WWS Blog

When Graduate Students Become the Teachers

Feb 28, 2014
Published by:
Eric Wilkens

Second-year Masters in Public Affairs (MPA) and Masters in Public Policy students shared with peers and Woodrow Wilson School administrators the findings of their Policy Workshops during a Policy Workshop Symposium on Feb. 6, 2014. 

The purpose of the symposium was for students to share their experiences and research and to offer tips to first-year MPA students on how to plan and execute their own Policy Workshops in Fall 2014. The information was presented in “TED”-like talks, in which students condensed a semester’s worth of research into five-minute presentations.
The event, organized by second-year MPA students Kidus Asfaw, John Speed Meyers and Steve Ross, focused a handful of student-research topics including post-Hurricane Sandy housing recovery policy; reducing homicide in Central America; assessing how transnational terrorist groups are affecting United Nations (U.N.) operations in field missions; health system delivery in Punjab, India; the implication of the Affordable Care Act in Illinois; and rural energy alternatives in India. 
Each Policy Workshop consisted of eight to 10 students working in teams to evaluate a policy challenge. The goal of the workshops, which are a required part of the MPA curriculum and were started in September 1997, is to examine a policy issue in great depth and to make policy recommendations that are both “creative and realistic.”
Many students conducted field-based research during the fall break for their topics. The workshop group that researched transnational terrorist groups split up and traveled to New York, N.Y.; Washington, D.C.; Dakar, Senegal; Bamako, Mali; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; and Nairobi, Kenya, to learn about how the U.N. is dealing with this issue in specific regions.  
Karen McGuinness, associate dean for graduate education at the Wilson School, said the symposium was a good way to showcase students’ work. “This was a great opportunity for second-year MPA students to share their findings with their classmates and with the first-year MPA students who are just embarking on this process,” McGuinness said. “It was particularly useful for them to hear the insider tips – such as the value of the geographic information systems class for preparing workshop reports.” 
First-year MPA students said the event was helpful in deciding how to approach their own Policy Workshops in Fall 2014. “The symposium was a great opportunity for us to get a feel for what worked – and what didn’t – last year,” said Emily King, MPA ‘15. “The most helpful part was gaining an understanding about the diversity of policy workshops conceptually, geographically and structurally.”  
Elena Serna-Wallender, MPA ’14, presented her research findings on the Affordable Care Act. She said the workshop was valuable to her professionally and personally. “Getting to see the process of implementing such a far-reaching and monumental piece of legislation in its earliest stages really made all that we learn in the classroom tangible,” she said. “I’m grateful to the workshop advisers, Heather Howard, lecturer in public affairs and director of the state health reform assistance network, and Chad Shearer, lecturer in public affairs and deputy director of the state health reform assistance network, for the time and energy they devoted to this project.” 
Virginia Poggio, MPA ’14, presented her research findings on the health system delivery in Punjab. She said the symposium was an effective way to pass along insights and advice to first-year MPA students in preparation for their own experiences. 
“I would advise the first year MPAs to invest a substantial amount of time thinking about the Policy Workshop in the early stages,” Poggio said. “All planning done at this stage will save a lot of work and time later on in the second half of the year. Most importantly, take advantage of this opportunity to learn and have fun!”


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