Cal State L.A. graduates first class of Civic University

May 20, 2014

It may not have taken place with formal pomp and circumstance, but the first graduation of L.A.’s Civic University marked a significant milestone nonetheless. On Saturday, President William A. Covino and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti presented certificates to 100 participants of the inaugural class of Civic University.

“We cannot flourish as a great city of the future if only a quarter of our population is involved,” Covino said. “We cannot graduate the next generation of Southern California leaders if community engagement is an educational afterthought. We cannot provide a bridge to the middle class if citizens lack the unique skills that come from participating in public life. But together, we can engage our communities, tackle this crisis head on and build a better Los Angeles.”

The two-day workshop was the first in a joint-program between Cal State L.A. and the city of Los Angeles to educate Angelenos about the civic process and how to participate. It’s a great example of the kind of engagement, service and public good that Covino described in his Investiture address earlier this month.

The Civic University builds on Garcetti’s successful City Government 101 program. The program gives citizens the tools they need to understand, engage, and influence City Hall and become advocates for their neighborhoods and interests.

Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A., led participants in seminars on key institutions within city government, how they work and how to access and influence City Hall.

“You’re in a great position to share the thought that it’s actually possible to have an impact in politics. But most people around you don’t think so,” said Sonenshein, telling the class about a recent PBI Poll stating that 63 percent of registered voters think special interests have more power at City Hall. “Showing people how to have an impact is going to turn out to be revolutionary.”

At the end of the session, participants teamed up to give presentations on civic issues they researched. With three minutes on the clock—the limit for public comment—the groups pitched ideas on ways to improve public transportation, trash collection, city beautification and more to a panel consisting of Garcetti, Sonenshein and Covino.

“I appreciate your sense of what’s important,” said Covino. “I was struck by the quality of your thinking around the issues, which I think are of importance to everyone in the room and beyond.”

Garcetti, Sonenshein and Covino discussed plans to continue and expand the Civic University program in the future.