Meet some of our UEP majors.


Kayla Williams ’20

Hometown: the Bronx, New York
Major: UEP; minor: education

Can you describe your working relationships with Urban & Environmental Policy professors? 

Having a faculty with so many women of color was one of my biggest factors for choosing the UEP department. College can feel isolated so it was amazing to find a place where I can be seen beyond the work I can produce. More than once I’ve had faculty send me job, internship, or research opportunities that they thought I would love, often not even related to their courses. There’s a holistic investment in me which has made this process much easier.

Can you describe your senior comps research project?

I’ve experienced, and studied, how schools fail their Black and brown students and want to see effective ways to address injustice. Through my comps research I plan to explore the 1964 Freedom School as an example of liberatory education and its ability to solve our present educational problem by interviewing current education leaders and building my own Freedom School.

What do you find most compelling about studying UEP?

I loved how closely UEP worked with the Center for Community Based Learning (CCBL) on campus. Because of this relationship, a large number of classes within the department have community partners, which pushes students to not only fully understand the material but be able to explain to others who have different levels of access to the information. This relationship was also important because it gave me a chance to return to neighborhoods with people who looked like me and share some of the knowledge and skills I was learning. It made the lessons more tangible and important to me.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy? 

After graduation, I plan on becoming an inner-city middle school teacher. This career will allow me to combine my passions for education and community organizing. As a UEP major I’ve been able to study what effective organizing has looked like, and urban policy also affects the work we engage in. I’m excited to explore what this looks like in a classroom.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in UEP?

Just do it! I know that answer seems really simple but this a major that you just have to jump into. You’ll learn so much in your four years here, not just about what it means to be a student but what values you want to live by. Community partners have pushed me critically and forced me to look at what I was invested in and why. Don’t worry, though, because staff and professors will be sure to support you throughout your journey at Oxy.



Caroline Riley ’20

Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Major: UEP; minor: politics

What was your motivation to major in UEP?

I came to Oxy undecided on what I wanted to do and found that UEP combined many of my interests while still providing a narrower focus on urban and environmental issues. I appreciate that UEP has helped me get outside of the classroom with the “Community Internship” course and other community-based learning classes. Through UEP I interned at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley and have worked on projects with the Lincoln Heights Farmers Market and L.A. Community Action Network.

Can you describe your working relationships with Urban & Environmental Policy professors? 

I have taken classes with many of the UEP professors as well as a number of adjunct professors and have found them all to be passionate about what they do, engaging, and willing to help and support students. The UEP department takes advantage of being in Los Angeles by bringing in people who work on urban and environmental issues in the city to teach classes. Taking classes with these teachers has given me unique perspectives and relevant, applicable knowledge.

Can you describe your senior comps research project?

I am currently working on a geospatial analysis of LA Metro’s bike share system. Using ArcGIS, I am mapping the bike share station locations to census block groups in order to analyze which populations are being best served by the bike share program, specifically looking at income, race and education level. I never imagined that I would be doing a quantitative comps, and I am very grateful to Professor Seva Rodnyansky for helping me with it.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy? 

While I am not fully sure of what I want to do, I am interested in cities and sustainability and may want to work in transportation policy. I appreciate that the liberal arts approach has allowed me to explore a number of my interests and has given me a solid educational background to support whatever I decide to do next.



Ellen Hee ’20

Hometown: San Diego, CA
Major: UEP; minor: Critical Theory and Social Justice

What was your motivation to major in UEP?

I first became engaged with the department through the UEP Summer Internship Program, specifically the Affordable Housing and Environmental Justice internship. At that point, I was not a UEP major and was really struggling with translating the knowledge I had acquired in class into practice. Through that internship, I was able to learn about Los Angeles politics and policy, and community organizing through community-based initiatives. I not only developed a better understanding of how this city functions, but I also was pushed to think about community-driven solutions. Since becoming a UEP major, I’ve been able to learn so much from people and organizations who are doing the actual on-the-ground work in L.A.

Can you describe your working relationships with UEP professors?

Taking the classes “Sustainable Development” with Professor Martha Matsuoka and “Community Planning and Politics” with Professor Regina Freer was the main reason I switched my major to UEP. Both professors have such an incredible understanding of the way this city operates and have been so critically engaged with communities to bring about social change. The professors overseeing my senior comps—Professor Matsuoka and Professor Seva Rodnyansky—have been incredibly supportive and integral to my writing process. Every step of the way, I have felt them both push me to think and write in more critical ways that have made me feel more confident in my writing skills.

Can you describe your senior comps project?

I will be studying the process of gentrification in Highland Park by looking at the change in ownership structure of commercial properties along York Blvd. and Figueroa St. I have noticed that since writers have begun talking about the gentrification in this neighborhood, the literature has mostly described the physical changes (i.e., influx of coffeeshops, boutiques, wealthier white people) and not the people with power who are making the real-life decisions to prioritize profit and development over people. So the gap I’m hoping to fill in the literature is a structural analysis of gentrification in Highland Park.

What do you find most compelling about studying UEP?

My favorite thing about studying UEP is how much I have learned about the city we all live in for four years as Oxy students. It’s been awesome to get off campus and become more engaged with Los Angeles.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy? 

I hope to travel after I graduate and then possibly go to grad school for urban planning or public policy.



Spruce Bohen ’21

Hometown: Woodstock, VT
Major: UEP; minor: MAC

What was your motivation to major in UEP?

Growing up in rural Vermont, the environment has always been a top priority for me. When I took “Environment and Society” my first year at Oxy, my ideas about what constitutes the ‘environment’ and ‘environmental issues’ transformed immensely. Through my UEP classes, I have learned that environmental issues are also urban, economic and social issues. Living in the shadow of a looming climate crisis, we must consider systematic and institutionally entrenched inequities on the basis of race, gender, class and sexual orientation as central to the fight for a livable planet. We cannot reverse climate change without simultaneously tearing down disproportionate barriers to jobs, green space, clean air, good schools, healthy food and public transportation. UEP classes have created nuance in my understanding of both environmental issues and solutions.

Can you describe your working relationship with UEP professors?

During my first year at Oxy, I met Professor Mijin Cha, who has largely shaped my college experience and my trajectory within the major. As a sophomore, I had the incredible opportunity to support her in a research report on Just Transition—an environmental justice policy framework focused on prioritizing the health and wellbeing of fossil fuel workers and communities in the necessary transition to a green economy. As we transition away from fossil fuels, we cannot exacerbate inequality by leaving behind good jobs and working families.

Have you taken part in any UEP-related research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere?

This past summer I took part in the UEPI Summer Internship Program. As an intern at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), I had the opportunity to help out on an active campaign fighting for clean, safe water for all in Los Angeles. From this experience, I gained a stronger understanding of how to be a successful organizer and of the political landscape of Los Angeles and the local environmental justice movement.

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