even competing organizations to work toward shared social work goals.

A champion of equality and social justice: John Oliver’s research and leadership in professional organizations have focused on oppressed and underserved communities. He has been involved in the Council on Social Work Education, the California Social Work Education Center, the California Association of Deans and Directors of Social Work Programs and the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. Oliver, who holds a Ph.D. from Brandeis University, has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the NASW California chapter, the UCLA Outstanding Alumni Award and election to the Black Administrators in Child Welfare Hall of Fame.

A pioneer of culturally sensitive services: Yasuko Sakamoto spearheaded the creation of bilingual and bicultural social work programs for Japanese and Japanese-American communities in Los Angeles. Sakamoto founded the Nikkei Family Counseling Program and was involved in the development of the Nikkei Tomodachi Program, Nikkei Helpline and other support groups that cater to the unique cultural needs of the Japanese and Nikkei populations. As an author and mental health advocate, Sakamoto has worked to improve the lives of the underserved.

Advocates for health, welfare and the environment: June Simmons is an innovator in senior healthcare programs who is dedicated to achieving better healthcare at lower cost for high-risk populations. Environmental justice and healthcare advocate Diane Takvorian strives to achieve public policies that improve the health of children, families and neighborhoods, as well as of the natural environment.


A Speedy Solution to Networking A new format for the UCLA Luskin career event gives students direct access to alumni in their fields and fosters ideas about what they can do after graduation

By Zev Hurwitz

Taking a cue from speed dating, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs held its first alumni career networking event in which graduates of the school’s three departments met with current students about professional opportunities.

The event, held April 20, 2017, at the UCLA Faculty Center, was the first career development opportunity for students in which each employer was represented by an alumnus or alumna of the Luskin School.

Edon Cohanim, a first-year MPP student, said he appreciated the directness with which alumni provided tips on best practices.

“Alumni are more willing to help us and are more down-to-earth with us,” he said. “I got some advice on my career and how to pursue it, and they helped me understand what good moves are.”

Barbara Andrade-Dubransky MSW `00, director of program support at First 5 LA, said she hoped to help students understand more about career options in social welfare.

“There’s interest for students in knowing what’s going on out in the field, and I’m happy to share not only what I know about my organization, but I have relationships with other organizations, so I’m happy to share information to help students find other opportunities as well,” Andrade-Dubransky said.

UCLA Luskin Career Services launched Alumni Career Connections in lieu of its annual career fair. In past years, Luskin had held career events that more closely resembled traditional job fairs. This year, students met one-on-one with alumni who graduated from the same department or who currently work in the student’s desired field. Each student had the opportunity to meet with up to three alumni over the course of an hour.

VC Powe, director of career services and leadership development at UCLA Luskin, said the change was in response to feedback from employers whose participation in the annual job fair had dwindled in recent years.

“For many employers, these small career fairs are passé,” she said. “I shared that with my student advisory committee, and one of the students said, ‘I want an alumni career fair.’ I lit up at the thought of that and said, ‘That’s a great idea!’”

Although many students attend career fairs in the hopes of finding a job, Powe noted that most UCLA Luskin students end up securing employment through networking.

“Networking, especially with alumni from your program, is extremely important,” she said. “This is more of a ‘We share a career-field, and am I prepared to do what you’re doing?’ kind of event.”

Alumni met with as many as eight students over the course of the evening. In all, 105 students and 42 alumni participated.

Jasneet Bains, a second-year, dual-degree graduate student in urban planning and public health, said she attended because she liked the structure of meeting with alumni from her programs and wanted to broaden her professional network.

“We were matched up with alumni who share our interests, and that’s very valuable,” Bains said. “They’re able to provide specific insight. Having gone through that process, they’re able to teach us about how to take knowledge from our program and apply that in the field.”

Adrian Cotta, a second-year MSW student, said he had no expectations about leaving the event with a job offer, but she hoped to learn from alumni who had the same educational experience as he did.

“I’m hoping to get some advice from people in the field to see how to begin a career — and make a new friend, if nothing else,” he said.

Wendy Yan MA UP `97, vice president of underwriting at affordable housing syndicator WNC and Associates, said that she attended not only to inform students about the field but also to recruit for summer internships and possibly full-time jobs.

“We’re always looking for good people,” Yan said. “Being an alum of the urban planning program, I know there are a lot of students who specialize in affordable housing, and so we’d love to have good people from Luskin work with us.”

Rima Zobayan MPP `01 currently works at Westat, focusing on an implementation project for national assessment on educational progress for the U.S. Department of Education.

“I was in the fourth class of public policy students, so there weren’t a lot of alumni who could participate in something like this for us,” Zobayan said. “It’s great for alums to have a chance to talk to current students, to share what we’re doing and to see what students’ interests might be.”