Can your zip code shape health outcomes? Price faculty share lessons with Bovard Scholars

September 28, 2018

Professor LaVonna Lewis (Photo by Tom Queally)
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By Matthew Kredell

USC Price School of Public Policy faculty and student services advisors helped rising high school seniors explore areas of study in public policy, urban planning and real estate development – and the possible career directions such academic pathways may lead them – as part of the USC Bovard Scholars program this past summer.

The 2018 USC Bovard Scholars were comprised of 95 students with an average weighted GPA of 4.30; more than three-quarters aimed to be first-generation college students. (Photo by Tom Queally)

It’s the second year that USC has offered Bovard Scholars in an effort to help high-achieving students with financial needs gain admission into the nation’s top universities and help prepare them to succeed at such institutions. Once again, USC Price faculty and staff took part in one day of the three-week residential experience on the USC campus, providing a sample class to introduce students to the fields of public policy and urban planning, as well as an overview of academic programs at the Price School.

Professors LaVonna Lewis and David Sloane led the sample college class on the inequities in access to nutritious food options among local communities and the health disparities that result — an area they have researched for nearly 20 years.

“The research shows that the best predictor for how long you will live is your zip code,” Lewis said. “The real question is what is going on in those communities putting some people at greater risk for shorter life spans.”

Measuring inequity

Professor David Sloane (Photo by Tom Queally)

They explained that, in their research, they try to document where inequities exist so they can quantify those differences in meaningful ways. Differences they detailed between wealthier areas of West Los Angeles and poorer neighborhoods in East and South Los Angeles include fewer supermarkets, more fast food restaurants and advertising skewed toward less healthy options.

“We’re policy and planning scholars, so we’re not just concerned about the choices an individual makes,” Lewis said. “We’re concerned about the aspects of the system that make the healthier choice an easier choice in some communities more when compared to other communities.”

Sloane outlined policy and planning interventions that attempt to improve food disparities such as community groups creating a $50 million fund in California to subsidize supermarket construction, farmers’ markets expansions and food co-ops.

He then asked the students to get into groups and think about food options in their own communities, naming three ways they would try to improve that system.

“These are examples of what we do at the Price School, tackling these social issues over and over again from a variety of perspectives, through a variety of ways and a variety of topics,” Sloane said. “Our hope is that you’ll come to USC and help us do it.”

Shared passion for improving communities

Price’s Jim Lee and Russ Sommer spoke to the students about undergraduate programs (Photo by Tom Queally)

The 2018 USC Bovard Scholars are comprised of 95 students with an average weighted GPA of 4.30 and an average PSAT score of 1214. More than three-quarters of them are aiming to be first-generation college students. They are from 17 states, with a little more than half from California. They come from families with a median household income of $25,000.

In addition, Bovard Scholars participants had the opportunity to explore the different academic programs at the Price School. As undergraduate program administrators, Jim Lee presented on the Bachelor of Science in Public Policy and the Bachelor of Science in Urban Studies and Planning, and Russ Sommer spoke about the Bachelor of Science in Real Estate Development.

Students indicated that they were interested in the Price School for a variety of reasons: a passion for educational equity, prison reform, affordable housing, equal distribution of food resources, and gun control policy. The scholars expressed academic and career goals of going to law school, running for public office, getting a PhD and becoming a professor, and working internationally for the United Nations.

“We are eager to partner with Price faculty and staff to expose our students to academic and career fields in public policy,” said Lisa Mataczynski, program director for USC Bovard Scholars. “The mission of the Price School aligns with many of our students’ personal values. By attending a sample college class in the field and hearing from admission and advising staff, students are offered time to contemplate a future within the discipline with real-world examples in mind.”

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