The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of MichiganThe Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan

Expanded Applied Policy Seminar to Launch in Fall 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010
Expanded Applied Policy Seminar to Launch in Fall 2010 image

In winter 2008, five Ford School MPP students assessed alternative scenarios for consolidating emergency dispatch efforts within Washtenaw County. The students constructed a sophisticated economic model, interviewed multiple actors to produce estimates for their model inputs, and produced short-term and long-term cost estimates for various scenarios. Their findings? That consolidating services would provide nearly $6.4 million in cost savings over ten years, after accounting for the costs to build a new dispatch center. Their twenty year projection estimated a cost savings of $27.3 million. County and local official have since taken significant steps toward implementing the students' recommendations.

Two years earlier, a team of ten students worked with the Wayne County, Michigan Economic Development Department to investigate governance options for a proposed major multijurisdictional economic development project. The final report and recommendations formed the basis for ongoing work by the Aerotropolis Taskforce, and in June 2009, a new economic development corporation modeled largely on the students' recommendations was adopted by the participating local governments.

For years, the Ford School's Applied Policy Seminar (APS) has enabled MPP students to tackle those sorts of significant problems in the public, private, or non-profit sectors. This fall, the school will launch an expanded version of the course-more students, more applied learning, and more real-world impact on public policy.

The restructured APS is the first finished element of the major MPP curriculum review the school began last year. While other teams are reviewing the core curriculum, the school's international offerings, electives, and more, Professor Elisabeth Gerber led the committee of faculty, staff, and students charged with evaluating the school's "practical engagement" offerings—activities that involve direct and sustained interactions with real-world policy organizations or individuals, and/or result in the development of professional non-academic skills.

The committee conducted interviews, document reviews, and student and employer focus groups, and their work was particularly informed by the results of the 2009 alumni survey. The group's recommendations—adopted by the school in October 2009—focus on restructuring the Applied Policy Seminar as a way to expand the school's practical engagement offerings.

The Applied Policy Seminar was a familiar and flexible base. "We looked to build on an existing strength of our MPP program," notes Gerber. "It was important as well that the new initiatives would have minimal impact on the budget. We're leveraging our faculty connections and the school's existing employer outreach efforts to widen the educational impact of the course."

The revamped Applied Policy Seminar will differ from past years in two ways. First, the course will be available to more students, providing them with more consulting projects from which to choose. The school will consistently offer two seminars each year, each including 3 or 4 different projects drawn from a range of local, national, and international policy arenas and requiring a variety of methodological approaches.

Second, students who take the seminar are required to take a new 1-credit professional skills component along with it (open to other students as well). This course will be led in part by outside experts and will cover topics such as project management, presentation skills, and report/technical writing—skills that are essential to the APS and are among those most strongly recommended by students and alumni in the curriculum surveys.

As of press time, three consulting projects have been confirmed for the Fall 2010 APS, including one for Amnesty International USA in which students will undertake a stakeholder analysis to support Amnesty's efforts to promote human rights in India and South Africa.

Policy professionals-interested in partnering with the Ford School on a project for your organization? Please contact Tom Phillips, assistant director of Graduate Career Services, at 734-615-6454 or


Below is a formatted version of this article from State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View the entire Spring 2010 State & Hill here.