USC Price EML alum named to LA Board of Public Works, focuses on career pathways for youth
By Matthew Kredell
Aura Garcia wasn’t looking to make a career change, but when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called she couldn’t turn down the opportunity to represent her northeast San Fernando Valley community and her Guatemalan/Latino heritage. Garcia, a graduate from the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Executive Master of Leadership program, accepted an appointment by Mayor Garcetti in February to be one of a five-member, full-time executive team that comprises the Board of Public Works for the City of L.A.
“I enjoyed working in higher education, but this is a real special position and a great opportunity that I had to take,” said Garcia, who was working in the office of the president at Los Angeles Mission College. “This is the kind of leadership position that I was hoping to be in. I’m honored and humbled to have this opportunity and appreciate the efforts of Mayor Garcetti to ensure representation for women in leadership positions.”
As commissioner, Garcia is tasked with ensuring that the City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) is delivering projects and programs that enhance quality of life, economic growth, public health and the environment for all Angelenos. The DPW is responsible for operating wastewater treatment plants, curbside collection, graffiti removal, and maintenance of streets, sidewalks, streetlights and sewers.
“Aura has devoted her life to creating opportunities for people who need to be lifted up – and that spirit of service will make her an outstanding commissioner on the Board of Public Works,” Garcetti said in a press release on the appointment. “She has a proven ability to bring people together, and her experience will be a strong asset in the work of strengthening our City’s infrastructure and improving service to all Angelenos.”
Opening opportunities for success
Garcia explained that one of her main goals as commissioner is to work with the five bureaus and the mayor to create educational pathways with local community colleges for the 5,500 public works jobs, as well as with local universities for higher-level jobs.
“In my new role, I believe that I can be a conduit for the youth in our communities that are starting to think about their future career paths,” Garcia said. “There has to be some kind of pathway for our young L.A. residents to be able to get public service jobs. These jobs will allow our youth to make a difference in the community and will improve the quality of their lives and futures.”
Garcia’s first appointment from Garcetti to the North Valley Area Planning Commission came in 2015, soon after completing her EML degree. She was working in the mayor’s office as a regional program manager for gang reduction and youth development while attending USC Price.
“I was moving up the ranks but I always felt there was a wall that I was not able to get past – the EML program really allowed me to break through that wall,” Garcia said. “I had several years of experience in leadership positions, I felt like I needed more than a regular master’s level program. EML helps those professionals who have dedicated years to working in leadership roles get to the next level of their careers.”
Lessons in leadership
She pointed to USC Price Professor Robert Denhardt and adjunct faculty Rick Culley as being instrumental in her professional growth. She recalls a saying repeated by Culley that she thinks about every day, especially in this new position: “They don’t pay you to be right, they pay you to be effective.”
“All of the EML family congratulates Aura on her new appointment,” Denhardt said. “I’m sure that she will bring the same spirit of service and the same skills in engaging others to this role that she showed in the EML program. She is ready to lead.”
Garcia valued being around other people in leadership positions during the EML program, and she indicated that her cohort has remained close-knit.
“I feel that I can reach out to anyone in my cohort and ask for their opinion, advice or consultation and I believe that I will get an authentic answer that will help with my growth,” Garcia said. “And anyone in my cohort can come to me for guidance as well. It’s almost like a family for me, where you have siblings and cousins that you don’t talk to all the time but you know you can rely on them.”
Garcia’s first day in her new role was on Feb. 20. The board meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and in between sessions, Garcia attends events and engages with people and groups about ways to improve the City’s services.
“My education, my cultural background and my upbringing will play a role in how I relate to people and will guide the decisions that I make to help the community,” said Garcia, the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants. “I understand the goals of the Board of Public Works and the importance of the beautification of our communities and maintenance of our streets. There are things that I would like to raise awareness of in our Latino community, and I want to hear from our Latino and Guatemalan communities about what’s important for them and be able to mix that into the work I will be doing in my new position.”