Price research program helps students become scholars
By Matthew Kredell
Only a couple weeks after they completed their bachelor’s degrees at the USC Price School of Public Policy, Jonathan Ocon and Niaz Peyrovan attended the grand opening of an exhibit at the WUHO Gallery in Hollywood and saw their names displayed on the wall as research assistants.
Ocon and Peyrovan were two of four Price students to take part in the Student Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) during the spring semester, receiving grants to conduct research in collaboration with a Price faculty member.
“We want students to have an experience as researchers where they can contribute to a professor’s project, or take their own original ideas and work with faculty members to move those ideas forward,” said Professor David Sloane, USC Price’s director of undergraduate programs. “The SURE program is one piece of the overall effort by Dean Jack H. Knott and the administration to make the undergraduate experience at the Price School richer, more intellectually adventurous and satisfying.”
Ocon and Peyrovan both decided to work with Assistant Professor Liz Falletta on her research comparing multi-family housing designs of the past and present in order to reveal new insights for the future of housing production in Los Angeles. Titled “By-Right/By-Design,” the exhibit will be showcased at the WUHO Gallery through Aug. 4.
“John and Niaz each completed background research for one By-Right/By-Design project comparison, gathering articles, historical drawings and photos, and building-permit data for the works studied,” Falletta said. “This material was instrumental for the development of the visual material presented at the exhibition.”
For Peyrovan, who will begin pursuing a Master of Landscape Architecture at USC in the fall, the research impacted her ideas moving forward.
“What I learned from Liz’s research and my involvement was how to design a better quality of life for the resident,” Peyrovan said. “I’ll apply that when I go to design parks or buildings for the community.”
The SURE program can provide undergraduate students with the rare opportunity to contribute to a book, journal article or exhibit by assisting Price faculty, or it can allow them to conduct their own research with the supervision and mentoring of a Price professor.
Jue Wang and Karina Casillas chose the latter option. Wang, a Chinese citizen who came to the United States to purse her college education, noticed that home prices in Chinese areas of Los Angeles did not drop as significantly as other areas during the housing downturn because of outside investment from China. She sought to find out what factors attract Chinese nationals to buy homes in the U.S.
Wang interviewed investors, realtors and city economic development staff, with her research showing that Chinese families seek property in Southern California as means to help their children attend U.S. schools and gain international experience.
“During my SURE project, it occurred to me that doing research is very different from taking an exam and is not even close to writing a research paper for a class,” Wang said. “Instead, it is an adventure without a definite destination. I did not expect that for a research project on real estate, I would need to understand U.S. foreign policies, China’s housing policies, economics, education, currency exchange rate, and all kinds of things.”
Wang gave regular reports on her progress to Associate Professor Lisa Schweitzer, who offered guidance and suggestions on how she could improve her research. Wang noted how she was treated not as a student, but as a scholar — with Schweitzer encouraging her to explore and think independently.
In April, Wang’s work was published in US-China Today, a student-driven publication of the USC U.S.-China Institute.
Casillas, who is receiving mentoring from Professor Martin Krieger, ended up changing her research idea mid-semester to look into a more personal direction of gender perspectives from immigrants on education. Even though she graduated in May, she plans to continue working on her SURE research through the summer.
More information about the SURE program, including application instructions, can be found on the USC Price undergraduate website.