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USC leads workshop to diversify planning field, PhD programs

The university remains committed to diversity at all levels

by Matthew Kredell
Ph.D. workshop
College students take part in this year's Summer Pre-Doctoral Workshop for Students of Color. (Photo/Julie Kim)

A summer workshop co-hosted by the USC Price School of Public Policy to encourage students from underrepresented groups to pursue doctoral degrees in planning expanded in its second year, following a highly successful launch in 2013.

Professor Marlon Boarnet, director of graduate programs in urban planning, started the Summer Pre-Doctoral Workshop for Students of Color last year as a pilot program in partnership with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. Because of the workshop’s success, the ACSP formalized it as a program of the association, likely to be an annual event. Boarnet also reached out to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs to take part in the four-day workshop that discusses the benefits, ins-and-outs, and difficulties of pursuing a Ph.D. in planning.

It’s a diverse world, and academia is no longer an ivory tower.

Sally Pratt

“USC is unquestionably and unceasingly committed to shaping the world of the 21st century,” said Sally Pratt, USC vice provost for graduate programs, during her address to the students. “It’s a diverse world, and academia is no longer an ivory tower. USC embraces this new vision and we intend to play a key role supplying the people who will grab the future and make it real, and that means you.”

Workshop dividends

Twenty-six college students, 14 of whom came from outside California, attended the workshop. The program aims to increase the number of applicants from underrepresented minority groups in Ph.D. planning programs and ultimately to increase the representation of minority groups among planning faculties.

The workshop last year already produced dividends. Two of the attendees from the first workshop, Matt Miller and Raul Santiago-Bartolomei, will enroll in USC Price’s Ph.D. program in urban planning and development in the fall.

“That’s a big impact on our Ph.D. program, to have one-third of our six-student fall 2014 Ph.D. class find us, and in some sense we find them, through this workshop,” Boarnet said.

Executive Vice Provost Michael Quick explained USC’s commitment to diversity at all levels to the participants, noting that approximately 20 percent of the incoming freshman class is made up from underrepresented minorities.

USC Price faculty and affiliates who volunteered their time for the workshop included Raphael Bostic, Annette Kim, LaVonna Lewis, Manuel Pastor, Lisa Schweitzer and David Sloane. Keck School of Medicine of USC faculty member Ricky Bluthenthal also participated in the workshop.

Embracing the Ph.D. experience

Vincent Reina, a USC Price doctoral student, led the group on a tour of the USC campus and participated in a panel on the Ph.D. experience that also featured students Sandip Chakraborti, Sarah Mawhorter and Jovanna Rosen. USC Price doctoral candidate Brettany Shannon and Master of Planning student Taylor Coyne joined Reina in leading the campus tour. Lois Takahashi, who received her Ph.D. in urban and regional planning at USC Price, was one of the UCLA faculty to participate.

Bostic, who directs the Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise at USC Price, noted how diversity — among students and faculty alike — is essential to broadening “the types of questions and the range of questions that are explored and answered.”

“You want to get a full range of perspectives in policy debates and dialogue,” he said. “The way you get that diversity is to start at the ground up, and this program is a way to do that.”

The faculty provided students the nuts and bolts about what a Ph.D. career is like and how to get into a program. Since most Ph.D. programs admit 10 percent or less of applicants, the workshop also offered coaching on how to make applications stand out and set up mentors who could help students through the five-year Ph.D. process and their early careers. Participating professors shared stories of how they persevered through their own Ph.D. experiences, pushing through many of the obstacles that minorities face.

“Hearing the experiences and the interdisciplinary work the faculty are doing is really inspiring,” said Natalie Hernandez, who has been working for the California Natural Resources Agency in Sacramento since earning her bachelor’s degree in urban studies and Spanish from Loyola Marymount in 2013. “For me, it’s taking away the misconception that a Ph.D. is all research or teaching. A lot of the work faculty members are doing is really informing not only policy but legislation and social justice work.”

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