Alumni Spotlight: Lucy Okumu
from SPPD Community Connections, Spring 2005
As a legislative advocate for the Los Angeles Unified School District, Lucy Okumu represents the interests of more than 700,000 children and 800 schools. Stationed in Sacramento, she works to secure state resources and support state laws that address the instructional needs of students in the nation’s second-largest school district.
“My main focus is building relationships with elected officials and their staff,” says Okumu. “This means being consistent with information, responding to requests for information in a timely manner, and operating with integrity.”
Before moving to Sacramento, Okumu had served as executive director of New Schools Better Neighborhoods in Los Angeles, where she guided efforts to plan, design and build joint-use school facilities between school districts, local municipalities, and non-profit organizations.
Okumu’s commitment to education is a personal one. Born in Uganda, she immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was six years old.
“The primary reason my mother sacrificed so much was to ensure that her six children had an opportunity to receive a great education, graduate from college, and have a fruitful career,” she says. “My mother’s wishes are no different from those of any parent who has high hopes for her children’s lives.”
The hopes of many parents ride on the work of Okumu, who every day petitions lawmakers in a state that ranks 44th nationally for spending per pupil in its public schools.
“We’re facing a crisis in our educational system,” says Okumu. “The bottom line is our schools are critically under-funded yet we’re asking our schools to do more with less.”
Okumu had worked in education policy and politics for a number of years before she enrolled in SPPD’s Master of Public Policy program to refine her policy analysis skills and acquire more research techniques.
“The MPP program’s core curriculum really helped me accomplish those goals,” she says. “I was also attracted to the program because it’s located within an urban learning lab — Los Angeles.”
The school’s strong ties to Los Angeles institutions led to a number of learning opportunities for Okumu.
“Working for L.A. city councilmember Wendy Greuel as her legislative deputy and then becoming executive director of New Schools Better Neighborhoods was a result of building relationships through the Trojan network,” she says. “As I reflect on where I’ve been since graduating from the MPP program, it is difficult to imagine that I would have worked in such interesting environments if I had not received both a practical and theoretical training at USC.
“Also, the opportunities presented to me via the SPPD network is a testament to the level of support graduates can receive through the friendships and connections built during and after the program.”