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Preparing New Leaders in Education and Social Transformation Undergraduates

By John McDonald
Royce Hall against the backdrop of a deep blue sky

This past June, five students became the first to complete the requirements for the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies new undergraduate major, Education and Social Transformation, setting the stage for a groundbreaking new effort.

In 1923, the Southern Branch of the University of California, which would become what is now UCLA, would recognize its first graduates, granting Bachelor of Education Degrees to twenty-eight students. Those graduates would set the stage for what has been nearly one hundred years of education and transformation at UCLA.

This past June, following in the path of those pioneers, five students became the first to complete the requirements for the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies new undergraduate major, Education and Social Transformation, setting the stage for a groundbreaking new effort.

Vivian Fang, Nathan Kirk, Alexia Macahilas, Kathy Sung and Karly Van Holten are the first students to complete the requirements for the new program that aims to prepare the next generation of professionals to pursue positive changes in education that enhance learning, advance equity and social justice, and broaden access to opportunities. The expectations for them and the students who will follow in their footsteps are high.  

“The new Education and Social Transformation major is our commitment to training students to go into the world to lead change, said Mitsue Yokota, the academic director of the program. “We are aiming to help students learn to analyze issues in education and our communities through the lens of social justice, preparing students to emerge as leaders and advocates for positive change.”

“This major tells the story of education from the view of marginalized communities.   As someone who comes from Canada and a decently well-off family, it really allowed me to bridge the gap and understand people from the other side, embrace diversity and practice inclusivity,  said Vivian Fang, a student who is planning to serve immigrant students in the higher education space and advocate for immigrants and refugee rights.

 “It helped me to understand that social transformation will not be achieved in one classroom or month, but is a lifetime process,” said student Karen Sung.

Students in the program take part in interdisciplinary coursework exploring multiple perspectives about critical issues such as how systemic factors such as poverty and racism undergird educational disparities in students' access to resources and opportunities, affecting their relationship to educational systems and attainment. Students develop abilities to analyze education in social and political contexts, while gaining an understanding of the educational landscape and institutions and the science of learning. They learn to interrogate and interpret data and research evidence and apply what they learn to effect change.   A core component of the major is engagement with community members and in community settings. Students complete community-based fieldwork and internships with schools and community organizations that allow them to see real-world applications of their in-classroom learning. To complete the degree, students must complete a capstone project that offers them the opportunity to reflect deeply on their experiences.

In June, the students shared their capstone projects in a zoom presentation with fellow students, faculty members and staff. The students shared their own definitions of social transformation, their views on the core values of the major, and the skills they had developed. They also reflected on the coursework and major, and shared some of their thoughts on their future.

“Social Transformation to me is the active initiative to enact changes on a daily basis that will consequently bring about social change and cultural reform," Karly Van Holton said in her presentation.

 “The Education 187 (Participatory Action Research Methods) course aligned with the major’s core values by showing me that you can use research to promote academic excellence, social equity and social justice.”

In her presentation, Sung highlighted the core values of the major including diversity, pluralism, social justice, and multiple perspectives, adding that through the community engagement experience she was able to see things through a lot of different lenses. “That ties in closely with my own values that focus on building community and building bonds with people,” she said. “I also gained an important skill of reading and analyzing literature and research."

Nathan Kirk, who double-majored in Education and Social Transformation, and Psychology highlighted the asset-based approach to social transformation emphasized in the major. “One important tool I have gained in the major is an asset-based approach to community engagement,” he said. “By including the wisdom of community members, and seeing communities for their assets, this approach ensures that community members are included in the social transformation process.”

In his presentation, Kirk highlights as a core value that “every person has some knowledge, value or capital that they can contribute to humanity, and they should be treated as such.”

In her presentation, student Alexia Macahilas emphasized the importance of the major’s focus on community.

"Being a Filipina, a Filipina American, our culture specifically emphasizes the culture of community because we are all here for each other. It ties into the concept of Bayanihan, a Filipino word that basically translates into collectivism.  Bayanihan, the concept of collectivism, being there for each other, has really shaped everything I want to do in the future.  For me, social transformation is advocating for my community and for my community to have equitable resources. In the UCLA Education Department Education and Social Transformation major, all of those tying together has really contributed to where I want to go later in life. “

“ It is really exciting to see something that we only imagined on paper, come to life,” concludes Yokota.  “A lot of thought was put into the title of the major – education and social transformation – and to see the students explain what they have learned and how they have benefitted, and to hear their commitment to helping to transform society, is very rewarding.”

Learn more about the Education and Social Transformation major here.