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My capstone course was a stepping stone

Senior reflects on the capstone: Applying policy analysis in Virginia and beyond
By Lauren Moore ('11)

Public Policy and Administration Senior Seminar students in Richmond
Dimitry Pompee ('11) with members of the State Legislature

(Top)Public Policy and Administration Senior Seminar students share a trip to Richmond to meet key politicians and politicos. (Front row, l-r): Jackie Zeller, Lauren Moore, Sun Jun, Nicole Monaysar and Chelsea Peace. (Back row, l-r): Matt Lohr, Greg Staples, Nick Dahl and Dimitry Pompee. (Above)Dimitry Pompee ('11) presents recommendations to a panel of policy experts (l-r) Del. Richard Bell Va.R., Dist. 20), Judy Wyatt, Del. Tony Wilt (Va.R., Dist. 26) and Sen. Frank Ruff (Va.R., Dist. 15).

For my senior capstone class, I expected a monotonous review of everything my classmates and I had learned in previous courses; so I was excited to find my public policy senior seminar (PPA 492) on applied state policy analysis was just the opposite. This course substantiated everything I learned in all other policy classes and has by far been the most helpful during my post-graduation work.

The capstone course for students with a public policy concentration is intended to provide an “overview of public policy studies and the different approaches to research in the field.” While the course required a significant amount of review, particularly of the Research Methods class, it was unique in that all of the policy and research knowledge we had learned had to be applied. We not only needed to remember the definition of a “SWOT” analysis or cost-benefit analysis, but we had to use those methods to develop policy papers. As if that were not challenging enough, we also had to present our policy recommendations to a panel of experts, including Virginia legislators Sen. Frank Ruff (15th Dist.); Delegates Dickie Bell (20th Dist.) and Tony Wilt (26th Dist.); and other stakeholders; including Judy Wyatt, legislative aide to Del. Steve Landes (25th Dist.); Emily Webb, policy assistant from the Virginia Secretary of Education’s office; and Rebecca Joyce, senior planner from the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission.

In the first week of class, my classmates and I came up with policy issues that were relevant to what was happening in Virginia. The class then narrowed the topics down to four and formed groups divided by personal interests. Topics ranged from reducing costs in higher education to alternatives to incarceration and Virginia’s energy policy. While we were encouraged to work with our group throughout the semester, each person was responsible for developing a policy paper. Later, groups chose the best ideas from each paper and combined them into a single report. Class material was structured around this final paper, which was tremendously helpful.

We presented our finished projects to the expert panel. Many groups, as in my case, presented to experts specific to our research. Panel members were tough and asked difficult questions. They questioned our methodologies and gave recommendations as well.

This process, though at times frustrating and difficult, taught me lessons that I have been able to use in my daily work. As a research assistant at a public policy research firm in Baltimore, I am expected to use these same methods to develop policy papers, and most importantly I am expected to work very closely with two other research assistants on these projects. My group work in the senior seminar prepared me for this. It is not easy to write a paper with two other people with different opinions, strengths, weaknesses and organizational styles. From my experience answering (or not being able to answer) tough questions from the panel of policy experts, I learned how to take constructive criticism and be respectful of others with different ideas and beliefs.

My Public Policy Senior Seminar experience has followed me into the real world and helped me succeed.