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MPP Practicum Pairs Policy Students with Real-World Clients

By Cristy Lytal

Students at City Hall Los Angeles City Ethics Commission:
“Pay-to-Play Practices in the City of Los Angeles”

How can an online game educate Californians about carbon emissions? What’s the best way for the California government to prepare for the Baby Boomer retirement? Can private canine companies provide an effective and reasonably priced screening method to enhance airline security? These are a few of the real-world issues that USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development master of public policy (MPP) students tackled during the 2011 Policy Analysis Practicum.

In 2011, clients included Universidad Anáhuac Xalapa in Mexico, Deloitte Consulting, the RAND Corporation, United States Institute of Peace, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Grameen Foundation. Students also worked with local public, private and non-profit clients such as the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, the Public Policy Institute of California, the Blue Sky Consulting Group, Western Center on Law and Poverty and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.

Students at LA Chamber of Commerce Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce:
“Economic Impact Assessment of the North Airfield Reconfiguration of LAX”

By pairing groups of students with these high-profile clients, the practicum provides real-world applications for lessons learned inside the classroom.

Matthew Tecle, whose group explored economic impacts related to the CalFresh and CalWORKs programs, enjoyed working with his two clients: Neighborhood Legal Services and Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“It was very enriching and a really good experience,” he said. “The people that we were working with at Neighborhood Legal Services are really interested in looking at south L.A. And, we had another client at Western Center on Law and Poverty that works up in Sacramento. So it was interesting to see how our project would be used within local advocacy and service delivery and then at the state legislature level, too.”

Tecle and his team were able to provide a valuable service to the clients, who plan to include the findings in a major press release.

“At the end of the day, when we need to go and advocate, this data is really the most useful way in which we can present our argument,” said Antionette Dozier, an attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Working with the students who were interested in seeing a real-world application of some of the work was gratifying, and it reaffirmed how important it is to have the actual hard data and analysis.”

Students at LA Chamber of Commerce Natural Resources Defense Council:
“Electrification of the Alameda Corridor”

Nu Usaha, managing attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, added, “The students are very smart, and they’re very enthusiastic. They asked a lot of good questions. They were quite insightful. They were very receptive to what we wanted because we had a purpose for their work — they were great.”

The students credited USC and SPPD for training them to tackle such challenging projects.

Elba Garcia Gonzalez, whose group researched pay-to-play practices related to City Council-approved contracts for the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said, “USC does a really good job of preparing you to use your skills in facing some of these issues outside of the classroom setting. And that was my main lesson from the practicum project — how to apply the analytical skills.”

Many students pointed to specific courses that equipped them for the experience.

Students present at RAND Corp RAND Corporation:
“The Role of Private Resources in Urban Public Schools”

Nancy Leu, whose group examined the decline in the number of foster care youth for the Public Policy Institute of California, said the “practicum is really pulling together everything that we learn in school and applying them by doing research and analysis. We will definitely take these skills and use them in our jobs.”

Tyler Durschlag-Richardson, whose team identified barriers to brownfields redevelopment along the I-710 corridor for the EPA, felt that “a big portion of what we were looking at was directly out of one of our courses, Public Policy Formulation and Implementation. We really saw a lot of that in action.”

Andrew Kim had an opportunity to work with a wide range of statistical tools and models – many of which he learned during his time at SPPD – while conducting an economic impact assessment of the Los Angeles International Airport north airfield reconfiguration for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

Students at EPA Environmental Protection Agency:
“Determining Barriers to Brownfield Development in the I-710 Corridor”

“A lot of the stuff that we did, we’ll actually have to do when we’re in the workplace,” he said. “I just had my first day as a summer intern at the Port of Los Angeles, and I’ll be doing economic development there. They also use some of the same economic models that I worked on while doing my project, so I feel like that will give me an edge knowing that information in advance.”

He added, “I also really enjoyed working in a group, because it’s completely relatable to real-life policy analysis. Very rarely are we going be working on a project of this magnitude on our own.”

Lexi Richards appreciated that her group’s project – which looked at private fundraising at LAUSD elementary schools for the RAND Corporation – was so well-aligned with her own professional goals.

“I am interested in fundraising, non-profit work and education, so the project was right up my alley,” she said. “That was one of the great things about the practicum experience. The expertise I gained during this intensive research project will serve me very well, whether I go into a nonprofit role or research role or work in the education policy arena.”

Students at Lewis Hall Public Policy Institute of California:
“Evaluating California’s Foster Care System”

She added, “It was probably the most academically challenging and rewarding experience I had during my time at SPPD, and certainly a highlight of the MPP program.”

The SPPD student projects for 2011 were:

Public Policy Institute of California
“Evaluating California’s Foster Care System”

Los Angeles City Ethics Commission
“Pay-to-Play Practices in the City of Los Angeles”

Government Accountability Office (GAO)
“Analysis of the Transportation Security Administration’s Explosive Detection Canines in the Aviation Security Program: Can Privatization Enhance Cargo Screening?”

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
“Economic Impact Assessment of the North Airfield Reconfiguration of the Los Angeles International Airport”

United States Institute of Peace
“Designing an Effective Evaluation System”

Universidad Anáhuac Xalapa in Mexico
“Designing Academic Research to Evaluate the Economic Impact of the Expansion of the Port of Veracruz, Mexico”

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)
“Career Pathways of LAUSD Administrators and Human Resources Best Practices”

Deloitte Consulting
“Bridging the Gap: Opportunities for Workforce and Succession Planning in California State Government”

RAND Corporation
“The Role of Private Resources in Urban Public Schools”

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
“Determining Barriers to Brownfield Development in the I-710 Corridor”

Natural Resources Defense Council
“Electrification of the Alameda Corridor”

Neighborhood Legal Services, Western Center on Law and Poverty
“An Economic Analysis of Changes to Food Stamp and CalWORKs Funding in South Los Angeles”

Grameen Foundation
“Strategic Expansion into Higher Education”

The Blue Sky Consulting Group
“The California Carbon Challenge”