Rachel Roth: Development of Lifelong Curiosity Helps Her to Enrich L.A.’s Children and Youth

Alumna works with Crail-Johnson Foundation’s Board to support education, health, and human services grants for underserved populations.

Rachel Roth (’82) says that if she had to encapsulate her experience as a student at University Elementary School (now UCLA Lab School), it was that she was taught to “stay curious.”

“UES taught me to be open; taught me to think creatively and critically,” she says. “It taught me that there is more than one way to arrive at an answer and to be open to that.”

As program officer for The Crail-Johnson Foundation, Roth does just that, reviewing and evaluating more than 200 letters of inquiry a year in order to help the Board of Directors provide effective grants focused on the Foundation’s mission of supporting nonprofit organizations that provide programs in education, human services, and health for underserved children and youth in the Los Angeles area.

“Two of the best parts of my job are that I meet people who are the most passionate, dedicated, sacrificing, and smart people,” notes Roth. “They are addressing some of our biggest challenges in our communities and trying to find solutions to those challenges.

The other [thing] is the amount of learning that I get to do is really incredible,” she says. “Although our Board does have expertise in some of the issues we fund, we rely on our grantees as experts. I try to learn, research, and read so that I can understand as much as I can. But I’m not an expert on domestic violence issues or early childhood education and care. Those are the kinds of things that I get to continue to learn about every day, and it’s an amazing opportunity for me.”

However Roth continues to learn about the most pressing social issues in Los Angeles, she does possess an invaluable and extensive knowledge of philanthropy, having overseen her family’s foundation for nine years. She shares her expertise regularly with Crail-Johnson Foundation grantees and participates in capacity-building programs such as The Grantsmanship Center’s Project Grantsmanship, an intensive workshop for nonprofits.

“Part of the Foundation’s mission is that we provide both financial and human resources support,” she says. “I feel that it’s really important for me to provide support if somebody asks, ‘Is there any way you can look at this proposal that I’m sending to this foundation, and give me feedback?’ It’s really important to provide as much of my knowledge and perspective that I can for them.”

Roth credits her teachers at UES with shaping her lifelong love of learning, including Brenda Dobbs, Muriel Ifewunigwe, Caroline Gee, Karen Lee, Sara Shemer, and Jack Sutton.

“These were the first adults outside of my parents that I trusted and learned from,” says Roth. “They were also just good teachers – I learned a lot from them. They had a way about them about not only showing how much they cared about me, but wanted me to learn. I think that’s remarkably special.”

Roth says that students at UCLA Lab School have the opportunity to “ask questions and take advantage of opportunities” within a supportive learning environment.

“It was never about comparing what I did to what [another student] did,” she recalls. “We naturally start to compare ourselves to other people, but certainly in that setting, I never felt that I ever needed to worry about or think about what was done by my best friend who sat next to me.

“Mrs. Shemer was my art teacher. She really encouraged you to be creative, in the way that you were creative. You didn’t have to be Picasso or Michelangelo, but could find the creativity within you.”

Roth says that while many of the physical education activities she enjoyed at UES – including unicycles, trampolines, and skateboards – might not be offered at schools today due to safety concerns, they provided her and her classmates with “a big spirit of being adventurous,” enhanced by the natural beauty of the campus.

“We had these incredible, outside-of-the-box opportunities,” she says. “UES taught me to be curious. Even if you find something that you love and want to do forever, being curious about other things in the world – how something is made, or to expand your horizons with travel – that’s one of the most important things to hold on to through your life.”

After UES, Roth attended Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica. She attended UC Irvine and Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., graduating from the latter with a B.A. in Philosophy. In addition, Roth holds a certificate in graphic design from Otis College of Art & Design in Los Angeles.