Kelsey Morgan, left, Jennifer Friend, center, and Jon Gould are among the most influential people of Orange County. Photo by Han Parker
Social Ecology dean, alumna and student work for better world
For working to make the world a better place, School of Social Ecology Dean Jon Gould, alumna Jennifer Friend and Ph.D. candidate Kelsey Morgan have been recognized by the Orange County Register as among the most influential people in 2023.
The newspaper singled out Gould for overseeing the first big public opinion survey of the county in years, and wrote that “he’s working to turn UCI into a hub for getting stuff done”; Friend for her leadership role at Project Hope Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the cycle of homelessness and ensuring that children continue to have access to the basic needs and resources they need to succeed; and Morgan, CEO of EverFree, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending human trafficking, for creating Freedom Lifemap, a tech-based program aimed at helping trafficking victims break free from their captors.
Gould says the honor, bestowed in the newspaper in December, “recognizes the entire school’s commitment to, and success at, becoming a positive force in Orange County to help tackle societal problems that affect our collective future.”
Especially pleased by the Register’s “getting stuff done” description, Gould says: “That’s part of our organizational DNA and what helps to differentiate Social Ecology.”
Gould helped launch the UCI-OC Poll in 2023 to provide reliable survey data on the issues confronting Orange County residents. The poll brings business leaders together with elected officials and community members to discuss workable responses to problems, such as housing, education, business climate, sustainability, transportation, crime or other challenges. The first poll focused on the county's homelessness and housing issues.
The second version of the poll, “Red County, Blue County, Orange County,” was released earlier this month. It looks at the relationship between the left and right in American political and cultural life in Orange County, one of the nation’s few “purple” counties.
The next poll will examine the county’s “brain drain,” and analyze why college-educated workers are leaving the county.
Beyond the poll, Gould leads the only School of Social Ecology in the world. The school focuses on solving, and preparing students to solve, society’s most pressing problems — from environmental and mental health challenges to issues related to homelessness, poverty, human trafficking, sustainability, criminal justice and social justice.
“We are committed to conducting reliable and useful research and to working with policymakers, practitioners, and community leaders to implement workable solutions,” Gould says.
The proof is in the alumni. Take Friend, who earned her bachelor’s in social ecology in 1995, for example. Once homeless herself, she now is CEO of Project Hope Alliance, working to end homelessness.
Project Hope Alliance is a nonprofit organization committed to providing homeless children and youth from kindergarten through age 24 with the tools and opportunities they need to learn their way to a better tomorrow.
With more than 23,000 students experiencing homelessness in Orange County's public school system, Friend’s organization is busy.
“Project Hope Alliance partners with schools, cities, districts, and our community to embed trauma-informed full time case managers directly into public school campuses to meet the unique needs of K-12 students and transitional age youth experiencing homelessness,” she says. “This work, eliminating the barriers and filling in the gaps that homelessness places in the lives of our children and youth is having a transformational impact: 93% of our students graduate high school (compared to the state average of 70%) and 100% are either enrolled in college, specialized skill training, the military or employed full time. Together, with our youth and our community, we are disrupting the generational cycle of homelessness and poverty.”
The more community support the organization receives, the more homeless youth will benefit, Friend adds. “Support looks like financial donations, volunteering as a tutor or mentor, serving as a community champion or interning like so many of our Anteater students do.”
As for being influential, Friend says the honor provides the opportunity to inform, guide, sway, lead and connect.
“For me, the recognition creates an opportunity to lift the invisibility from students experiencing homelessness whether it's sharing my personal story of youth homelessness or being given a platform to drive and direct change advocating on behalf of our children and youth placing their needs at the center and aligning, integrating and connecting systems to meet them.”
For Morgan, it’s not about her either.
“It’s about the mission,” she says. “I represent a team of incredible people around the world working to address one of the world’s most abhorrent and critical human rights issues. I hope this recognition garners more support for EverFree, for survivors, and for the millions out there who are still living in exploitation. I also hope it sends the message that the issue is not hopeless; we can end modern-day slavery if the world cares enough to do so.”
Morgan co-founded EverFree, which works to empower survivors and communities by deploying data-driven programs and solutions that effectively equip the global movement to end human trafficking. As a Ph.D. candidate, she led the creation of the Freedom LifeMap tool to amplify survivor voices in case management and identify effective interventions.
“We develop and scale transformative solutions to end human trafficking so that all people can thrive in freedom and dignity,” Morgan notes.
“The Ph.D. program in the School of Social Ecology has been an incredible experience,” she says. “The school, especially my advisor, Dr. Richard Matthew, has been empowering and supportive. We are committed to the idea that the research we do should be in collaboration with survivors and practitioners and should equip the global movement with data and solutions to end human trafficking.”
With funding from the Samueli Foundation, the UK Modern Slavery Innovation Fund and others, Morgan has been working with Matthew, the Blum Center’s director, and post-doctoral scholar Angela Robinson, to build a research center to address human trafficking.
“Through this work, we’ve built the Freedom LifeMap tool that can completely transform the fight against trafficking,” she explains. “Through the Blum Center's partnership with EverFree, we are ensuring this tool is in the hands of frontline organizations around the world. The data we are collecting has been a missing link in the fight against modern-day slavery, and we are just getting started! EverFree and UCI’s partnership is a perfect example of the impact we can make when we apply science to one of the world’s most challenging issues.”