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Taking Action in California's Future

A new course taught by USC Dornsife’s Dan Schnur empowers students to help fix the Golden State.

By Ambrosia Viramontes-Brody
April 29, 2011

Taking Action in California's Future

Want to do something positive for California?

This Fall, USC students can take a course that asks this question, then gives them the tools to help bring the Golden State back to prosperity.

The class, “Multidisciplinary Activities 475: The Future of California,” is designed to give undergraduates a foundation in the state’s policy, cultural and structural challenges. Offered to students in schools across USC, the course will be led by Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics based in USC Dornsife.

“We wanted to create a course that gives USC students not just an opportunity to learn about the challenges facing California but gives them the opportunity in a very practical real-world way to explore possible solutions,” said Schnur, who also directs the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll

The course, sponsored by USC Dornsife and the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, originated with Stanley Gold, a member of the USC Board of Trustees. Schnur established a curriculum based on Gold’s concept of a class that would best prepare students to think about the obstacles facing the state, such as lack of jobs and the crisis in the public educational system.

Multidisciplinary Activities (MDA) courses are developed and taught by faculty from more than one program, department and/or school within USC. MDA courses advance USC’s strategic plan that emphasizes classroom instruction coupled with problem-solving beyond the campus, said Richard Fleigel, associate dean for undergraduate programs in USC Dornsife.

“MDA courses enable students to bring together what they have learned in a variety of academic contexts and allows them to work with students from different disciplines across the campus on a common enterprise,” Fleigel said.

Intended as a capstone experience, students in MDA 475 will spend the Fall semester familiarizing themselves with six policy challenges: economic growth in job creation, education, energy and the environment, healthcare, transportation, housing and public safety. Schnur will explain how the issues interrelate.

After an introductory class on each topic, students will meet USC’s leading faculty experts from various schools across campus. Students will interact with state and local elected officials, business and labor leaders from around the state, and public sector and private sector experts during panel discussions.

“We want to bring the smartest people in California who have spent the most time thinking about these issues right into the classroom,” Schnur said. “A class like this is a perfect opportunity to help students learn the state’s challenges, but to also have a hand in solving them.”

Several of those experts will participate in a Fall conference planned and hosted by the class. The conference “Fixing California,” will welcome both on- and off-campus experts to join a panel discussion addressing structural and policy issues. Students will also be panelists.

Gabrielle Sharaga, a sophomore majoring in political science in USC Dornsife, is eager to learn more about the issues facing California, specifically education.

“Education is a huge issue in California right now and it has a lot of relevance to me because it affects the kids that I work with,” said Sharaga, an active member in USC Troy Camp. The organization provides after-school services and mentorship to elementary and middle school aged children in the surrounding area. 

“I really want to help make a difference and learning more about the issues will be very beneficial,” she said.

The opportunity to delve further into the complex policy issues plaguing California appealed to Natalia Chau, a junior in USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development.

“I hope to get a more in-depth knowledge on specific policies and be able to come up with policies for the future of California,” she said.

A companion class to MDA 475 will be offered Spring 2012. Students will spend the semester concentrating on one of the six policy areas in a research and analysis project. The policy teams will interview the state’s foremost public and private sector policy experts in the area. Students will draft recommendations and return to these contacts later in the semester to get feedback.

The Spring course will culminate with students presenting their recommendations before representatives of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and state legislators in Sacramento. A conference that will concentrate on political and governmental reform and the state constitution is also planned.

For more information on MDA 475, visit dornsife.usc.edu/MDA475.