Sustainable Solutions to LA’s Wicked Problems

Supported by USC’s Office of the Provost, this multidisciplinary practicum—coordinated by lead faculty from the USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health—focused on the human and social aspects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the guiding development framework of our time. This practicum brought together students from across the university to bring a human rights analysis to the work occurring around homelessness in support of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office and to provide recommendations for further actions to the City in regards to the SDGs. Next steps include work with Occidental College and other Los Angeles based academic institutions to ensure ongoing support to the city around the SDGs.

Focusing on health, inequality and sustainable cities, students:

  • acted as “consultants” to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, the United Nations and community stakeholders to assist the city’s SDG plan.
  • worked with United Nations partners.
  • explored career options and build professional relationships.
  • gained skills and work experience in community engagement, research, data visualization, communication strategies, public speaking and networking.
  • learned to engage in collaborations across disciplines.
  • participated in a city-wide culminating SDG event at USC, involving political leaders, experts, celebrities, activists and students.

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SDGs in LA: Sustainable Solutions to Los Angeles’s Wicked Problems



What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

In 2016, world leaders at the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to support all levels of government in all regions of the globe to eliminate some of the world’s most wicked problems. The SDGs, the guiding development framework of our time, aim to end poverty and inequality and mitigate climate change, while supporting prosperity and enabling equitable global growth by 2030. The SDGs provide goals, targets and indicators to address the social, political, economic, environmental, cultural and health systems challenges around the world. World leaders, from mayors to presidents, must prioritize actions on national and sub-national levels. With specific indicators outlined for each of the 17 goals, the SDGs require local engagement and tailored implementation.

Who facilitated the practicum?

  • Sofia Gruskin, JD, MIA | Director, USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health; Professor of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC; Professor of Law, Gould School of Law
  • Laura Ferguson, PhD, SM, MA | Director, USC Program on Global Health & Human Rights; Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC
  • Darren Ruddell, PhD, MSAssociate Professor (Teaching) of Spatial Sciences, Spatial Sciences Institute, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
  • Doe Mayer, MAMary Pickford Professor Of Film And Television Production, Annenberg School Of Communication & Journalism; School of Cinematic Arts

Who was eligible to apply and enroll?

Up to 18 graduate and undergraduate students—from on-campus USC degree programs—who were eligible to enroll in independent study and/or directed research were permitted to register. We looked for students to contribute from across schools and in a wide variety of domains including photography, digital shorts, policy translation to diverse communities, policy briefs, legal and programmatic research, community health, and data analysis and visualization.

How many credits was this practicum?

This practicum was flexible. Units varied depending on students’ needs and degree programs, and could continue into the spring.

When did this practicum meet?

Students met on some Wednesdays at USC University Park Campus, 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Most work was be conducted off-site, including at LA City Hall.

What was the format of this practicum?

Prior to the beginning of the semester, coursework was clearly defined in dialogue with community partners, the United Nations and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office. Coursework varied across academic units. Individual research plans were developed at the beginning of the semester with students to outline the requirements, units, timeline and deliverables for each student. In the fall, students primarily worked with the mayor’s office in preparation for the Dec. 10 event. Students had the option to complete some course requirements in the spring.

What did the practicum entail?

The course included some of the following components:

  • SDG and Human Rights Research Training Workshop:  Organized by faculty with input from the mayor’s office and the UN, students trained in SDG data sources, analysis and community-based interview methods, including human subjects training. The workshop occurred early in the fall semester to introduce the mayor’s office remit and scope of work to the students and build necessary research skills for implementation.
  • USC SDG Resolution: Students participated in drafting a resolution to be presented to the USC Academic Senate regarding holistic SDG implementation at USC and the naming of USC as an SDG university.
  • Community-Based Research: Students conducted field interviews and synthesized findings from their desk reviews and field interviews with community stakeholders into needs assessment reports for the mayor’s office. The reports detailed gaps in SDG indicator data and challenges on the ground. 
  • Tip Sheets: Students developed one-page tip sheets for community stakeholders. The tip sheets described relevant SDGs, including targets and goals, as well as synthesized research findings and describe how the stakeholder efforts contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.
  • Final Project: Students had flexibility in choosing their final projects to enable the most appropriate strategy for their educational and professional goals. Individual final projects and recommendations were developed with guidance from faculty to help address needs or gaps identified through research.
  • Culminating Event:  Students were involved in a Dec. 10 Human Rights Day event at USC. This global summit brought together local and international political leaders, experts, celebrities, activists, students and the public to set a course for human rights in the context of the SDGs.