Students can engage in social change with a hands-on approach through a new undergraduate major.
The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs announced its first undergraduate major, public affairs, in April. The major aims are to accommodate an expected rise in the student population, and to increase undergraduate exposure to the Luskin School’s resources.
Students will be able to apply to the major beginning in spring quarter after completing eight new prerequisite classes that approach public issues from the perspectives of many areas of study, including sociology, economics, political science and psychology.
Meredith Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology and chair of undergraduate affairs, said she thinks the curriculum will continue to develop based on student feedback.
“We’re now in the mode of … mapping out courses, learning objectives, thinking about what we want students to have at the end of their time here,” Phillips said.
The school previously only offered three undergraduate minors, including one in public affairs. Brent Showerman, the undergraduate adviser for the department, said the student affairs office is making a concerted effort to make everyone in the major feel like they are part of a community. He added the small number of students, compared to other majors, allows him to work with each student individually.
Department administrators hold events for second-year public affairs students to provide extra support with transitioning to a new major. Phillips said while she does not know how selective admissions will be, she suspects it will become more competitive over time.
Hannah Feller, a second-year public affairs student, said the policy-oriented design of the public affairs major appealed to her more than other majors that are more theoretical, like political science. She added she enjoyed the small class sizes and level of faculty engagement, especially because they are graduate-level professors.
“It’s cool that if as a freshman you come in, if you put in the effort, you can really get to know some of your teachers and professors,” she said.
Sachi Cooper, a first-year geography and public affairs student, said although she thinks public affairs students wish the major was more established, she is happy the department is receptive to student input.
“They know my name, and that’s something that’s hard to find in a school like this,” Cooper said. “I feel like no matter what, even if they’re really new, at least they’re hearing me out and they’re willing to change.”
Phillips said the major’s yearlong required Capstone experience has also distinguished it from other majors. Students can fulfill the Capstone requirement with internships and international study. There are ongoing efforts to link this with programs in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, Phillips said. Phillips said she thinks students can learn more from the major’s practical, hands-on approach than a purely theoretical one. “Students need to learn from experience with organizations doing the applied work, and not just from their courses in the ivory tower,” she said. Phillips added course evaluations for the new classes have been positive, and faculty members have responded well to their new undergraduate students. “The faculty seem to be enjoying having more undergrads in the building,” Phillips said. “The energy and excitement and intelligence and thoughtfulness of the students is really impressive.”