USC Price students think globally in the Policy Analysis Practicum

June 19, 2018

By Cristy Lytal

Thanks to the year-long Policy Analysis Practicum, Master of Public Policy students from the USC Price School of Public Policy added a new line to their résumés: consultants for high-level domestic and international clients, including government agencies, municipalities, nonprofits, foundations, and more.

In this professional-oriented capacity, the students tackled timely policy issues ranging from refugee rights to water conservation to emergency preparedness.

“The thing that impressed me was the broad set of projects taking on the cutting-edge issues that people out in the world are facing — whether they’re in the nonprofit sector, the for-profit sector, or the government sector,” said Professor Gary Painter, who co-teaches the MPP practicum course.

The students worked in small teams for international clients including the United Nations, Al Otro Lado, the UNIMINUTO University (Bogotá, Colombia) Emprendeverde program and the International Refugee Assistance Project. National clients included the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Government Accountability Office. And, local clients included the City of Beverly Hills, Innovative Housing Opportunities, the Los Angeles Mayor’s Sustainability Office, the Los Angeles Department of Planning, the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone and Price Philanthropies.

“One of the interesting facets of this experience for the students is when clients get excited, the students really see how seriously this is taken,” said Professor Dan Mazmanian, who co-teaches the MPP practicum course. “And they have this epiphany: we’re really doing good work.”

Promoting sustainable development across UN nations

John-Mary Kauzya of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (third from right) with Price students following their presentation at the UN.

The 2018 Biller Award for most outstanding practicum project went to a team of MPP students consulting for the United Nations. The team – consisting of Bethany McKee, Hilary Olson, Han Shen and Xiaomeng Xu – created a framework for determining whether sustainable development programs that are successful in one local community can be transferred to other communities throughout in the world.

Looking at four such programs, the students developed case studies: registering births of vulnerable children in Indonesia; finding alternative income sources for beggars in Bangladesh; reducing loneliness among the elderly in Spain; and building stone bridges in Uganda.

Drawing on these case studies, the students developed a framework for identifying successful programs, and outlined key “transferability characteristics” for translating programs into different communities, including least developed countries.

Photos courtesy of Frank Zerunyan

The student team presented these recommendations at the UN headquarters in New York.

“It was really incredible, particularly after our presentation, how they were treating us as colleagues at that point,” Olson said. “They were just very welcoming. They made us feel like we’d done a good job, and they appreciated our work.”

This practicum project represented the third year that USC Price students had served as consultants for the UN under the faculty mentorship of Professor Frank Zerunyan.

“I am proud of our students, who perform at the highest level in translating policy into implementable public administration projects,” said Zerunyan, who also serves as director of executive education at USC Price. “I thank my colleagues and friends at the United Nations for giving us the opportunity to advance our global community.”

According to practicum client John-Mary Kauzya, Chief of the Governance and Public Administration Branch of the Division for Public Administration and Development Management at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “the cooperation between USC Price and the UN has been mutually beneficial.

Kauzya added, “I would like to express appreciation of the university for availing this opportunity to the students and Professor Frank Zerunyan for guiding them through the work.”

Measuring social impact in Colombia

Professor Gary Painter and students Andrea Avila Gordillo, Joanna Cortez Hernandez, Danielle Guillen, and Malaika Elithia Merid in Colombia (Photo courtesy of UNIMINUTO)

Another practicum team took on an international consulting role for UNIMINUTO University’s Emprendeverde program in Bogotá, Colombia. The program aims to develop student entrepreneurs in order to promote green business and to reduce the high unemployment rates among low-income youth.

Photo courtesy of UNIMINUTO

The practicum team – Andrea Avila Gordillo, Joanna Cortez Hernandez, Danielle Guillen, and Malaika Elithia Merid – first researched how other entrepreneurship programs measure their social impact, and then applied these findings to Emprendeverde. By conducting informational interviews in Bogotá, the team determined that Empreverde’s biggest social impacts involve the empowerment, wellbeing and community networks of student entrepreneurs and their households. Based on these findings, the practicum team created 10 indicators to measure the short-term and long-term social impacts of Emprendeverde.

“All four of us took a class last semester on international nonprofit management, and most of the stuff we learned in that class applied to the project,” said Gordillo, who spent part of her childhood in Colombia. “I took a class in program evaluation that helped put together the questions, and understand how to conduct interviews and gather data from the interviews.”

According to Gordillo, the experience of working with a client was great preparation for life after graduation and for the pursuit of a career in international policy.

“It made me more marketable, because I can put that on my résumé now that I actually worked on an international project,” she said.

Addressing asylum seekers at the U.S. Southern border

From left: Tiffany Panganiban, Briana Calleros, Nicole Brown and Stina Rosenquist (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

A separate international practicum project focused on the issue of parole for asylum seekers at the U.S. Southern border. Students Nicole Brown, Briana Calleros, Tiffany Panganiban, and Stina Rosenquist prepared this research for the nonprofit organization Al Otro Lado, which provides legal support for refugees in Tijuana, Mexico, and Los Angeles.

“We learned a tremendous amount from our client, who is a really amazing person and a true advocate for people who are extremely vulnerable,” Brown said. “It’s super rewarding to work with people who are doing some of the hardest work.”

Some of this hard work relates to Executive Order 13767, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” a recent policy change that led to increased denials of parole for asylum seekers.

To assess the impacts of this executive order, the practicum team analyzed Al Otro Lado’s case data and interviewed former detainees.

The students found that detainees had a better chance for parole if their sponsors were citizens, owned homes and earned higher income. The students also found inconsistencies across detention centers in terms of the likelihood of being granted parole.

During their interviews with former detainees, the students heard reports of physical violence, verbal abuse, isolation cells, refusal of medical care and denial of the necessities of basic hygiene such as toilet paper and soap. The groups also heard of pregnant detainees being denied medical care, with some suffering miscarriages.

“We all traveled to Tijuana,” Brown said. “We were helping a lot of lawyers and other folks who were supporting people, just making sure they have the documentation that they need, that they understood what their rights are once they turn themselves into immigration authorities. And so that was extremely powerful, because we met hundreds of families, unaccompanied minors, moms with small children. And it was an extremely impactful experience — just to remember ultimately what is truly important about what we’re doing.”

Sustainability strategies for drought-stricken California

Haley Bartosik and Jeffrey Roth (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

At the behest of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), another practicum team explored an issue closer to home: evaluating strategies for water management to adapt to climate change in California. The team consisted of Haley Bartosik, Jeffrey Roth, Jamie Skiba and Yiwen Yuchi.

“[Our group] had a natural rapport right off the bat,” Roth said. “It worked really well when we were all sitting together at the table, trying to flesh things out.”

The students focused on four water management adaptation strategies: water diversification, surface water storage, groundwater management and water reclamation. To evaluate the success of these strategies, they developed a tool, which they named the Climate Adaptation Strategy Rubric (CASER). This tool incorporated a stakeholder analysis, expert interviews and case studies.

“We had several people who joined the presentation of the team, including one woman in Washington, who works for the Office of Water,” said client Andy Miller, Associate Director for the Climate at the EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program. “And everybody was very pleased with the report and thought it was well done, and it was very helpful.”

The experience was equally helpful to the students, who developed professional skills and confidence through the opportunity to present and contribute to a project for the EPA.

“It was very validating to know that we were able to come up with something that experts essentially thought was a cool approach,” Roth said.

2018 MPP Practicum Projects

See more Practicum presentation photos on Flickr »

The 2018 MPP Practicum projects were:

“Parole of asylum seekers at the U.S. Southern Border”
Client: Al Otro Lado
Students: Nicole Brown, Brianna Calleros, Tiffany Panganiban, Stina Rosenquist

“Expanding post-disaster medical coverage in Beverly Hills”
Client: City of Beverly Hills
Students: Meara Algama, Michael Frelier, Jesus Manuel Garcia, Yijuan Zhang

“Mobility as a service: Electrifying transportation in Los Angeles”
Client: City of Los Angeles ¬– Mayor’s Sustainability Office
Students: Jeremy Bates, Gilbert Felix, Oscar Neyra Nazarrett, Radin Rahimzadeh

“Evaluating climate adaptation strategies: A report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”
Client: Environmental Protection Agency
Students: Haley Bartosik, Jeffrey Roth, Jamie Skiba, Yiwen Yuchi

“Workforce implications of emerging commercial remotely piloted aircraft industry”
Client: Government Accountability Office
Students: Karina Alvarez, Adali Arroyo, Linda Ly, Jue Song

“Strategies to increase funding, development and impact of affordable housing in Los Angeles County”
Client: Innovative Housing Opportunities
Students: Alexis Costales, Chinaza Oti, Elizabeth Schoen, Xuepan Zeng

“A cost-benefit analysis of the Afghan special immigrant visa program”
Client: International Refugee Assistance Project
Students: Alex Anthony, Senndy Baide, Jennifer Kress, Yuexuan Xu

“OurLA2014: A vision for Los Angeles’ single family neighborhoods”
Client: Los Angeles Department of Planning
Students: David Bocarsly, Miaomiao Hu, Gabrielle Tilley

“Opportunities and challenges of implementing autonomous and connected vehicle technologies in the national park setting”
Client: National Park Service
Students: Lauren Deaderick, Nicole Enciso, Yichao Gao, Reed Humphrey

“Shared equity homeownership in City Heights”
Client: Price Philanthropies
Students: Christopher Ah San, Grace Fulop, Haiyue Jiang

“Developing a baseline understanding of SLATE-Z partners’ efforts, barriers and opportunities in providing reentry services in the South LA Promise Zone”
Client: South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone
Students: Alexandria Braboy, Taylor Ferguson, Kyle Gray, Wenyan Xu

“Measuring the social impact of Emprendeverde: Promising models and best practices for effectively facilitating social entrepreneurship”
Client: UNIMINUTO – Emprendeverde
Students: Andrea Avila Gordillo, Joanna Cortez Hernandez, Danielle Guillen, Malaika Elithia Merid

“Transferability of localized programs: A framework for determining the success and transferability of localized program policies”
Client: United Nations
Students: Bethany McKee, Hilary Olson, Han Shen, Xiaomeng Xu