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Russell Vergara - USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Los Angeles, CA, US

Russell Vergara Russell Vergara

Adjunct Assistant Professor | USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work


R. BONG VERGARA focuses on tech-enabled solutions to food-energy-water nexus issues in smart sustainable development.



Russell Vergara Publication






R. Bong Vergara is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. He primarily teaches courses in policy practice and applies social work solutions in the overlap between human and planetary health, particularly the nexus of food, energy, and water systems. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from UCLA. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

Through his for-profit and nonprofit projects, he promotes the social equity interests of resource-poor communities in the transition to a low-emission economy. As a team lead in the Climate Chain Coalition, he explores how blockchain technology could more effectively address the social welfare dimension of UN SDG implementation. He is passionate about a next-generation social work in the era of climate change and the Information Age; he currently leads a group of doctoral students in searching for use-cases for IoT, AI, VR/AR, and blockchain in social work. He partners with the Stakeholder Forum, recently collaborating with them in co-hosting and organizing a panel at the 3rd Annual Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Forum for the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals held at the UN Headquarters in New York in June 2018.

He formerly taught at UCLA and The California Endowment Health Ex/Change Academy. From 2011 to 2015, he was the Co-Chair of the California Mental Health Services Act Multicultural Coalition (CMMC), a component of California Reducing Disparities Project. From 2008 to 2010, he developed and ran the “Safety Net of the Future” Initiative that served as the overarching initiative for a consortium of 24 health centers in Orange County, CA, earning him membership in then Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez's (D-47) Health Reform Advisory Task Force. From 2007 to 2010, he was one of eight policy trainers with The California Endowment Health ExChange Academy who led health policy trainings for health agencies across California, culminating in a focus group report he edited, which was later published by The California Endowment in 2011. He has published a number of policy briefs and agency reports on community health and presented briefings before national convenings and conferences, including the Subcommittee on Populations of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics.

Education (3)

University of California, Los Angeles: MSW, Social Welfare 2001

University of California, Los Angeles: MA, Asian American Studies 2001

University of California, Los Angeles: BA, Asian American Studies 1997

Activities and Societies: Student Liaison, UCLA Academic Senate-Undergraduate Council; Student Representative, Academic Affairs Office; Student Representative, National People of Color Student Caucus -- USSA; Coordinator, Committee for Pilipino Studies (1992-1996); Historian, Samahang Pilipino (1992)

Areas of Expertise (3)

Social Innovation and Resilience

Global Health

Smart sustainable urban development

Industry Expertise (3)



Health and Wellness

Accomplishments (6)

2001 Certificate of Honor for Community Involvement. United States House of Representatives. (professional)

For leading a voter engagement project I co-developed with community leaders, steadily turning it into a countywide, statewide from 1998-2000, and, ultimately, into national project for Filipino Americans in the 2000 Presidential election.

2010 Clinic Leadership Institute Fellowship. Blue Shield of California Foundation, CA. (Withdrew Nov 2010 due to professional obligations) (professional)

For developing the “SAFETY NET OF THE FUTURE” Initiative that served as the overarching initiative for a consortium of 24 health centers in Orange County, CA and forming the community-based policy and legislative advocacy network, “Task Force on Access, Affordability and Advocacy,” to organize and mobilize support for the Affordable Care Act, resulting in the largest delegation of Orange County physicians, medical directors, and health center executives lobbying the US Congress.

2014 ACOSA Outstanding Practitioner Award Nomination. Nominated by Dr. Haluk Soydan, Dean of Research, USC Hamovitch Center for Science in Human Services. (professional)

For 15+ years of professional leadership and service.

2015 APA Health Equity Ambassador. Health Disparities Initiative, Public Interest Directorate, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC. (professional)

For continuous health equity advocacy.

2015 Dedicated & Deserving Social Worker Award. Social Work Today Magazine, Great Valley Publishing Co., Inc., Spring City, PA. (professional)

For 15+ years of continuous professional experience in nonprofit administration and community engagement in the private nonprofit health/human service setting, including substantial leadership experience in professional policy practice, evidence-based program development, organizational development, evaluation, strategic planning, and government relations.

2016 Momentum for Change Award. United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, Bonn, Germany. (Nominated) (professional)

For my work promoting the academic achievement of first-generation students in Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) highlighted by USC: https://sowkweb.usc.edu/news/professor’s-nonprofit-tackles-grandchallenges-clean-technology

Affiliations (5)

  • CYPHER Impact Investment Exchange
  • Young Moon, LLC: Co-Founder
  • Climate Chain Coalition
  • Asia Low Emission Development Strategies Partnership (ALP)
  • California Mental Health Services Act Multicultural Coalition : Co-Chair

Languages (2)

  • Tagalog
  • Ilocano


Grand Challenges (1)

Harnessing Technology for Social Good

I focus on integrating social equity in harnessing tech-enabled innovations at the nexus of food, energy, and water systems (INFEWS), particularly in coastal communities, Small Island Developing States, and Pacific Island Countries and Territories.

Media Appearances (4)

Redefining nature

Lateral Magazine  online


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Understanding Climate Change as a Social Issue: How Research Can Help

USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck  online

“We see it perhaps most importantly as a social justice issue,” said Lawrence Palinkas, the Albert G. and Frances Lomas Feldman Professor of Social Policy and Health at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. “Generally the people most affected by climate change tend to be the poor, older adults, children and families — populations that are typically the focus of social work practice.”

This inherent link between social work and climate change is at the heart of a new initiative Palinkas and other social work scholars, like Vergara, are leading as part of the Grand Challenges for Social Work.

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Professor’s Nonprofit Tackles Grand Challenges with Clean Technology

USC News  online


The Sustainable Earth Decathlon (SED), a showcase of clean technology innovations from youth ages 13 to 26, is the brainchild of USC School of Social Work Adjunct Assistant Professor R. Bong Vergara, who sees a clear link between human and planetary health.

Along the lines of the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare’s Grand Challenge of creating social responses to a changing environment, Vergara created SED as a project-based learning opportunity for youth, especially those from climate-vulnerable communities, to engage in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) activities.

“I want to build young people’s sense of self belief so they can become innovators and produce solutions to wicked problems like climate change,” said Vergara, who recently was named one of Social Work Today’s 10 Dedicated and Deserving Social Workers.

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Paralyzed student turns adversity into self-help book

USC News  online


Russell Vergara, an adjunct lecturer at the school, said that Rhodes brought depth and perspective to class discussions that challenged everyone in the room.

“He’s very inspiring,” Vergara said. “You can tell that despite his disability and the emotional baggage that came with it, he never lost his fighting spirit to keep going to the next step.”

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Conferences and Events (8)

3rd Annual Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Forum

Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals  UN Headquarters, New York, NY


TACK TO TECH: Framing a ‘technology practice’ in city-level decarbonization

#NSWM29, Disruptive Leadership: Maximizing Inclusion, Invention and Innovation, Network of Social Work Management, San Diego State University  San Diego, CA

Stress, Racism, and Social Determinants of Health

Healthy Communities: Promoting Wellness and Achieving Health & Mental Health Equity, Ventura County Behavioral Health Department, Ventura County Health Care Agency  Camarillo, CA

Social equity in city-level decarbonization

Nexus 2018: Water, Food, Energy and Climate Conference, University of North Carolina  Chapel Hill, NC

Harnessing Technology for Social Good

Making a Difference Thru T2: 2017 FLC Far West & Mid-Continent Regional  Pasadena, CA

Small-scale Climate Resilience: Social Work Practice in the Age of Climate Change

25th Annual Management Conference, Management in the Age of Innovation  Simmons College, School of Social Work, Boston, MA


Political Voice in Beats & Rhymes: Aligning Un-Aligned Efforts in Community Building

Ninth NaFFAA Empowerment Conference “Building the Next Generation of Community Advocates”  Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport, Burlingame, California


Earth Day Briefing

Federation of Filipino American Associations  Long Beach Water Treatment Plant, Long Beach, California


Presentation Style


  • Keynote
  • Panelist
  • Workshop Leader
  • Corporate Training

Research, Publications & Presentations (1)

Photovoice Oxnard: Exploring racism as a social determinant of health

Exploratory study on how Oxnard communities experience racism as a social determinant to health


As a contract provider with Ventura County Behavioral Health, Alcohol and Drug Programs, Prevention Services, I provide prevention planning, training and research support for addressing racial and ethnic disparities related to substance use risk. I coordinate the launch of community-based research entitled “PhotovoiceOxnard” to document ‘race and place’ as factors of substance use risk and health status.

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Professional Experience & Partnerships (1)

CYPHER Impact Investment Exchange

Special Service for Groups (SSG) 

Fiscal sponsor for ongoing search for use cases for IoT, AI, VR/AR, and blockchain in the eight health/human service and two development sectors that comprise the field of social work.

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Courses (2)

SOWK 536: Policy and Advocacy in Professional Social Work

This course provides an understanding of U.S. social welfare policies and programs developed and implemented by all levels of government that seek to limit poverty, provide security and create opportunity for people, families and communities. Policies and advocacy efforts – past and present – will be explored and even joined in some of these subject areas.

Social Work 627: Policy and Macro Practice in Child, Youth and Family Services

This course provides context and preparation for social work practitioners on policy, macro practice, and leadership roles in communities and organizations serving children, youth, and families.

Research Articles & Publications (1)

Running a Social Enterprise as a Professional Social Worker. inSocialWork® Podcast Series, UB School of Social Work


Episode 266 - R. Bong Vergara: Running a Social Enterprise as a Professional Social Worker. (2019, June 17). inSocialWork® Podcast Series. [Audio Podcast] Retrieved from http://www.insocialwork.org/episode.asp?ep=266

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