Global lessons gleaned from Brazil to Hong Kong
A commitment to service without borders is what drove many USC Price School of Public Policy students to spend the summer participating in international opportunities in China, Brazil, Cuba and beyond.
Ten students joined Professor Eric Heikkila for the school’s 2013 China Lab, which used the topic of “One Metropolis; Two Systems” to explore the special administrative region of Hong Kong.
“I have a mission and motivation to want to serve my community, serve the world and change the world,” said USC Price graduate student Mark Wolf, a participant in the lab.
Instead of assembling a traditional report or PowerPoint presentation, the class created a film documentary for its client, the Better Hong Kong Foundation. The documentary, which will have its North American premiere this fall, offers findings, case studies and recommendations about crime, transportation, the economy, housing, the environment and social issues in Hong Kong.
Wolf, a Master of Public Administration student who has produced professional documentaries for the White House and for the governor of Hawaii, took a lead role in the project. The experience is sure to shape his future ambitions.
“It’s one of the best classes that I’ve ever taken, and it definitely has influenced what I want to do,” he said. “I’ve been looking into doing more international-related projects that focus on social issues and being able to serve and give back in some way.”
On the other side of the world, 18 students participated in another international lab — led by senior fellow and director of executive education Frank Zerunyan — in 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 transportation, land use, socioeconomic development and creative industry surrounding the redevelopment of the city’s historic Porto Maravilha in anticipation of these international sporting events.
The USC and FGV students examined the city’s plans and explored Sydney and Barcelona, two cities that hosted recent the Olympic Games. The students delivered their findings and recommendations as a report and presentation to the municipal redevelopment agency for Porto Maravilha.
Processing this massive amount of information in a short period of time was fantastic preparation for the demands of the working world, said participant Gabriel Barreras, who worked in international development for eight years before enrolling in USC’s Master of Planning (MPL) program.
“I’m sure there will be times in my career as a planner when somebody will fall through with a project, and my firm will have to pick it up and have a very short timeline to do that,” he said. “This was a good experience for that.”
In Beijing, Zhi Li, who is pursuing MPL and Master of Arts degrees, had the opportunity to advance his professional skills though an internship at the World Bank. Li delivered a report on green transportation and sustainable development to the Chinese government.
“Transportation is a very important issue in developing countries,” he said. “Car ownership in China is growing very fast, but the road provisions are limited, and pollution is also a very serious problem.
Three USC Price students — MPL students Winnie Fong and Ellen Yau, and dual Master of Public Policy (MPP)/MPL student Jason Douglas — also interned in Beijing at the Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design (CAUPD), China’s leading urban planning agency.
Fong spent the summer in the CAUPD Housing and Urban Planning Department, where she wrote case studies about how tourism can promote economic development and improve the quality of life for rural residents. CAUPD applied her research to a project in Xinduqiao, a small Tibetan town in Sichuan Province. Fong also researched affordable housing practices for migrant workers in the United States and how these lessons can be applied in China.
Throughout the internship, she drew on lessons learned in her USC Price planning courses.
“One of the strengths of USC Price’s MPL program is the balance between planning theory and practice, which is what prepared me for my internship at CAUPD,” said Fong, who hopes to build a consulting career for planning projects around the world.
USC Price undergraduate student Andrina Dominguez applied her talents at Austerveil Architecture & Design, an eco-friendly firm based in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Paris. The internship was arranged by the Shanghai Center for Sustainability.
Her tasks ranged from creating a manual for a building’s natural ventilation system to mapping out a plan for a redevelopment project to attract young urban professionals.
“I learned how flexible and adaptive my major can be. My role in the company was to bring my ideas of how a planner thinks into architecture,” Dominguez said. “The internship has opened my eyes to the possibilities of what I can actually do with my degree beyond just being an urban planner.”
MPP students Peilin Yuan and Yaquan Liu found their summer placements through the Hong Kong-America Center.
Liu worked for Designing Hong Kong, a nongovernmental organization focused on urban design and planning. Her summer project mapped the walkability of Hong Kong and identified missing links in the pedestrian zone. To accomplish this, she applied interview and survey skills that she had learned at USC Price.
“I thoroughly experienced Hong Kong, since my tasks required outdoor exploration and activities,” she said. “I also learned how to use professional mapping software and apply basic concepts and principles of urban planning.”
Another course enabled 25 students to document the economic, social and political changes in Cuba. The course was headed by Professor Roberto Suro from USC Price and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Professor Pamela Starr from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
During their time in Cuba, many of the USC Price and USC Annenberg students worked with the Cuban Institute for Cinematic Arts and Industry and USC Spatial Sciences Institute on an ambitious digital mapping project. They gathered information about the businesses on Havana’s Calle Obispo, the oldest commercial street in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.
The information will be used to create an online interactive map that will allow users to remotely navigate the street while accessing location-specific text, data, videos and photographs.
“There’s every kind of business on the street, and it is a microcosm of Cuba,” said MPP student Jennifer Moore, who gained valuable research experience and understanding of a country with a very different economic system than the United States.
“Any international experience helps broaden your horizons and opens your eyes to different things,” she added.
In addition, several other USC Price students also pursued summer opportunities around the world, including undergraduate Vineta Moca, who secured an internship with the Tukums Municipality Council in Latvia; undergraduate Alexandria Rivas, who participated in an internship at New Languages in Seville, Spain; undergraduate Taylor Vaughn, who interned at A49 Architects in Bangkok; MPA student Weilong Kong, who interned at China’s Xinjiang Plastics Processing Industry Association; MPA student Wenxuan Ma, who took part in an internship at the Women’s Federation in China; and MPL student Zetian Xu, who interned at the Valley Investment Company in Beijing.