In light of a growing crisis of housing and homelessness in the LA area and beyond, the Student Activism Speaker Series (SASS) Committee chose to focus on the issue in a series of talks from a variety of perspectives. Kicking off the series and the term, journalist Liam Dillon provided an overview of the California housing crisis. Charged with covering housing affordability and neighborhood change across California for the LA Times, Dillon was uniquely qualified to provide an in-depth view of the crisis and various causes of the state’s housing problems. Fifty-two people joined the lunch discussion, with a number staying after for questions to hear his expert analysis. The series continued a little closer to home with the Socialists of Caltech, who have been exploring and engaging in the cause in the Pasadena area, and focused on Pasadena housing, tenant justice, rent control, and just cause for eviction. The lunch talk drew 49 people to hear about how other students at Caltech are taking steps to make a difference in the community. Closing out the series for the term, SASS invited Sean McKenna, a Caltech alumnus, to speak about his year spent researching the California housing crisis. Since graduating, Sean has been working as a researcher at RAND, tackling societal issues in urban policy and economic policy by applying quantitative analytical methods. In 2019, as one of the two recipients of Caltech’s inaugural Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize, Sean McKenna spent nine months traveling in California and researching the housing crisis. He interacted with housing developers, housing service providers, policymakers, political action groups, and the citizens of California to learn about the causes, impacts, and solutions to the housing crisis. He provided an in-depth analysis of the politics and economics underlying the crisis to the 55 attendees, as well as his insights into ways to address the problem.
Stepping away from the issues of housing and homelessness, SASS hosted graduate students Reina Buenconsejo and Sarah Cohen to share their science policy experiences and other opportunities in Washington D.C. with 25 interested attendees. Reina spent three years between undergrad and graduate school as a Science Policy Fellow for the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI), a federally-funded research and development center that provides technical expertise and policy analysis to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and other science-conducting agencies of the federal government. Sarah worked as an undergraduate American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Summer Intern, in their Office of Government Relations. The AAAS Office of Government Relations works with Congress to provide non-partisan information on issues involving STEM. They also connect legislators with the STEM community and publish a science policy newsletter, AAAS Policy Alert, which informs AAAS members on current science policy issues. They provided an overview of the wealth of opportunities for scientists and students interested in exploring the policy world and contributing to the understanding and implementation of science nationwide. These opportunities include short-term internships for undergrads and grads during breaks in study and multi-year fellowships for graduates in undergrad and grad programs. It was an informative and thought-provoking start to the year for all those who attended.