Education for Everyone
By Scott Fields and Anne Pautler
Published Oct 1, 2016 8:00 AM
UCLA Extension, the lifelong learning resource that began a century ago, is no longer content to just let students come to them. Instead, the program is reaching out to underserved areas, making education accessible to all.
Darrell Brown, a senior vice president at U.S. Bank, is living proof that UCLA Extension can change lives. For Brown, who grew up in the sometimes turbulent neighborhood of South Los Angeles, receiving his certification in bank management from UCLA Extension was an important career step. Now he’s a member of UCLA Extension’s Board of Advisors, a group that Extension Dean Wayne Smutz has mobilized to make lifelong learning more accessible to nontraditional students and underserved communities.
UCLA Extension will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2017. But Smutz isn’t looking back. He wants to reimagine learning in Los Angeles with new initiatives like pop-up classes, a strengthened online presence, closer community ties and partnerships with businesses such as Hispanic ad agency Sensis and the Korea Daily. The goal is to give adult learners in all corners of the Southland a chance to climb up the economic ladder through education.
“They can’t come to us, so we have to do a better job of getting to them,” Smutz says. “The widening of the economic gap has made this more critical than ever. Disproportionately, minorities and the poor are not pursuing college, [are] dropping out and losing out.”
He continues, “In a city where minorities are increasingly the majority and the inequality chasm is growing dramatically, this is not the concern of just those directly affected. If we don’t help this population, there’s a real downside for everyone on the back end.”
Extension programs at center stage
Extension programs — more flexible for working adults than traditional academic programs — can offer an alternative to people contemplating higher education for the first time, as well as to the nearly 1.7 million Angelenos who already have some college credit.
Many of the 100+ Extension certificate programs are oriented to specific careers: accounting, international trade, enterprise risk management, paralegal studies, technical management, GIS and geospatial technology, and user experience (UX) design.
And for those who already hold college degrees, statistics show that the majority can expect to have three to five careers in their lifetimes. Because virtually no one will be able to afford to obtain five master’s degrees for those different jobs, Extension certificates will assume added significance.
“There’s a realization that things have to change,” Smutz says. “What are essentially negative trend numbers can be seen as an opportunity. It’s important to let people have the chance to be contributing members of society.”
Taking small steps
In addition to downtown Los Angeles — where Extension has been holding classes since 2008 — a site is being launched in Koreatown at the offices of the Korea Daily. A course in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) debuted there this summer, and an expanded offering is planned.
“This program is important not only for Korean Americans, but also for other ethnicities who live in K-town, including Hispanics and Bangladeshis,” says Philip Chang, program manager in the Education Department at the Korea Daily. “We’ve been hoping to provide job training and language skills to the people of our community, and UCLA Extension is the best partner in the city to further these goals.”
Extension has also signed a lease on a new multi-classroom location to open in Woodland Hills in April 2017 — part of Smutz’s plan to launch in more affluent areas from the start, in order to finance openings in underserved areas later.
Pop-ups expand the scope
Pop-up courses will give Extension new scope and flexibility. “This is directly aimed at underserved populations,” says Smutz. “There’s just no way we can afford permanent leased space all over the city, and this allows periodic forays into areas that really need us.”
Jeanne Holm ’84, another Advisory Board member, has been teaching a pop-up course called “Transforming Your Community.” L.A. City Council member Curren Price opened up his office as a location — an unconventional but convenient “classroom” in South Los Angeles.
Holm’s requirements for the course are simple: an idea and the passion to see it through. Her students — from teenagers to senior citizens — organize into teams around innovative ideas: redesigning a local park, helping renters use solar power, introducing urban agriculture or green spaces. They use everything from Legos and Post-its to cell phone photos to explore their ideas and give shape to their dreams.
One student, a homeless teenager, initially balked at the idea of being enrolled in a UCLA course. “I don’t think this is for me,” he told Holm. But both the instructor and the student persevered. When he found a place to live, the first item he hung on the wall was his Extension course-completion certificate, a reminder to himself of his achievement.
Holm, a veteran NASA manager who is now the senior technology adviser to Mayor Eric Garcetti, is committed to touching the lives of more students. “Learning happens everywhere,” she says. “If we are truly a public university, we should be everywhere our people are.”
The pop-up concept is Smutz’s brainchild and therefore unique to UCLA Extension. Growing and expanding the idea requires outside funding, so Smutz is actively seeking corporate, foundation and other philanthropic partners.
“Extension hasn’t raised funds like this before. But now we’re taking on projects clearly oriented toward helping underserved areas, so it makes sense,” says Smutz, noting that Extension is a self-supporting nonprofit and receives no state or university funds. “Our general intention is to start small and see if we can build attention.”
Alums giving back
Smutz is reaching out to UCLA Extension alums to provide necessary assistance and partnership. Darrell Brown, the successful banker with strong roots in the community, is one of them.
“Dean Wayne reached out to 100, 150 Extension alums and friends across the entire gamut of organizations, from industry to nonprofit,” says Brown, now chair of Extension’s Committee on Access, Inclusion and Excellence.
“Extension is especially rewarding if one knows what they want to do,” says Brown. “I always knew I was meant for banking, and for those who have that kind of commitment, we’ve been able to improve our talents and our skills and our efficiencies in the areas that have defined our careers and our passions.
“If you take education to where you connect in the community, you build relationships and collaborations and unity,” he continues. “You can create a crusade around education for those who may not have the opportunities that others have had. You end up uncovering genius that would otherwise go undiscovered.”
Brown is especially excited about the pop-up classrooms. “Can you imagine the conversation between a young guy who is into tech but can’t afford four-year college tuition, and a woman who worked for 35 years in a corporation but was forced into early retirement when the company was downsized? His tech knowledge coming together with her work experience … Extension is just a very unique place.”
In the Hispanic community, Smutz has reached out to Jose Villa, president of L.A. advertising agency Sensis, who also sits on his Board of Advisors.
“One area we’ll be targeting is Hispanic business owners, especially Latinas with start-up firms,” says Villa of a fast-growing economic segment in the service sector. “These women can greatly benefit from what UCLA Extension has to offer in advancing their entrepreneurship.”
“One of the huge benefits of Extension is that the price point is very reasonable,” Villa continues. “An M.B.A. program is not an option for a lot of these women, but in many respects Extension can give them the same education.”
Digital outreach and reimagining learning
In addition to expanding its presence online to reach more students nationally and internationally, Extension has launched a partnership with the DaVinci Schools, which offer a 13th-year program for graduating high school students that is a classroom/online hybrid.
Smutz is also planning to approach technology companies to increase accessibility among underserved populations who may not have Internet access.
Extension offers all courses both online and face-to-face. But even in-person courses are web-enhanced, with the syllabus and course materials available via Canvas, a learning management system.
“Our educational systems were created for the 20th-century industrial society. We need to create new approaches for this century,” says Smutz, noting that UCLA Extension is fortunate to have Hollywood, large gaming companies and Silicon Beach so close at hand. “We are engaging these industries in creating and nurturing 21st-century learning that attracts and inspires students.
“For an organization like ours to be competitive and agile, we need to be able to move quickly on many fronts to make sure education can help level the playing field in our economy,” Smutz adds. “We need to help more people get the education they need to help themselves.”
The Many Faces of UCLA Extension
For hundreds of thousands of Angelenos, the face of UCLA Extension is the cover of the catalog. Extension catalog covers have functioned as eye-catching posters, the work of some of the most important graphic designers in the United States.
It was Inju Sturgeon, creative director of UCLA Extension, who enlisted iconic graphic designer Paul Rand to design the Winter 1990 catalog cover. Sturgeon couldn’t offer money or even generous turnaround time. But what she could and did guarantee to designers was the freedom to create and a vision of the catalog cover as public art.
The memorable results were recognized by AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, in a special Masters of Graphic Design exhibition featuring covers from 1990 through 2004, with a sequel extending through 2007.
These days fewer catalogs are printed, but the popular PDF version keeps the tradition alive — and provides an entire page to profile the artist. For Fall 2016 that’s Juliette Bellocq, whose vibrant cover explodes in orange, with touches of pink and black. A new face for UCLA Extension — but only until Winter 2017.