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Seeing kindness and compassion as leadership strengths

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UCLA senior Kayla Park. (Photo provided by Ms. Park.)

Kayla Park's passion for service and leadership has benefited from an education in public affairs, diversity and storytelling at UCLA, fueling a dedication to making a positive social impact.

Before coming to UCLA, said Park, “I honestly didn't realize the diversity of the student body. I didn't really realize that there were so many different experiences of college and of life. College really exposed me to that.”

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

In honor of International Women’s Day 2022, the UCLA International Institute is publishing a series of profiles of outstanding female Bruin students who will become tomorrow's leaders.

 

UCLA Global, March 11, 2022 — “Understanding what the people you are working with are going through and how you can best support them is integral to leadership,” said Kayla Park (UCLA 2022).

“Kindness and compassion aren’t weaknesses, they are strengths that allow us to connect to the people we serve and, ultimately, help us empower others.”

A senior at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Park has been avidly interested in leadership since she was the youngest team leader of her high school marching band in Rowland Heights, California.

Her understanding of leadership has been nourished during her UCLA education by her public affairs major, active membership in the Bruin Belles Service Association, capstone internship at the Center for Scholars and Storytellers (CCS) and UCLA Career Center workshops.

Choosing public affairs

“I was very lost as a freshman, both in not knowing what I would do with my career, but also not knowing how to navigate the job process. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, I just knew I wanted to help people,” said Park, who has loved doing community service since she was in middle school.

“UCLA attracted me because everyone is so oriented toward service. I thought it was the perfect school not only because of the academic rigor, but also because of the balance of student life.”

Although she began her freshman year intending to major in political science, she said, “I took courses in communications, political science and public affairs. I really liked public affairs because the courses emphasized creating leaders for social good.”

The major turned out to be a perfect fit for her interests.

“Everyone in public affairs seems to be focused on serving society. Not only that, the major is interdisciplinary. We take courses in writing, statistics, economics and social theory — we get the whole spectrum.

“I also love the School of Public Affairs because it provides so much support for students that you don’t really get in majors that are in large departments.”

Park learned through informational interviews that public affairs careers look different in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. “So I really sought to experience how creating a positive impact looked in each of these sectors,” she said.

Her years at UCLA have thus included internships at the Los Angeles Education Research Institute, the legislative office of Ian Calderon (then California State Assembly majority leader), the public affairs firm Presidio Communications and UCLA Community Partnerships (part of the UCLA Government and Community Relations office). Not to mention the CCS internship and student jobs at the UCLA Career Center and the Center for Impact@Anderson.

Gaining a deeper understanding of diversity

Like many of her peers at UCLA, Park — the daughter of parents who emigrated from South Korean as children — greatly values her cultural heritage. The Bruin senior shares a love of K-Pop and Korean dramas with her friends (including many non-Korean Americans), enjoys the annual Korean Culture Night on campus and has taken Korean language classes at UCLA.

“Korean is a gateway to being more connected to my culture and to better communicate with my grandma, who isn’t fluent in English,” she related.

Her last two years at UCLA have unfortunately coincided with a sharp rise in anti-Asian hate crime, but Park has coped with the “discouraging and heartbreaking” trend by reaching out to talk with close friends and her sister, a UCLA transfer student.

Before coming to UCLA, said Park, “I honestly didn’t realize the diversity of the student body. I didn’t really realize that there were so many different experiences of college and of life. College really exposed me to that.

“At Bruin Belles, which is a women's leadership and philanthropy organization, I got to learn about women from different cultures, different geographical areas and with different passions.

“I really loved having that exposure and being able to meet with people who are different than me,” said the senior, who became a “Distinguished Belle” and helped organize the association’s annual women’s leadership conference.

“Similarly, there is a lot of diversity in public affairs classes, in terms of people’s backgrounds, passions and ways of thinking. That’s been challenging and enjoyable.”

Park also gained insights by attending the UCLA Career Center’s “Career Bootcamp” and, later, working at the center. “I developed a better understanding there of the inequities that exist in the education system, particularly for first-generation students,” she said.

Her growing appreciation of diversity and love of writing eventually led Park to storytelling, which she now sees as an integral part of effecting social change.

Storytelling as means of positive social impact

“The common thread through all of my experiences is the idea of using communication to tell stories in service of others,” said Park, who is completing a minor in professional writing.

The minor offers core classes in different styles of writing. “There’s entertainment writing, nonprofit writing, digital web writing, business writing,” explained Park. “The elective, ‘Creative Writing, Nonfiction Essays and Journalism,’ with Professor Deuel was one of my favorite classes at UCLA.

“Everyone in that class was writing personal narratives: their story about their life. Connecting to people through their stories, and also having people connect to me through mine, was a really good experience.

“My favorite part about storytelling is how it connects people. You tell a story about yourself or hear a story about other people and it’s often moving, inspiring and helps create change,” said the future public affairs professional, who is currently doing a yearlong internship at the Center for Scholars and Storytellers.

“CCS works to bridge the gap between academia and entertainment professionals about positive character development,” said Park. A youth-centered organization, the center bridges the gap between social science research, media creation and youth.

“I love kids and education, so CSS is really at the intersection of my wanting to create a positive impact on society, using storytelling to uplift youth,” said the senior.

Looking forward, Park is currently in the second round of the competitive application process for a Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, a prestigious program that operates across the country and offers invaluable professional development in public affairs.

“If that doesn’t work out, I will be looking for jobs that focus on social impact and/or corporate social responsibility,” said Park. “But no matter what I do, I desire to bring joy, comfort and optimism to other people, and ultimately to inspire hope.”