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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

Meyer and Renee Luskin Receive UCLA Medal The honor recognizes the couple’s efforts to ‘create opportunity for all through education and research’

By Mary Braswell

Meyer and Renee Luskin — alumni, benefactors and lifelong friends of UCLA — received the university’s highest honor at a reception that was followed by an engaging symposium inspired by their deep commitment to education and social justice.

Chancellor Gene Block bestowed the UCLA Medal on the Luskins on May 29, at the conference center bearing their name.

“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,” Block said.

Countless UCLA students have benefited from scholarships funded by the Luskins, and the couple’s legacy can be seen across the campus. The School of Public Affairs was rechristened with the Luskin name in 2011, providing the resources to further its research efforts and expand educational opportunities for students in the fields of public affairs, public policy, social welfare and urban planning.

The UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, which opened in 2016 in the heart of campus, is a structure of “ageless grace” that will bring people together to explore new ideas for generations to come, Block said.

The medal citation read aloud by the chancellor specifically recognizes the Luskins for their “entrepreneurial spirit and a vision for recycling and repurposing available resources,” as well as being “catalysts for convening people around important issues that require collaboration.”

After receiving the UCLA Medal, Renee Luskin, who earned a B.A. in sociology in 1953, said it has been a “true joy” to be part of the university’s remarkable journey. “We have met so many extraordinary people and made treasured friendships here,” she said.

Meyer Luskin, who grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side and Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights in an immigrant family with little education or financial means, remembered his first day at UCLA.

“I recall a shy, innocent, simple, somewhat odd, not-quite-17-year-old freshman walking up Janss Steps in 1942. Yes, that was 77 years ago,” said Luskin, who completed his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1949 after a break for military service during World War II.

“How do I feel? UCLA, one of the world’s great universities, is awarding me its highest honor. It has been an incredibly long and fortunate journey to this podium.”

The medal ceremony drew family, friends and colleagues of the Luskins along with UCLA faculty, staff and supporters. It was followed by a symposium moderated by Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Renee and Meyer Luskin, he said, “are two people who are thoughtful and critical of social conditions that they see as inequitable, who embrace the role of education as the linchpin of democracy, who are remarkably intellectually curious about everything under the sun, and whose affection for and celebration of the many students whose lives they have touched is amazing to witness.”

In that spirit, Segura guided the conversation by panelists selected for their varied perspectives on UCLA’s mission and because they could speak to issues important to the Luskins:

  • JR DeShazo, public policy chair and director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, specializes in environmental policy and politics.
  • Andrea Ghez, head of UCLA’s Galactic Center Group, is a globally recognized expert in observational astrophysics.
  • Leonard Kleinrock, distinguished professor of computer science who has been on the UCLA faculty since 1963, developed the mathematical theory of packet networks, the technology underpinning the Internet.
  • David Myers, director of the Luskin Center for History and Policy, has written extensively on modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history.
  • Andrew Vega, who earned his B.A. in English language and literature from UCLA in 2007, is principal of the Alliance Renee and Meyer Luskin Academy, and is known for helping to turn around low-performing schools.

The conversation touched on inequity in education and threats posed by environmental degradation and technology used for inappropriate or even nefarious purposes. It also recognized the spirit of innovation kindled at UCLA, seen in the drive and ingenuity of its students.

“I think this is an important lesson for our students — and all of us, really — to never let our fear of failure stop us from taking risks,” Block said.

The couple have also provided financial support at UCLA for the Legal Ethics program at UCLA Law, the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin.

View additional photos from the event in an album on Flickr.

 

Luskins Receive UCLA Medal

Undergrads Share Feedback at Forum

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura responded to questions and concerns raised by Public Affairs pre-majors at this year’s Annual Undergraduate Forum held Wednesday, May 22. Chair Meredith Phillips and the Public Affairs staff were also on hand to answer questions. Prior to the event, the team conducted a survey to gather feedback from pre-major students about their experience. The undergraduates expressed appreciation for the interdisciplinary nature of the major, the close-knit environment and staff enthusiasm, and raised some concerns about curricular coordination, enrollment issues and reciprocal agreements on course requirements between UCLA Luskin and the College of Letters and Sciences. Segura addressed the issues raised in the undergraduate survey and fielded questions from students in attendance about upper-division courses and the experiential capstone projects that Public Affairs majors will complete in their senior year. The undergraduate major in Public Affairs was launched in fall 2018. As its first year comes to a close, the staff thanked students for their patience as they finalize the nuts and bolts of the program. The entire university has responded to the creation of the Public Affairs major, they noted, adding that UCLA Luskin staff are engaged in an ongoing dialogue with other programs, including the Honors College and Academic Advancement Program, as they smooth out the details of the major. Students collectively expressed appreciation for the undergraduate program’s responsiveness to their feedback. — Zoe Day

View a Flickr album of images from the Annual Undergraduate Forum.


 

 

Segura Receives Distinguished Career Award

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura received the Distinguished Career Award during the annual convention of the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago. The honor was presented April 5, 2019, by the association’s Latino/a Caucus, which also recognized Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College in Atherton, California. Named UCLA Luskin’s dean in 2016, Segura helped launch the School’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative, a research laboratory tackling domestic policy issues affecting Latinos and other communities of color. He is also co-founder and senior partner of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions. Segura’s work focuses on political representation, social cleavages and the politics of America’s growing Latino minority. He has written several publications, directed expansive polling research and served as an expert witness on the nature of political power in all three of landmark LGBT marriage rights cases in 2013 and 2015.


 

Villasenor Explores Potential Consequences of UCLA Memorandum About Publisher

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education exploring the potential repercussions of university involvement in boycotts. Amid negotiations for a new contract between UCLA and academic publisher Elsevier, UCLA executives published a memorandum “Important Notice Regarding Elsevier Journals” in December 2018, urging UCLA faculty to consider “declining to review articles for Elsevier journals,” “looking at other journal-publishing options” and “contacting the publisher … and letting them know that you share the negotiators’ concerns.” By advocating an Elsevier boycott, Villasenor said, UCLA administration may be forced to “come up with a framework to decide which types of boycotts the institution can endorse.” Villasenor concludes that the “UCLA administration’s call for faculty members to boycott Elsevier has blurred the lines between grass-roots, faculty-led activism — a time-honored mechanism that can be very effective for social change — and institution-led activism, which raises complex legal, policy and ethical issues.”


Transportation and Isolation: Serious Challenges for Diverse, Older Angelenos Research conducted by UCLA Luskin and USC Leonard Davis — and supported by AARP — examines travel, technology and mobility issues

In an effort to identify solutions to improve the lives of older adults and people of all ages and abilities, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, with the support of AARP, recently conducted surveys of diverse, older Angelenos, exploring their travel patterns, use of technology, and the mobility problems they face.

“We united on one common goal, the importance for understanding community needs, opportunities, and barriers that can support, create and sustain livable and age-friendly communities in Los Angeles,” said Nancy McPherson, State Director of AARP. “We know that the more connected and engaged people are with their community, the more likely they are to age successfully and remain living in their homes for as long as possible, as the vast majority wish to do.”

The UCLA research team focused on identifying mobility and travel patterns by conducting focus groups and interviews with 81 older adults in the neighborhoods of Koreatown, Westlake and East Hollywood, including adults visiting St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS), a local organization that provides health and social services. The UCLA report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” found that:

  • Participants expressed difficulty in getting around, often endure long transit trips and uncomfortable or scary walking environments and social hazards that could cause them to trip and fall, significantly reducing their independence and quality of life.
  • For many, walking around their neighborhoods is the primary mode of transportation; however, there are significant physical and social impediments that constrain mobility.
  • A small number own cars and many rely on family and friends to drive them. Use of point-to-point travel services (e.g., taxis, ride-hailing services) is rare and constrained by finances.
  • Many lack competency with technology to order ride-hailing services.
  • Mobility constraints affect the number and frequency of trips.
  • Differences exist among study participants in regard to the numbers of social and recreational trips. Older adults visiting SBSS take a larger number of daily trips and have a higher likelihood of making social and recreational trips than those who are not visiting SBSS.

“Mobility affects the quality of life. Decreased mobility means also decreased access to city amenities or jobs, and socialization opportunities, as well as a higher risk for social isolation. Our findings suggest that certain improvements both in the physical environment and in the transit and paratransit services can help increase the mobility of low-income, older adults, and we articulate these improvements in our report,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Associate Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “We are welcoming the opportunity to join forces with the AARP and our USC colleagues and advocate for more age-friendly California cities.”

For more information on the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies report, “Bolstering Mobility and Transportation Options for Low-Income Older Adults,” click here.

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on the consequences of loneliness and isolation, especially among older adults. While adoption of technology and social media has the potential to reduce isolation, issues such as cost, disinterest and lack of the skills needed to use various devices may hinder older adults’ adoption. Los Angeles’ ethnically, linguistically and geographically diverse population of older adults made it an ideal location for the USC Leonard School of Gerontology to explore how this population uses technology and the extent to which they believe it can improve connectivity and reduce isolation.

The USC research team conducted six focus groups in English, Spanish and Korean at SBSS with 48 older adults living in a low-income area of Los Angeles, home to a diverse, largely immigrant population. Key findings from this report, “Aging in Place in Los Angeles: Recognizing Challenges to Social Connectedness,” include:

  • A relatively high use of some technology among this engaged group, as well as a wide range in social connectivity with family, friends, and members of the community;
  • Although some older adults did not have the resources or the desire to use technology, others used mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, and computers – either in combination or alone – for purposes of contacting their family and friends, accessing health care information, getting the news, shopping, and watching television;
  • Cost, disinterest, and lack of the skills needed to use various devices hindered older adults’ adoption of technology and social media;
  • Many older adults indicated a reluctance to adopt newer technology because they preferred to communicate in-person and they expressed concerns that technology is too complicated or too expensive; others used it for entertainment, to plan local and long-distance travels, and to communicate with their loved ones.

“Our findings suggest that although technology isn’t a cure all for loneliness, it can be a tool in the tool box for addressing social isolation. Policy makers and tech developers need to consider how older adults currently use technology, how it can better suit their needs, and barriers that prevent them from using it effectively,” said Kate Wilber, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology professor. “We are thankful that AARP and our UCLA collaborators recognize the importance of addressing social isolation and look forward to working toward solutions that benefit older adults in Los Angeles and beyond.”

For more information on USC’s “Disrupting Isolation in Housing for an Aging Population,” click here.

A Strong Launch for the Undergrad Program in Public Affairs

UCLA Luskin’s just-launched undergraduate program is off to an exciting start. A month into the new academic year, 90 students have declared public affairs as a pre-major, and dozens more have reached out. The ambitious program combines critical thinking, social science methodology and deep engagement in the community. Freshman Callie Nance was immediately attracted to the public service ethos at the heart of the major. “This major doesn’t just expand knowledge,” she said. “It shows us how to do something with that knowledge, to make an impact.” That sentiment is reflected in the undergraduate program’s motto: Developing Leaders Engaged in Social Change. “Our students are developing knowledge and skills in the service of solving society’s most pressing problems, which is really what distinguishes this major from others,” said Undergraduate Affairs Chair Meredith Phillips, who is also an associate professor of public policy and sociology. The energy surrounding the major was on display during an undergraduate open house during the first week of school. Phillips led the welcoming committee, along with more than 20 faculty from across the School and Dean Gary Segura, who noted that he too will teach an undergraduate course this year, Foundations and Debates in Public Thought. The event offered a glimpse of the resources available to students pursuing the B.A. in Public Affairs. Freshman and sophomores freely mingled with professors who teach graduate-level courses and conduct cutting-edge research. And the undergraduate staff, who came together this summer to ensure the major was launched without a hitch, was out in force to answer questions and offer encouragement.

View more photos from the Undergraduate Open House.

New Grants Ensure Watts Leadership Institute’s Mission Will Continue to Grow An infusion of more than $650,000 will be invested in marginalized neighborhoods

By Mary Braswell

The community garden launched by the Watts Leadership Institute (WLI) a year ago is growing, thriving, bearing fruit.

The same could be said for the institute itself.

Since the start of 2018, the UCLA Luskin-based WLI has received several grants totaling more than $650,000 that will allow it to expand its core mission of empowering the community leaders of Watts.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said co-founder Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare. “We’re finding great support for this model, the idea that we want to lift up and help the small nonprofits and real community leaders in these marginalized communities.”

Along with Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, Leap founded the institute in 2016 with a two-year $200,000 startup grant from The California Wellness Foundation.

Since January, WLI has received new and increased investments:

  • An additional two-year grant of $250,000 from The California Wellness Foundation is an expression of confidence that its initial investment was effectively used in the community.
  • The Weingart Foundation is providing $200,000 for the next two years to support its efforts in Southern California communities most deeply affected by poverty and economic inequity.
  • Ballmer Group provided $150,000 over two years.  Ballmer Group supports efforts to improve economic mobility and has invested significantly in direct services and capacity building in the Watts-Willowbrook area.
  • GRoW@Annenberg has invested more than $50,000 this year as part of a multiyear commitment for the WLI GRoW Community Garden. It has also provided generous additional funding and technical assistance to enhance WLI community engagement and outreach. In addition, GRoW’s founder, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, has awarded almost $100,000 directly to Watts community leaders working with WLI.

These continued philanthropic investments will “take our mission to another level,” Leap said. Lompa added that “having the support of these leading philanthropic institutions reinforces both the need for WLI and the impact these leaders are making in Watts.”

“We are grateful for these new funders and grants because they help diversify WLI’s overall funding, helping us lead by example when encouraging WLI leaders to diversify their own funding streams,” Lompa said.

The funds are quickly being put to use on the ground in Watts. WLI works with community leaders who are already making a difference and provides them with the tools, resources and training to be more effective — including tutorials on using tablets to keep their books as well as tips on navigating the Southern California policy and philanthropic landscape.

“These are the people that the community listens to and follows,” Leap said of the first cohort of 12 Watts leaders supported by the institute. “They live there, they work there. But they’ve never had the capacity to really do the work of which they are capable.”

The key for WLI, she said, is to listen to people who are acutely aware of what their neighborhood needs. WLI builds on this knowledge by responding with tangible help to sustain the leaders and their efforts.

Leap told the story of WLI cohort member Amada Valle, a community organizer and advocate for residents of the Jordan Downs public housing development. “Amada is teaching women to sew and to create women-led businesses,” Leap said. “And what do you need if you’re teaching women to sew? Sewing machines.” Thanks to funds allocated by The California Wellness Foundation for direct service reinvestment, Valle received a grant from WLI to purchase six sewing machines.

“You would have laughed if you had walked into the Luskin development office and seen all these boxes of sewing machines, all piled up,” Leap said.

Doing good works is contagious, WLI has found. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino donated office space to the institute. The Johnny Carson Foundation funded an MSW internship in Watts. The UCLA Luskin IT team offers technical support, bringing community leaders to campus for tutorials.

“That’s really our dream — to have everybody working together and leading within their community,” said Leap, who has been active in Watts for 40 years, since she attended UCLA for her BA, MSW and Ph.D.

“With WLI, UCLA Luskin has a 24/7 presence in Watts. This is not lip service, and we don’t want to be a temporary program. We’re part of the community, and we want to be,” she said. “We’re honored to be.”

Justice — and Smog Checks — for All New UCLA Center for Innovation study finds that the Tune In & Tune Up smog repair program in the San Joaquin Valley efficiently tackles pollution and poverty

By Colleen Callahan

A 34-year-old mother dropped out of college in San Francisco due to mobility issues.

A young couple with four children walked to get around when their vehicles broke down.

A homeless woman relied on her car for both housing and travel purposes.

These are just a few of the more than 40,000 individuals who have benefited over the past four years from the San Joaquin Valley’s smog test and vehicle repair program known as Tune In & Tune Up.

A new study from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation analyzed Tune In & Tune Up data and finds that this program, which has been operating since 2005, is pioneering a model that other regions could use to efficiently reduce emissions from cars and other light-duty vehicles while achieving equity objectives. It is one of the first transportation programs in the nation premised on jointly achieving efficiency, equity and environmental objectives. That it exists to serve residents in the San Joaquin Valley is only more critical given that this eight-county region has disproportionately high levels of pollution and poverty compared to the rest of the state.

Tune in & Tune Up is a program of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District funded by enhanced vehicle registration fees and implemented by a nonprofit organization, Valley Clean Air Now (Valley CAN). The program provides free smog checks for residents of the valley. Owners of vehicles that do not pass emission tests receive vouchers redeemable for up to $850 in smog repairs.

UCLA evaluated the program with regard to efficiency, equity and environmental objectives.

“Tune In & Tune Up operates efficiently, in part by keeping attrition low and passing funds to a high level of program participants,” said Gregory Pierce MURP ’11 PhD UP ’15, co-author of the study and associate director of research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

Analysis of previously unexplored data by Pierce and Rachel Connolly, who will be pursuing her Ph.D. in public health at UCLA in the fall, found that Valley CAN recorded 41,688 unique attendees at its Tune In & Tune Up events since 2012. Of vehicle owners offered a voucher, the vast majority (78 percent) redeemed their vouchers at a smog repair shop. This resulted in the program providing over $12 million in direct financing for smog repairs to more than 20,000 qualified residents of the valley since 2012. This equates to about $2.7 million allocated annually to 4,500 annual customers.

Residents from nearly every neighborhood in the San Joaquin Valley (97 percent of all census tracts) attended a Tune In & Tune Up event. Researchers equate that very high level of engagement to the wide reach of the events — several events were held in each county several times per year — and effective outreach. Valley CAN partners with community-based organizations, local radio stations and newspapers to spread the word about the program in multiple languages and in multiple neighborhoods throughout the valley.

“Tune In & Tune Up is the largest program in the state to offer light-duty transportation assistance to a substantial number of low-income households through a grassroots approach,” Pierce said.

Researchers found that while the program is equal opportunity, the program distributed the most financial benefits to neighborhoods most in need within the valley. The study concluded that the program successfully targeted communities with lower incomes, higher percentages of minority households and higher levels of cumulative pollution threats than the regional average.

The program also successfully targeted vehicles most likely to be high emitters, according to researchers. The study found that the vehicles reached by the Tune In & Tune Up program are much older, have higher odometer readings and are more often unregistered than the average for the state’s overall fleet of light-duty vehicles.

“This is important because older vehicles emit a disproportionate amount of smog-forming pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases. Yet many low-income residents of the valley have no choice but to drive old vehicles because they live in rural areas with limited or no access to public transit,” Pierce said.

In addition to receiving smog checks and vehicle repair vouchers, attendees of Tune In & Tune Up events also learn about additional opportunities such as incentives worth thousands of dollars that are available for low-income Californians who voluntarily scrap their older, high-emitting cars and replace them with newer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars.

“Tune In & Tune Up should be considered as a complementary approach to meeting air quality standards in low- or moderate-density regions throughout the U.S. where the built environment does not allow for the cost-effective build out of a full-serve transit network or where financing for zero-emission vehicles is constrained,” the researchers noted in the study.

The researchers concluded that features of the Tune In & Tune Up program can serve as potentially replicable models for supporting the type of social and environmental justice objectives increasingly expected by many policymakers and residents of California.

‘Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable’ In commencement address, Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey issues a call to action to more than 200 change agents from Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning

By Stan Paul

Before conferring hard-won master’s and doctoral degrees upon the 2018 graduating class of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Dean Gary Segura gave one last assignment:

“Act! Act on … any of a dozen major challenges facing the United States and the world. Act! Make this world better. Make this country what it aspires to be.

“Our celebration today is less about what you’ve already done and far more about what you are expected to do,” Segura told the more than 200 Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning students graduating before an audience of family, friends and faculty in UCLA’s historic Royce Hall on June 15, 2018.

Following the conferral of degrees, the celebration continued at an outdoor reception. The sea of black graduation gowns was brightened by a rainbow of tassels and academic regalia, along with elaborately decorated mortarboards that told the students’ stories, if in a few words:

“For my family that dreams beyond borders.” “53, got my degree.” “Every end is a new beginning.” One message, in Spanish, thanked parents … and coffee. Another honored the past and projected hope for future generations: “I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams.”

One UCLA Luskin grad who put his degree to good use is William R. “Rusty” Bailey MPP ’99, who is now in his second term as mayor of Riverside, California.

“Rusty Bailey’s leadership of Riverside has been characterized by a willingness to put human well-being at the forefront of his city’s agenda,” Segura said, introducing the keynote speaker. The dean cited Bailey’s focus on serving the city’s homeless, encouraging green development, enhancing mass transit and supporting the arts for his hometown of more than 300,000.

Bailey recalled the two decades since he was admitted to the first MPP class at UCLA Luskin.

“I was sitting where you were almost 20 years ago,” said the West Point graduate and former city councilman. “This institution gave me the tools, the confidence and the network I needed to achieve my ultimate career goal of serving as the mayor of my hometown. …

“If there’s any group of people prepared to tackle these issues and others I’ve mentioned, it is you — UCLA Luskin School graduates,” said Bailey, who was named MPP Alumnus of the Year in 2013. “You are equipped with a well-rounded toolkit that includes social advocacy, policy analysis and community development along with an incredible network of professors, research centers and alumni to keep you encouraged, motivated and accountable.”

Bailey cautioned, “You better get comfortable being uncomfortable,” but added, “Luskin has prepared you to handle it.”

Like the dean, Bailey ended his speech with a challenge for the graduates: “Let’s make it happen. Go out into this world and make things happen for your neighbors, for your families and for humanity.”

‘I refuse to let this diploma allow my fight to fade.
The work does not end when we cross the stage.’

— Student speaker Gabriela Hernandez

Student speakers representing each Luskin School department underscored the message that their work is not done.

“We did it, but we didn’t do it alone,” said MPP Ramandeep Kaur, the daughter of immigrants who spoke for her classmates in thanking those who made their accomplishments possible. “Hopefully now we can explain what public policy means,” she joked.

Kaur said that public policy has historically been used to support discriminatory practices in housing, zoning ordinances, transportation and labor. “But in my hands, in our hands, it can mean so much more,” she said. “In our hands, having a master’s in public policy means having the tools to upend the status quo and disrupt those narratives.

“As change agents, we’re going to rewrite history and those unjust public policies.”

Urban Planning student speaker Aleli Balaguer said her fellow graduates have been more than just classmates during the rigorous two-year program.

“They are kind, passionate, honest, forthright and unwavering in their vision,” Balaguer said. Coming from very different backgrounds, they shared family stories over meals and traveled the globe together, from New Orleans to Mexico to Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia, she said.

“We hosted each other in our families’ homes and worked on group projects until the sun rose, and we presented at Google and multiple city halls,” she said. But, most importantly for Balaguer, “We imagined better, more equitable cities together.”

Social Welfare class speaker Gabriela Hernandez told her fellow students and audience members, “Today, after years of difficult work, I have reclaimed my anger. I am no longer ashamed to be angry. I call my anger passion.”

She recited a poem recounting her journey in the MSW program to “remind us that no matter how far from slavery and segregation we have gone, there is still hella work to be done.”

Her poem concluded:

“The work does not end when you cross the stage/
You were born to fight for life/
I refuse to let this diploma allow my fight to fade/
The work does not end when we cross the stage/
It marks the beginning/
Let my words sink in, feel what you got to feel then please turn that page/
The work does not end when we cross the stage/
Smile because you deserve it, but do not forget those still trapped in a cage/
The work does not end when you cross the stage/
You call it rage, you call it anger, it’s passion/
Let us hold each other up, together, let us take action”

This year, Segura said, the Luskin School has been true to its mission: improving the quality of life for individuals, families and communities. Students and faculty have taken on issues including greenhouse gas abatement, prison population reduction, gentrification, gun violence, home ownership and homelessness in Los Angeles, and economic development across Asia, Africa and Latin America, he said.

But the challenges that lie ahead are great, he warned.

“We live in perilous times. You enter a career in public well-being at a time when longstanding assumptions about our values as a society are challenged in ways most of us had never imagined possible,” Segura said.

Of the separation of migrant families at the nation’s border, he said: “Today, here in the United States of America, 10,000 children are being held in detention, in cages, with foil blankets, ripped from their parents’ arms. Over 1,400 of them have been misplaced, gone missing, some likely into child trafficking. The country plans to build a camp — a camp — to hold 5,000 more children.”

The dean then asked pointedly, “What are you going to do about this? Indeed, what am I going to do about this?”

Segura sent the newly minted change agents into the world with the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Be not simply good; be good for something.”

View additional photos from UCLA Luskin Commencement 2018 on Flickr:

 

Commencement 2018