Public policy program to celebrate 30th anniversary

July 20, 2011

In 1981 U-M joined several public policy schools across the country to create a program to prepare young adults for an advanced degree, and ultimately for careers in public policy. The goal was to boost graduate school participation from under-represented groups and to better serve society by building diversity in government and private policy organizations.

That year, U-M joined other institutions in forming the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. This month, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy marks the 30th anniversary of its Summer Program in Public Policy and International Affairs with a gathering of program alumni.

"PPIA at 30 Years: The Ford School Celebrates" will be presented July 22 in Room 1230, Weill Hall. It features an alumni panel from 2-3:00 p.m. and an anniversary reception from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in the Great Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

"The idea for the national program is to build the number of underrepresented minorities in public service, working as policy makers and community leaders and as federal government employees," says Susan M. Collins, Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy at the Ford School.

"The PPIA program at the Ford School has provided free training to more than 600 students who have gone on to launch successful careers at the United Nations, the U.S. Department of State, the Government Accountability Office, and dozens of other public and private policy institutions," Collins says.

As Ford School leaders prepare the celebration, a group of 17 PPIA students attends classes at U-M as part of this year's seven-week program. Eligibility for the program no longer is limited to racial and ethnic minorities; rather, PPIA training is open to all undergrad students with a demonstrated commitment to public service and an ability to contribute to more diverse perspectives in public policy and international affairs. They study economics and statistics, attend policy seminars, and receive intensive writing instruction.

"The idea is that by the time they leave they'll be well qualified to apply for master's programs in public policy," Collins says.

During a recent session of the Health Care Reform in the United States policy module, Ford School associate professor Matthew Davis asks students, "Let's think about the Medicaid program and the people it covers, such as children and pregnant women living in poverty. Some people will ask, 'What does society owe to a woman who's pregnant?'" He asks the group to think and talk about why governments around the world decide to support pregnant women through public programs like Medicaid.

Diego Melo, a student at Macalester College in Minnesota, offers, "She's putting an investment in taking care of this baby that's coming, and this will be a productive force later."

"As undergraduates, PPIA students study fields such as political science, international affairs, and economics, which inform their questions about public policy issues — this is new for them," Davis says. "This program is designed to give them an in-depth look at what a public policy graduate program might bring them."

Organizers hope that students will consider multidisciplinary graduate options; the Ford School supports 14 such dual degrees, and U-M is one of just two universities nationwide with a joint medical degree and master's in public policy.

An associate professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, and associate professor of internal medicine in the Medical School, Davis also is an associate professor of public policy in the Ford School. He has taught in the PPIA several summers during the past decade. He says the high caliber and drive of PPIA students keep him coming back to lead sessions about health policy. "Their personal stories are inspiring, and their potential to make a real difference in the world of policy is huge," Davis says.

Participating students receive a $1,000 stipend, help with travel, university housing with meals, course supplies, and library and computer access. PPIA fellows receive graduate fellowships of at least $5,000. Those who complete the U-M summer program may be eligible for a Rackham Merit Award, which includes tuition and fees, a stipend and health care.

"The University of Michigan is one of just a handful of universities whose commitment to PPIA never wavered," Collins says. "We're proud of our 30 years of support for the program, and proud of the impact our alums have had on public policy."

By Kevin Brown