USC Price students shape the world during their summers abroad
Over the summer, dozens of students from the USC Price School of Public Policy went the extra mile through internships and international lab experiences in China, Brazil and Armenia.
Asia proved to be a popular destination, with several groups of students pursuing opportunities in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Zhejiang Province.
The Hong Kong-America Center provided placements for USC Price students from three master’s programs — Master of Public Policy student Jieli Wu, Master of Public Administration student Xu Qian and Master of Planning student Yining Tan.
Wu headed to Hong Kong in hopes of learning lessons that might be useful in addressing some of the social issues facing her hometown of Guangzhou, which is experiencing rapid economic development. She spent the summer at the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, where she built a database of different countries’ calculations of the poverty line. To accomplish the task, she called upon skills she had learned at USC Price, particularly in her statistics course.
“This experience gave me the chance to learn to understand the world from a different point of view,” Wu said. “Even though Hong Kong and Guangzhou share a lot of commonalities, there are many differences in dealing with the same social issues.”
Qian focused on environmental issues during her internship at the STARS Foundation, which promotes sustainable development through commercially viable technology, processes and products. She researched carbon trading, carbon financing and climate change, learning a lot in the process.
“The internship gave me three to four weeks to focus on research [addressing voluntary carbon trading],” she said. “This will help me to move forward in my career goals.”
Tan also took a step forward in her career during her internship at the nonprofit organization Designing Hong Kong. She created a proposal for redeveloping a small fishing village into a tourist area through cultural programming and environmental improvements.
“It was a wonderful experience for me to get knowledge about city planning in a nonprofit environment because that’s where I want to do my job,” Tan said. “And the people working there were very interesting. The local people taught me how to speak Cantonese, and I taught them how to speak Mandarin. We exchanged ideas about the mainland and Hong Kong, and we also hung out a lot. We had a good time together, and I still have contact with them.”
Three other USC Price students — dual Master of Planning/Master of Arts, International Relations student Fernanda Barcia De Mattos, Master of Planning student Dafne Gokcen and dual Master of Public Policy/Master of Planning student Jeffrey Khau — interned at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design, China’s leading urban planning agency.
“Going to China seemed to be a great opportunity to experience a completely different side to urban planning, and it’s where everything is happening right now,” De Mattos said. “I never thought I would have an internship in China, but it was great.”
To inform the academy’s work in Chinese cities, the students researched and presented case studies of Canadian and American cities. To do so, they relied heavily on the skills they learned in their international planning course at USC Price.
“When we presented our case studies, our Chinese colleagues were really appreciative and had a lot of questions, and they found it really interesting,” Gokcen said. “So in the end, I felt like I really contributed, and it was valuable. And I learned a lot about China, how it’s growing and how so many people are moving to the cities.”
Khau found the experience rewarding both personally and professionally.
“I happen to be Chinese-American, and so it was interesting for me because I got to go to the Great Wall and Forbidden City and really get in touch with my cultural roots,” he said. “I also want to position myself to do planning in China or in Asia, where they’re urbanizing faster than they can handle. The experience was meaningful for me.”
Master of Planning student David Shea had an equally meaningful experience through an internship arranged by the Shanghai Center for Sustainability. He was placed at the sustainable consulting firm GoodtoChina, where he marketed and ran initiatives related to rooftop farms. His USC Price course work in conflict management and stakeholder participation prepared him for the summer’s tasks.
“Because the company I was placed at was very small, my days were busy but rewarding,” Shea said. “It is my hope that facing the incredible challenges of an ever-changing urban center like Shanghai should prepare me for almost anything American cities can send my way.”
Seventeen other students visited China as participants in USC Price’s China Lab. They explored the intersection of international trade, public policy and urban planning by comparing and contrasting the impacts — positive and negative — of global goods movement in the Los Angeles-Long Beach region with those in the Ningbo-Zhoushan region of Zhejiang Province, China.
“Our hosts from the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, the Beilun government, local universities and several globally known manufacturers gave us truly rare exposure to the inner workings of the Chinese import and export economy,” said Michael Vanderbeek, who led the lab and currently serves as director of business development for Port Everglades in South Florida.
Based on their experiences, the students put together a 75-page report making several recommendations. Among them, the Port of Ningbo-Zhoushan should take advantage of its rapid growth — learning from mature port regions, such as Los Angeles-Long Beach — to develop along a path of sustainability that balances the economic benefits of global trade with the more localized environmental and social impacts.
As a result of the report’s quality, the students received an invitation to present their findings to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Port-Cities Programme working group in Paris. Vanderbeek and three of the students will represent the lab on Sept. 14.
“It will be a great opportunity, not only for our students to be recognized for their work but also to showcase USC Price’s international lab program,” Vanderbeek said.
The summer’s other international lab took 17 students to Brazil, which will host the 2014 World Cup for soccer and 2016 Summer Olympics. The USC Price students collaborated with students from the Fundacao Getulio Vargas (FGV) in Rio de Janeiro to explore the public policy, administration and planning issues surrounding the Olympics-related redevelopment of the city’s historic Porto Maravilha.
The USC and FGV students were charged with reviewing the port redevelopment project and its impacts on surrounding communities — gathering facts, visiting sites and speaking to community leaders. They brought all of this information together to deliver an objective, professional and well-received presentation to the government representative in charge of the project.
“It’s such a real-life experience for the students,” said Frank Zerunyan, USC Price senior fellow and director of executive education, who led the lab. “They’re typically a year away from being professionals. And one of my jobs at the school is to help them be ready.”
On the other side of the world, Master of Public Administration student Ani Antanesyan prepared for what she hopes will be a career in the foreign service. She spent the summer as a U.S. State Department intern in Armenia, where she lived for the first 12 years of her life.
“I learned so many things,” she said. “First of all, I saw the ins and outs of being a foreign service officer because I worked with so many professionals in the field. And, second of all, I learned how to be a representative of the United States outside its borders.”
Antanesyan credited USC Price with preparing her for the road ahead.
“What USC has to offer is a practical degree, and that’s what I was looking for,” she said. “My classes are finance, budgeting and public administration 101. They’re all very useful topics. This degree program gives me those practical skills that I need, and the ones who are teaching me are all professionals.”