Photo by Marc Campos
Urban & Environmental Policy

Meet Karla Peña of Urban & Environmental Policy, whose teaching and research involves developmental sociology and natural resources and environment.

Karla Peña

Assistant Professor of Urban & Environmental Policy Karla Peña comes to Occidental from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a Provost Early Career Fellow and Lecturer in American studies for the last two years. She has an M.S. and a Ph.D. in developmental sociology from Cornell University, a master’s in natural resources and environment from the University of Michigan, and a B.A. in liberal studies from Cal State Northridge.

What attracted you to Occidental?
I grew up in Eagle Rock in the 1990s and always knew about Oxy. In fact, then and now, students from the local junior/senior high school run through campus, crossing paths with the Urban and Environmental Policy Department. I am wholeheartedly thrilled and excited to return to the neighborhood—and to work in a department with widespread community ties around issues of labor rights, and food, environmental, and climate justice, which are central tenants to my own research, teaching, and activism.

You wrote your dissertation on bananas, gender, and rural social life on the southern Ecuadorian coast. What were your findings?
My parents are from Ecuador and I grew up visiting family in Guayaquil and the Galapagos Islands. As an undergraduate student at CSU Northridge I studied abroad in Latin America (and I encourage students to do the same!) and lived in Ecuador too, ultimately shaping my career trajectory. I am writing a book about bananas from Ecuador to California—tracing how the trade between both places got started, the celebration of the banana festival at the Port of Hueneme, and bananas in supermarkets, and in schools. Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas, and California is a major consumer. A key question I aim to answer is how can we produce bananas equitably and sustainability in the age of climate change? The book combines my collaboration with social movement organizations and research with banana producers and plantation workers in Ecuador with new research here in Los Angeles.

Do you have a favorite class that you are teaching, and why?
My UEP 101 students and I biked to Arroyo Fest in October. Thanks to UEP student organizer Izzy Wang and the Bike Share Program, several UEP 101 students were able to bike the 110 freeway and observe first-hand the interplay of the natural environment, urban planning, and community that I hope encouraged them to reimagine mobility and the use of public space in Los Angeles.

Anything else you would like to add?
I am excited to design a new research methods course centered on Parks and Public Spaces.