Knowledge in Action:
Policy Students Tackle Real-World Problems through MPP Practicum
By Cristy Lytal
Every year, the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development master of public policy students tackle real-world problems through the Policy Analysis Practicum.
Student teams conduct professional-level research and analysis for high-profile clients across the country on topics ranging from the effectiveness of federal block grant programs to local public-private partnerships and the implications of an aging workforce.
In 2010, clients included the Congressional Research Service, the RAND Corp., the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C.; and other local public, private and nonprofit clients such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Los Angeles Urban Renewal Network, the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, Deloitte Consulting and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in San Francisco.
Master of public policy student Matt Harrison, who explored the issue of visa overstays for the Government Accountability Office, said, “Having a client who is so renowned in the government and policy community is really exciting. Learning how they work, working directly with them and providing value is very rewarding.”
Associate professor Juliet Musso, who leads the Policy Analysis Practicum, explained that students form teams based on their personal research interests. “It is an opportunity for students to apply what they’ve learned while making a significant impact on issues they are passionate about,” said Musso, who also directs SPPD’s graduate programs in public management and policy.
The students’ research is so relevant and up-to-the-minute that one project, an exploration of street vending in Boyle Heights for the Los Angeles Urban Renewal Network, has already garnered media attention from the largest chain of Hispanic-owned bilingual newspapers in the United States. The article, “Lots of ‘Grey Area’ In Street Vending Issue,” detailed the students’ results.
“The article goes over our key findings and recommendations, which I believe brings a new perspective to the issue,” said master of public policy student Jasmine Kim.
As an added benefit, the practicum enables students to make valuable workplace contacts in the critical year before graduation. Abigail Goldstein, who studied the impact of the baby boomer retirement on local governments in Southern California for Deloitte, appreciated this entree into the working world.
“The client contact with Deloitte has been really helpful,” she said. “All of us on our team are interested in the consulting field, so we’ve been getting a taste of what it’s like. They’ve really been helpful in facilitating those networking opportunities at Deloitte and in the public sector.”
The clients also view the practicum as a win-win situation. “Besides giving them the experience, we get the benefit of a result which we can actually use,” said Nick Chiominto, a member of SPPD’s advisory board and principal with Deloitte.
Housing and Urban Development sociologist Barbara Haley, who asked students to evaluate the HOME Investment Partnership Program, said, “The advantage to us is we’ve learned something about this program that we didn’t know before.”
Another client, associate policy researcher at the RAND Corp. Jennifer L. Steele, who charged SPPD students with analyzing ways to meet the challenges of attracting high-quality teachers to struggling schools, said: “They did a phenomenal job. I loved working with them. I would do something like this again in a heartbeat.”
The SPPD student projects for 2010 were:
In Pursuit of High-Quality Teachers
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
HOME Investment Partnership Program in the City of Los Angeles
First 5 L.A.
Childhood Obesity in Los Angeles County: Strategies Toward Prevention and Intervention
Los Angeles Urban Renewal Network
Street Vending in Boyle Heights: Opportunities and Challenges
Los Angeles Unified School District Bond Oversight Committee
The Influence of School Facilities on Student, Parent and Community Engagement
Congressional Research Service
The Growing Enrollment in Federal Social Security Disability Insurance
City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works
Public Works Is Public Safety: Surviving the Budget Crisis
Implications of the Aging Workforce on Government Agencies in Southern California
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Green Pathways Home: Reducing California’s Recidivism Rate While Enhancing the Emerging Green Economy
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent of Schools
Transparent Budgeting in LAUSD
Planning Company Associates
Quantifying the Benefits of Infill Development in Suburban California Communities
U.S. Government Accountability Office
Preventing Visa Overstays: Administrative Tools and Acculturation Programs