As a public institution, UCLA has a responsibility to enhance the quality of life of the communities we serve — in Los Angeles, throughout California and around the globe.
We do this in numerous and varied ways, but one inspiring example is through the UCLA Community School in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. The school is a unique partnership between UCLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District that focuses on ensuring its students are qualified to apply to a University of California campus.
Before the school opened in 2009, only one-third of the neighborhood’s high school students went on to attend college. In the short time since, that figure has nearly tripled: From one recent class of seniors, 95 percent went on to attend college, and one-quarter of the students were admitted to a UC.
Faculty and students at our Graduate School of Education & Information Studies have continued to transform public schools in many other ways, including through innovative programs like Center X, and by providing training for math and science teachers. Their work is complemented by numerous departments across campus that support partnerships with local schools aimed at improving students’ math and science skills; introducing them to discussions about sustainability, social justice and leadership; and exposing them to the performing and visual arts.
Another critical way students engage with the community is through the Undergraduate Education Initiative’s curriculum-based civic engagement program. UCLA offers structured educational experiences that link faculty, students and community partners in community-based learning.
UCLA’s civic engagement minor is a platform for research for the public good. Last year, more than 2,000 students took part in 400 such programs and internships, earning academic credit while serving local neighborhoods and institutions. Service learning courses explore subjects ranging from hunger and homelessness to educational equity and environmental justice, and they give students the opportunity to work alongside community leaders, build skills in critical thinking and take a hands-on approach to addressing real-world challenges.
In recognition of our outstanding community-based learning efforts, UCLA received the Classification for Community Engagement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
For our own students, engaging with the community is a part of the Bruin experience from the first days they step foot on campus. In September, we held our eighth annual UCLA Volunteer Day, sending more than 6,000 students to locations throughout Los Angeles where they painted schools, planted community gardens, interacted with elementary school students and spent time with U.S. veterans. Volunteer Day is one of our newest traditions, but it has quickly become one of our most cherished.
And while many of our incoming students are committed to serving the community before they arrive at UCLA, the event sends a clear message to students — and our region — that service is one of our core values.
Students also play a role in UCLA’s relationships with local, state and federal officials. In December, for example, 15 student leaders traveled with Chancellor Gene Block to Washington, D.C., where they discussed issues pertaining to race, diversity and immigration with elected officials and advocacy group leaders.
Students, staff, faculty, alumni and volunteers from the community regularly meet with elected officials to remind them that their investments in UCLA are critical for funding vital research, student financial aid and the university’s core operations. Advocates champion and present the university’s role as an economic engine for California and the region, and of the tangible impact of UCLA’s service on a broad range of issues and policies.
For example, at our latest UCLA Downtown Day, our advocates highlighted our programs and research that are aimed at ending Los Angeles’ homelessness problem, a major focus for city and county lawmakers.
Showcasing faculty expertise is another important part of how we connect with our city. Through a partnership with Zócalo Public Square, UCLA has hosted community forums featuring UCLA professors as speakers and panelists. And Blueprint, a twice-yearly journal launched in 2015 by UCLA, has devoted its pages to in-depth discussions of crime, income inequality and sustainability.
Whether through working with our military veterans or joining the effort toward greater sustainability in Los Angeles, our students, staff and faculty can only benefit when their work takes them beyond our campus to apply their considerable knowledge, curiosity and expertise for the benefit of our society.