Students Across Campus Engage with Policy Through Posters
Posted January 12, 2022
Each fall, approximately 350 students enroll in POL 1101: Government of the United States. Many of them are first- or second-year undergraduates in non-humanities fields. Julia Melkers, a professor in the School of Public Policy and one of the instructors for POL 1101, knows that most of these students aren’t majoring in public policy, but she is determined to make sure that they find a way to engage with it, nevertheless.
That’s why she has created the “Generation Z Summit,” a group project where students gather and explore evidence related to a contemporary policy issue of their choice. At the end of each semester, her students gather to present their findings in a Summit poster session, comparing how state governments approach various policy issues within the vast U.S. federal system. This year’s session was held in the Klaus Atrium, where students presented their posters, asked questions of one another, debated issues, and showcased their newfound knowledge of a subject.
“Students get really excited when they are able to see how policy challenges and solutions are approached in different states. They ask and answer: why?” Melkers said. “The U.S. has more than 89,000 governmental units, and they get to understand these interrelationships. It gives more meaning on the complexity of public policy. They get really excited about it.”
These poster sessions were borne from the Ebola crisis in 2015. With cases being reported around the world and international uncertainty climbing, Melkers wanted her students to be able to learn more about an important public health issue. She divided the class into groups representing various stakeholders, including private businesses and national, state, and local governments. Students then designed posters examining the roles of these different policy actors in curbing the spread of Ebola.
Now, the poster sessions look different, as students present on any state government policies, from autonomous vehicles to racial inequality to managing invasive species. However, the emphasis on both individual and collaborative research to understand a policy issue enough to be able to present it to their peers has stayed the same.
“Engineers will always be working in systems within the realms of policy; it’s a part of our everyday lives. Having this early interaction with policy allows them to understand how these greater systems are impacting their daily lives,” said Phillip Carnell, teaching assistant for POL 1101 in Fall 2021.
Throughout the semester, POL 1101 students complete both individual and group research projects before bringing everything together for the poster session. Group sizes typically range from three to five people, and students can provide their preferences on which topic they’d like to study.
“This project is important for students to reflect on why they have the political opinions that they do,” Melkers added. “It’s not only about learning how public policy works; it’s about learning how we as individuals and professionals can impact public policy.”
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