First Semester Tips


Monica Bejarano, M.A. Urban and Public Affairs, ’19

I did it. Turned in my last paper and finished my last presentation. My first graduate semester is over! Tired and rather chronically exhausted and all I want to do is lay on the floor and veg out to Netflix for an ungodly amount of hours. But, what do I do with all the information of the past four months? After the first semester, what do I take away to improve the subsequent semester in my academic journey? How does graduate school change me?

Well, just four months ago, I began my academic journey at the University of San Francisco Masters in Urban and Public Affairs Program. I walked in to my first class holding the book Imperial San Francisco by Gray Brechin, determined to unfold the array of questions I had after reading the introduction. I am not originally from San Francisco, but I knew by attending Urban and Public Affairs graduate program I would be fascinated by the roots of politics, activism, and urban change of the city. In this short amount of time I have come to realize that graduate school does not only teaches one new things, but it teaches one to question everything.

No longer is one learning about how history has changed the urban politics of the city, but one learns ways to question how it happened and how it was done and how it is affecting us today. I realized that I am not here to regurgitate information, but to be part of the conversation that creates it. This was a big step for me during my first semester.

I cannot emphasize enough how hyper-organized this program made me. After eight to nine hours of  classes each week, an internship at City Hall, and a part-time job I definitely understood the importance of time management. One learns valuable planning skills of when one can go out and have a drink and when one has to hunker down over a book for three hours for a paper due next week. Although graduate school has taught me to ask questions and be extremely organized with my time, I’ve also found it important to say “yes” to opportunities and take time to relax.


Branching out into new areas of higher education can help one discover her interests, ignite new passions, and keep a career fresh and exciting. I learned that employers may also prefer a well-rounded resume. The more responsibility one takes on, the more one will be able to learn and gain experience. In the first semester, one will learn to juggle graduate school, homework, internships, and a personal life. It’s about finding a balance between all commitments to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Make time to relax. Graduate school should not be one’s entire life. You are an individual and should prioritize your own personal health and well being first. Make time in your schedule to relax, spend time with friends and family, pursue your hobbies, etc. I find it helpful to schedule breaks during the day, even if they are only five minutes long. Being happy and healthy will boost productivity.

Everyone’s experience is different, but the experiences I’ve had thus far in the Urban and Public Affairs graduate program has prepared me for the next chapter of my academic journey. I had my ups and downs this past semester, but nothing that will stop me from continuing my education.  My passion to formulate equitable policy solutions for the community of San Francisco has been invigorated and I know it will only grow stronger as I continue this program.


Elections and Democracy – San Francisco Style

Corey Cook headshot

Corey Cook 
Corey Cook, Professor of Politics is currently on leave but is still a critical observer of local, state and national politics. Professsor Cook regularly contributes to the McCarthy Center blog while he establishes the School of Public Service at Boise State University.

As my friend Jon Bernstein pointed out in a Bloomberg View piece last year, the timing of our elections can have a profound consequence for policy and governance. For instance, the specific timing of the economic crash in 2008 had important implications for President Obama’s agenda. Had the recession started sooner, unemployment would have likely bottomed out before the president assumed office (rather than in October of his first year). In that scenario, the Tea Party summer might have never occurred and John Boehner is still Speaker, if not Nancy Pelosi. Alternatively, had the recession started just a few months later (unemployment began rising in May of 2008 before spiking between the election and inauguration) most certainly the 2008 election would have been closer and the Democrats would likely have gained far fewer seats in the Congress. In other words, a later recession, and there is probably no Affordable Care Act or second Obama administration, an earlier recession, and there is likely no Tea Party revolt. In either case, Obama still wins the 2008 election, but the meaning of that election – the size of the mandate, the context in which the new executive takes office and governs – is quite different.

So what does this have to do with San Francisco?

Next week, somewhere between one third and two-fifths of San Francisco registered voters will participate in a municipal election. It’s a sleepy election. Of the five citywide races, three involve incumbents running unopposed, the mayor will win re-election easily against underfunded challengers, and one race, the election for county sheriff, is considered competitive, though it likely won’t be close. Instead, most of the attention on election night will be focused on a single supervisorial district (which will reportedly exceed $1 million in campaign spending) and a handful of hotly contested ballot measures. You might suspect that San Franciscans overwhelmingly approve of the job that Ed Lee is doing as mayor and endorse his policies, and surely his supporters will make that claim next week, but that would ignore the context of the election.

Make no mistake, Ed Lee will win handily and his supporters will declare it a clear affirmation of his policies. But the reality is that San Francisco voters remain conflicted. While the mayor is credited for presiding over a sustained economic boom (unemployment fell from over 9% to a shade over 3% during his five years in office), San Franciscans remain deeply troubled by the skyrocketing cost of living, the displacement of lower and middle income residents, and a general loss of community. They are dissatisfied with the state of transit and infrastructure and the failure of the city to adequately address homelessness.

Just over ten months ago, when leading contenders to challenge the mayor contemplated taking the plunge, the mayor’s solid poll numbers and extensive (some might say excessive) campaign war chest dissuaded entry into the race. He was coming off a successful fall election and about six months of good press. But since that time, it’s been anything but smooth sailing. One of the unforeseen consequences of the shift from a majority runoff to a ranked choice election is that a late insurgency (like that waged by Tom Ammiano against Mayor Willie Brown in 1999) are all but precluded. It’s not enough for someone to hold the mayor under 50% and take a shot in a runoff. Instead, an insurgent candidate would have to win outright in November, a tall task. But were the election six months from now, I wonder if the mayor would face a far stiffer challenge. And, as is always the case, his detractors are likely to claim some victories of their own in down-ballot contests and on some of the ballot measures.

“Elections Matter”

To quote president Obama, “elections matter”. But our interpretations of election results are typically vast overreaches that depend too much on the randomness of the timing of an election. And if history is any guide, the battle over which faction “won” is likely to be as hotly contested after the results are announced as before. As Bernstein writes, “if we see (election outcomes) as registering the preferences of voters on the issues and regard them as definitive, then we weaken democracy.” While those candidates who emerge victorious on election day have earned the legal mandate to govern, let’s not presume that voters have endorsed the victors’ positions on every issue and embrace the simplistic notion promulgated every four years that we have effectively “handed over the keys of the car.” Democracy demands much more than that.

Seeing LGBTQ Struggles Through Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s Eyes

Master of Arts in Urban Affairs

Chris Bardales
Master of Arts in Urban Affairs Candidate 2016

Having the opportunity as a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs student, to take part in a 2-day seminar with the iconic former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano was nothing short of extraordinary. To be in the presence of a legendary progressive activist like Tom was something I will never forget.

Tom AmmianoIn the first part of our session we watched the award winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, with special commentary from Tom. Although having seen the documentary a handful of times, I am always moved to tears and never grow tired of re-learning about the historic struggles that the LGBTQ community had to endure in order for me to enjoy the privilege of rights I have today.

On the second day of our workshop, we were able to have an intimate Q&A with Tom on a variety of topics ranging from Harvey Milk, legislative policy and the gentrification of displaced communities in San Francisco’s history. With a breadth of knowledge on the history of San Francisco and an impressive resume of political achievements, it was an honor to receive such great advice from Tom. Although only lasting about three hours, I found myself thinking that I could have spent the whole day engaging in conversation with such a legend.

As part of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, I take pride in continuing to fight for the progressive values that Harvey would be surely fighting for if he were with us today. Although our community has come along way in the past 40 years, there is still much work that needs to be done in order for all marginalized individuals to attain basic civil rights.

Tom gave me the motivation to continue fighting for the rights of all oppressed people. Thank you Tom for being a great leader, a great role model and an aspiration to us all!

Tom Ammiano

Election Day Reflection: Supporting Stevon Cook’s Campaign for Board of Education

“”Our campaigns have not grown more humanistic because candidates are more benevolent or their policy concerns more salient. In fact, over the last decade, public confidence in institutions- big business, the church, the media, government- has declined dramatically. The political conversation has privileged the nasty and trivial. Yet during that period, election seasons have awakened a new culture of volunteer activity. This cannot be credited to a politics inspiring people to hand over their time but rather to campaigns, newly alert to the irreplaceable value of a human touch, seeking it out. Finally campaigns are learning to quantify the ineffable- the value of a neighbor’s knock, of a stranger’s call, the delicate condition of being undecided- and isolate the moment where a behavior can be changed, or a heart won. Campaigns have started treating voters like people again.”- Sasha Issenberg, Victory Lab

As campaign workers we canvassed the city, precinct by precinct.

As campaign workers, we canvassed the city, precinct by precinct.

The last ten months have been quite the journey in supporting my friend Stevon Cook’s campaign for San Francisco Board of Education for the November election.  From attending an intimate house party back in January in his apartment where he formally announced to 30 of his closest friends he was launching the campaign, to these last few weeks of early morning and late night voter outreach and canvassing, this has been an intense, memorable, and impactful community-building experience. My role in the core campaign team has primarily consisted of field organizing and voter outreach, which includes targeting key areas of the city to generate support for his candidacy. The last few weeks have been packed with precinct-walking, campaign literature distribution, and speaking to voters all over the city leading up to November 4th .

San Franciscans often say ours is a “small city”- it certainly doesn’t feel that way while canvassing block by block, precinct by precinct to generate support for our candidate in a city-wide election. While precinct sizes vary, I’d estimate that the average precinct is comprised of about 200-300 homes. If working in pairs, two people can complete an average-sized precinct in about three or four hours. Over the last few months, our team has collectively walked dozens of precincts, distributed tens of thousands of pieces of campaign materials, secured pivotal endorsements from elected officials and political clubs, and expanded our reach to increase visibility and support leading up to tonight.

One of the lasting lessons I’ve learned throughout this experience is that every prospective voter we speak with matters, from those first 1000 registered voters who lent support to get Stevon qualified to appear on the November ballot before the June deadline, to those that will vote for him throughout this evening.  While the year has been a blur of campaign madness, before my involvement in this race, I had not reflected on the full journey for a campaign team to simply have their candidate listed on the ballot and all the work this process entails leading to election day.  In hindsight, more than anything, I’ve learned to appreciate that process as I have had the privilege to experience the full cycle of this race from campaign inception date to election day. As a native San Franciscan, graduate of SFUSD K-12 schools, and having the privilege to call Stevon a colleague and friend over the last five years, I can think of no better candidate for the San Francisco Board of Education, and I’m thankful to have been part of this journey leading up to today’s election.
Fernando Enciso-Márquez
Coordinator of Community Partnerships