Urban Futures Lab is a two-year fellowship training and employment program for young adults (aged 18-26) from low-income Los Angeles communities of color. The Lab trains Fellows as creative community problem solvers and catalysts for change. In project-based teams, Fellows work on Public Matters’ neighborhood-based projects. They work on projects addressing community health, neighborhood identity, and community and cultural economic development directly with Public Matters staff that act as project leaders and mentors. They participate in expert-led workshops and trainings. Fellows explore themes and topics through modules that build their knowledge, skills and networks. The Fellows’ “Supper Club” is a monthly networking and exchange dinner with experts in the module theme.

Through mentorship, training + hands-on experience, Fellows gain skills and experience in:

  • Project Conceptualization, Design + Implementation
  • Leadership Development
  • Teaching and Mentoring teens
  • Community Engagement + Relationship Building
  • Public Speaking + Public Events
  • Creative Skills (including Media Production, Social Marketing + Design)
  • Visual Literacy + Integration of Visual and Creative Strategies into Civically-based Work
  • Market Makeovers
  • Cultural and Economic Development

2016 – 2017 Modules

Fellows spend at least half their time on Lab modules. As a comprehensive arc, the modules guide the Fellows on their path to becoming influencers. Each module includes: exploration of real-world examples and best practices; hands-on creation using various forms of communication and media; personal reflection; and interaction with field-leading experts, thinkers, and doers. The module culminates in a Supper Club where the Fellows host these accomplished guests, getting to know them in an intimate and conversational setting.


Find out about each module and read + watch reflections from Fellows in the drop-downs below.

Public Matters Fellows

Andy Alvarez

Andy Alvarez first worked with Public Matters as a student at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy (ELARA) in 2010 as part of Proyecto MercadoFRESCO, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute through UCLA’s Center for Population Health and Health Disparities. Upon graduating from ELARA, Andy continued with the project as a Community Liaison. In these roles and others, Andy honed his skills as a young educator, project leader, visual artist, public speaker, and community interviewer. Andy is an “entrepreneur of ideas” who is open to failure. He’s a hands-on learner in service of building social awareness in communities.


Christopher Barahona

Christopher Barahona was born and raised in Los Angeles, in the East Hollywood and North Hollywood neighborhoods. In 2015, he first encountered Public Matters through a lecture at his school, California State University, Monterey Bay. Soon after, he pursued an internship with Public Matters during the summer of 2015, working on various projects. During his final year at Cal State, Monterey Bay, Chris was as an in-class tutor for migrant students for the Pajaro Valley School District in Watsonville, California. He graduated with a B.A. in Visual and Public Arts in 2016. Chris has a passion for social justice, education and the arts.


Shirley Ramirez

Shirley Ramirez first worked with Public Matters as a student at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy in 2010 as part of Proyecto MercadoFRESCO. She continued with the project as a Community Liaison while studying at East Los Angeles Community College, before transferring to the University of California, Riverside. Shirley graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy. As a Fellow, Shirley is exploring how her interest in policy can connect to real world projects. At 22, she’s not sure what exactly she’s doing, but it’s alright: as she continues to serve her community she will figure it out.


Omar Vargas

Omar Vargas is a 2016 graduate from Denison University with a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology.  Hailing from East L.A., Omar is an alumnus of the East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy, where he first encountered Public Matters as part of the Proyecto MercadoFRESCO. He was a Public Matters intern in summer 2015. At Denison, Omar’s projects received recognition for their impact on student campus life. He was on the planning committees for the Summit of Ohio Latinx (SOL), the first summit for Latinx college students in Ohio, as well as The Nest, an alternative dining experience focused on entrepreneurship and student autonomy. Omar is interested in public health and urban planning.


Urban Futures Lab builds Fellows’ skills, networks, and self-esteem. The Lab responds to the scarcity of meaningful training, mentorship, and employment for young adults in communities where Public Matters works. The Lab prepares Fellows to pursue professions with higher-earning salaries that require varied skill sets.


The Lab is a radical reimagining of job training for young adults: the fellowship prioritizes working outside the silo of a particular discipline or profession. It reconceives of the fellowship model – long used to craft opportunities exclusively for the “cream-of-the-crop” – to appreciate that the “cream” is thicker than previously thought. The model confronts the systemic problems of poor or incomplete education, poverty, and associated health and social stress by emphasizing continued learning, collaborative group work, case studies, professional networking and mentoring. It goes well beyond just performance of daily work tasks. All too often, job training and workforce development programs prepare individuals for employment in sectors with current hiring needs, rather than sectors with future growth. These programs do not necessarily prepare individuals with the skills to navigate an ever-evolving job market, let alone the skills to advance on a professional ladder that leads towards higher earnings potential; to find jobs of increasing leadership; to seek out professional satisfaction; or to pursue positions that are fulfilling creatively and have civic relevance.

Interested in supporting Urban Futures Lab?

Join us as we train and mentor Los Angeles’

next generation of creative civic leaders and catalysts for change.

Public Matters Fellows Emeritus

Xochilt Sanchez

Urban Futures Lab Fellow Xochilt Sanchez

Xochilt Sanchez began her relationship with Public Matters in 2008 as a high school student and participant in PDUB Productions. As part of PDUB from 2008-2010 she learned the basics of documentary filmmaking, uncovered her calling to cinematic storytelling, and discovered the accessibility and potential impact of evocative new-media. Beyond the artistic and technical skills she developed during this time, Xochilt discovered the power behind self-representation, and documentary filmmaking as a vehicle for cultural understanding. Xochilt is a 2014 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she concentrated in screenwriting and video production and History, Sociology of Migration and Development in Latin America.


From Fall 2014 – Spring 2016, Xochilt was a Fellow with Public Matters, working on projects including The Truth About Flavor and Hidden Hi Fi. You can read Xochilt’s reflections on these projects and other learning experiences on the Public Matters blog.

Jocelyn Herrera


Jocelyn Herrera began her relationship with Public Matters in 2010 as a student at East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy at Esteban E. Torres High School (ELARA), working on Proyecto MercadoFRESCO in East LA and Boyle Heights. Jocelyn has maintained an ongoing relationship with Public Matters since graduating from ELARA, using her skills first as a Community Liaison on Market Makeovers to work on store transformations, public events and presentations, and subsequently as a Fellow on The Truth About Flavor. As a visual artist and craftsperson, Jocelyn connects creative process to issues of importance to her and her community.