Student Researcher Q&A: Lauryn Wang and the 2021-2022 Astin Community Scholars Program

The Community Scholars Program is a collaboration between the UCLA Labor Center, the Institute for Research on Labor & Employment (IRLE), Labor Studies Interdepartmental Program, and the Department of African American Studies, Million Dollar Hoods Program that brings together UCLA students and community-based change agents to address a live public policy matter.

Students in the 2021-2022 Community Scholars Program explore the scope of employment and the nature of jobs that are attached to the current system of mass incarceration in Los Angeles County with the goal to support policy efforts aimed at decarceration by elevating solutions that speak to the workforce, informed by people who have been employed in or incarcerated in the existing regime.

Lauryn Wang shares her experience with the 2021-2022 Community Scholars Program below.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m a second year history major and community engagement and social change and Asian American Studies double minor from Thousand Oaks, California!

I am a second-generation Bruin so have grown up coming to UCLA and seeing this very vibrant community that continues to enrich my parents’ lives year and after. When I was accepted [at] UCLA, I knew that it could provide the kind of community I was seeking. I no doubt found my people here and love being surrounded by individuals who are passionate about many different things and who also uplift and encourage me to pursue what is fulfilling and exciting to me.

However, being an Astin Scholar and taking CESC [community Engagement and social change] courses has illuminated the ways that academia and the ivory tower can perpetuate harmful relationships with community members through certain research practices. I’m inspired by the community-based practices that we learn about in our CESC classes and recognize now the importance of research that meaningfully engages the voices of our community members.

Being a student at UCLA goes beyond just that; it also involves being an active community member and advocating for issues that you care out. This is something that I hope to pursue in my four years and beyond.

2. How did you hear about the Community Scholars Program and what led you to apply?

I discovered the Community Scholars program on the Center for Community Engagement website, and I was motivated to apply because of this year’s topic on the intersection of decarceration and labor rights.

I was also interested in the emphasis on community-based practices. Being a student at UCLA now, I recognized the importance of engaging with my community in a meaningful way, and I saw this as a great opportunity to be a part of a project and a goal that listened to the voices of the community and also create impactful change. I also liked that the Community Scholars Program is a full-year program!

3. Community Scholars partners UCLA undergraduate students with graduate students and community-based advocates to conduct collaborative participatory action research. Describe your experience in this learning environment. 

We were entirely online for winter quarter, but [recently], we met in person at the [UCLA Labor Center’s building] in [MacArthur] Park. It was honestly one of the coolest experiences I’ve had at UCLA. Even the novelty of having a whiteboard to brainstorm ideas for our project was exciting. I felt so energized workshopping our final projects was energizing, especially being around graduate students and community-based activists who I look up to. It was a really special space that we were able to create, and after the class we got Honduran food at a restaurant across the street from the Labor Center [building]. The process of “breaking bread” with these people who have so much insight and experience to bring to the table was a really great experience.

4. What advice would you give students who are considering applying to the Community Scholars Program?

Just go for it! The teaching team does an amazing job of equipping us students with the tools and the knowledge to succeed in the program – all you need to have is a desire to learn more!

5. What skills or knowledge have you learned from this research experience?

I have gained skills in synthesizing studies and readings and gained important knowledge on community-based practices. I also learned valuable skills in writing a research paper and creating an interview script for an interview with a community member.

6. What has been the most fulfilling part of your time with Community Scholars Program so far?

The most fulfilling part of my time with the Community Scholars program is being around people – whether fellow undergraduates, grad students, or community members – who constantly inspire me. They inspire me to learn more, to do more, and to really reimagine our current systems to make a long-lasting impact.

7. What did you learn about yourself through engaging in a research experience like Community Scholars? How do you plan to use this knowledge in navigating future endeavors?

Being a part of this program was very intimidating at first, especially when we started our work with the other community members and graduate students. Initially, I felt like I wasn’t qualified enough to engage with the material or with my classmates, but the more comfortable I became in the environment, the more I realized that there is so much for me to learn and to read about and to experience; sometimes it’s my turn to sit back and listen and take everything in. I think learning how to navigate this space has proven really valuable for me, especially in the future as I hope to work on more community-based projects.

Interested in participating in the 2022-2023 Community Scholars Program? Applications now OPEN.

Those chosen to participate will receive a research scholarship during the 2022-23 academic year. Applicants must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in the major and have junior or senior standing in the fall of 2022. Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. on May 15th, 2022. Students selected for an interview will be contacted via email. Questions about the program can be sent to Dr. Douglas Barrera at

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