For many college students, Spring Break might consist of lounging on a beach or catching up with old friends from home. But each year, a group of Ford School students works hard for the opportunity to spend Spring Break traveling to a developing country to engage with real-world policy issues.
In February 2008, Professors Susan Waltz and Ann Lin led twenty Masters of Public Policy students and five other graduate students from the School of Natural Resources and Environment, Ross School of Business, and the School of Public Health on a study trip to Jordan. The students experienced the rich culture and history of the country while meeting with the civil servants, NGOs, and policy makers that help shape the political climate in this key Middle Eastern nation.
The U-M International Economic Development Program (IEDP) was founded in 1999 by the International Policy Student Association (IPSA) and Ford School faculty. The students of IPSA select the country to be studied and visited each year and take much of the responsibility for planning the trip, fundraising, and making connections with relevant policymakers and organizations.
First year MPP student Jeffrey Ponte took the trip to Jordan. He describes the IEDP as "a forum for students to discuss economic development policies, focus on the international challenges that developing economies face, and closely examine the policies of a particular country." With only one week to spend in country, the IEDP students work hard in the months leading up to the trip to maximize their experience. Waltz taught a seven-week course in advance of the trip to give students a solid grounding in the policy issues and challenges faced by a developing economy such as Jordan. The first part of the course was open to any graduate student and focused on the evolution of Jordan's economic, political and social institutions and policies, beginning with the historical origins of the country. Students examined why the country embarked on the development strategies in different periods and the consequences of those strategies. The course then progressed to the pressing policy issues facing modern-day Jordan and how the nation's leaders are dealing with those problems given the internal and external constraints.
The second part of the course was limited to those students selected by faculty and IPSA to participate in the trip to Jordan. Students were divided into five groups focused on health, refugees, trade, water, or private sector development. Each group conducted thorough research on the topic and led the discussion for the larger class. The actual experience in Jordan lasted seven days. During the first five days, students met with mid- to high-level policy makers from NGOs, ministries, and businesses in the city of Amman. Some highlights included an interview with the Secretary General of the Ministry of Water and trips to the nature preserve and the Baqa'a refugee camp, where Ford students were able to see local agencies in action. The final two days of the trip, spent in Petra and the Dead Sea, enabled students to sightsee. During this time students were especially grateful for the chance to visit the home of a classmate and enjoy rich Middle Eastern cuisine, culture, and hospitality.
Prior to the trip, students were graded on deliverables such policy backgrounders, class participation, and group presentations. The capstone project was a final research report for country officials that detailed findings and recommendations on a range policy issues explored throughout the trip. Students also hosted a formal presentation for the University community upon their return.
Second-year MPP student Haley Gallagher referenced the direct professional impact of the course and trip, noting that "being able to [implement] a real consulting task in a developing country will help in my career pursuits." In addition to the hands-on policy experience gained, Ponte says that the trip taught him the importance of being patient and understanding in new cultural contexts and how to be a flexible member of a workgroup. For students at the Ford School who are interested in international development, the IEDP provides an outstanding opportunity to investigate an academic interest, apply newly-acquired skills directly in an authentic context, and prepare for the professional positions they may hold in the future.
A new group of students are already at work preparing for Spring Break 2009, which they will spend not on a beach, but studying policy in the Republic of Senegal. Learn more about the IEDP.