Student-led conference introduces local high-school students to public policy

June 11, 2010

New voices filled Weill Hall on March 13 as high school students from southeastern Michigan gathered for Public Policy Connects (PPC), a conference aimed at introducing sophomores and juniors to the world of public policy and helping prepare them for the college application process.

"There is often a lack of opportunity to engage in understanding political issues and the policy process. Public Policy Connects attempts to fill that void and expose students to new areas and new ideas," says Taurean Brown, one of the PPC founders. Brown and Lishaun Francis, both master's students at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, started the conference just last year. Brown got the idea from Project WRITE (Writing and Reading as Integral Tools for Education), a program she established as an undergraduate at Stanford University. Project WRITE is a 10-week workshop designed to develop high school students' writing skills and Brown saw an opportunity to do the same for public policy.

The Ford School's long-standing Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) summer program prepares undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds for graduate programs in public policy. With the school's new bachelor's program (founded in 2007), the daylong PPC conference offers high school students an opportunity to learn about public policy. Although much shorter than the seven-week PPIA program, it teaches students what public policy is, the impact it has on their lives, and what they can do to make a difference. In workshops led by representatives of the Ford School's many student organizations, participants discuss important policy issues including international security, health policy, and the environment. The students also learn about U-M's application process, admissions requirements, and financial aid opportunities, as well as careers in public service.

"This is yet another example of the outstanding commitment and initiative of Ford School students," says Trey Williams, director of Student Services at the Ford School. "They dedicate their time, resources, and energy to make the conference a success."

While public schools throughout Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit are encouraged to take part in the event, PPC targets underrepresented groups of students to encourage diversity in the field of public policy and at the Ford School. In 2007, after the passage of Michigan's Proposal 2, which banned the use of affirmative action programs in higher education, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said the University would continue to strive for a diverse, welcoming campus, "We will find ways to overcome the handcuffs that Proposal 2 attempts to place on our reach for greater diversity." While not the primary goal of PPC, such programs can help do this by creating a pipeline of talented young people and increasing their interest in the University of Michigan and in public policy in general.

Students and staff are working to ensure that this important event can continue. They are applying for longer-term funding to help expand and institutionalize PPC and recently received a grant from the Office of the Senior Vice Provost and University of Michigan Diversity Council towards this end.

PPC, a conference by students for students, is the result of student action. It is their hard work and enthusiasm that makes PPC possible. Francis is already working in Washington, DC and Brown is a dual degree student at the School of Law. This year a new set of leaders stepped up to the plate, with master's student Melvin Gaines taking a lead role. With continued support, PPC will become an exciting new Ford School tradition.