Public Policy Connects – masters’ students helping to inspire the next generation of students

Guest post by Carmen Ye, 1st year MPP student:

On Friday, March 10, the Ford School welcomed a new group of students. Twenty-nine high school students from the Detroit Leadership Academy (DLA) and Washtenaw International (WIHI) joined Ford for a day at the annual Public Policy Connects (PPC) conference. Organized by the Association of Public Policy for Learning and Education (APPLE), PPC aims to educate high school students about the field of public policy and careers in public policy, and challenge them to think about issues in their communities in a policy-oriented way. This year’s PPC organizers were Kate Naranjo, Hannah Bauman, and me.

PPC picture 1The day started with a panel asking “What Is Public Policy?”, featuring Susan Guindi, the Director of Student and Academic Services; Talha Mirza, a junior and Ford B.A. student; and Charisse Wilkins, a first-year MPP and MBA student. Perhaps the most exciting thing about this session was not the diversity in the panelists’ experiences, interests, and backgrounds, but that Talha himself had been a PPC participant when he had attended WIHI. It was truly full circle to see Talha speaking to students from a high school he had graduated from several years ago.

During the Q&A portion of the panel, the students asked thoughtful and engaged questions. One senior, who knew she wanted to study engineering in college, asked, “How can I still be involved in public policy as an engineer?” I thought of something I had heard during my time with the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program, “There are few roads that do not lead to public policy.” And Susan conveyed this in her response, emphasizing that engineering is not isolated from things like energy and environmental policy, and to volunteer for causes she cares about.

The remaining sessions of PPC involved small group break-outs. Starting with a community scan, facilitators asked students what issues they cared about in their community. They PPC picture 2identified topics ranging from lack of mentorship to police brutality to inequality between school districts. One discussed the systemic discrimination in the incarceration system, and highlighted sentencing differences between crack and powder cocaine as a factor contributing to oppression. Listening to them talk about such heavy topics in incredibly articulate and critical ways, it was hard to believe these students were only in high school. They demonstrated an impressive emotional maturity, reminding me that people of color are great policy leaders because our lived experiences bring us closest to the problems we are trying to address.

PPC ended with lunch and a campus tour, where the students were able to take a spin of the Cube and see a sample dorm room. For some, walking through the dorm made higher education that much more tangible. Lashonta from DLA said, “I’ve learned a lot from the trip and it makes me want to attend and become a student there.” Indeed, the teacher from DLA later wrote us, “The kids have not stopped texting, calling, and following me around at school to tell me about what a great time they had on Friday.”

PPC picture 3

As we prepare to wrap up the school year, PPC has been a highlight of my first year at Ford. Feedback like, “I just want to say thank you for the experience at U of M. It was amazing to go to my dream college,” is the entire reason I am in graduate school – to encourage and empower young people of color to have a seat at the table.

They think we inspired them. But really, every day, they inspire us.






A conversation with Julia Weinert, Assistant Director of Poverty Solutions

In October 2016, the University of Michigan announced the establishment of Poverty Solutions, a university wide research center headed by Ford School faculty member Luke Shaefer. I had an opportunity to talk with Julia Weinert, who was recently named as the assistant director of the center, to gain more insight into their work.

According to Julia, Poverty Solutions originated from a faculty dinner hosted by University of Michigan (UM) president Mark Schlissel, to garner opinions from the faculty of the university as to the societal problems they believed the university could impact the most. This issue of poverty was at the top of the list. Given the wide range of work being done across campus, the decision was made to designate an initiative to help track and harness these efforts. One of the main goals for Poverty Solutions is to leverage the breadth and depth of resources of the university to put research into action.

An early project that Poverty Solutions is tackling is a summer jobs program for youth in Washtenaw County.  The Summer Youth Employment Program brings together the University of Michigan’s Ginsberg Center, the Youth Policy Lab, University Human Resources and Washtenaw County community partners to leverage the resources of UM to help at risk students find summer employment, both on campus and at other partner sites in the community.  In addition to helping with job placement, Poverty Solutions is also focused on helping to identify and alleviate the barriers these students often encounter, such as transportation or equipment. Students in the program will also participate in professional development activities. By gathering data from the program participants and comparing it to similar youth jobs programs taking place around the country, the Poverty Solutions team hopes to gain a better understanding of those factors that really contribute to success and develop a set of best practices to share.

While Poverty Solutions is in the early stages of development, the programs they are sponsoring provide an exciting beginning to the work they hope to accomplish. You can learn more about the center by visiting their website at

Best wishes, Beth


Student profile: Daniela Oliva

Oliva, Daniela croppedI was born and raised in Santiago, the capital of Chile. I attended Diego Portales University to get my bachelor degree, with a major in Political Science. After graduation, my first job was at CIEPLAN, a Chilean think tank focusing on national and Latin American politics and economy. In the following years, I had several and very different jobs: I was an analyst for a market research consulting company; a member of the gender unit for Michelle Bachelet’s Presidential Campaign; a consultant at the Office for the South Cone of Latin America of the International Labor Organization (ILO); and an advisor at the Chilean Ministry of Interior. During this period, I also worked as a teaching assistant, tutor and research assistant at the School of Political Science of my university.

During this past summer, I interned at CARE USA, in their Washington DC office. I worked with the Competitive Bids Unit, elaborating a report that analyzed the FY2017 Congressional Budget Justification for International Affairs and its consequences for the organization’s priorities and funding opportunities.

Currently, my policy focus is on development and inequality, social policy and gender.

Q – Public policy isn’t one of the most obvious career paths. Describe the path that brought you to it. 

As a political scientist, I had a very intense research-focused and academic training. I spent most of my undergrad period, and some years after graduation, researching about political systems and institutions, elections’ outcomes and women political representation. Even though I care a lot about these issues and I believe they are of great importance for countries and governments, I felt my work, and political science in general, had a very abstract approach and it was directed mainly to other researchers and scholars. I have a genuine interest and passion about inequality and social struggles and I felt that my training in political science was not enough to help communities and vulnerable populations. My experience working for the ILO and later for the Chilean government confirmed this disposition and it became clear to me that I needed training in public policy. My decision to attend policy school, therefore, stemmed from a strong desire to help communities and to contribute to achieving tangible outcomes for them and for the development of my country.

Q – What’s on your reading list this week? What are you doing for homework?

For this week, I have many assignments for my “Social Activism, Democracy, and Globalization: Perspectives of the Global South” class. These include a review and planning assignment, a group presentation and readings related to the theme of trauma, memory, empathy, and everyday violence. I also have a group presentation on Wednesday for my Values and Ethics class.

Q – Favorite quote?

“La gratitud, como ciertas flores, no se da en la altura y mejor reverdece en la tierra buena de los humildes”

In English it can be translated like: “Gratitude, as certain flowers, does not grow in altitude and better grows green again in the good soil of the humble”. It is from José Martí, a Cuban thinker and independence leader.

Q – If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

This might sound like an obvious and boring answer but I would live in Santiago. Or any other Chilean city. The time that I have spent abroad has made me realize how connected I feel with my country and everything that relates to it: my family and loved ones, the food, the people, the natural scenery and the culture. Some things that felt so common like opening the window of my apartment and see the Andes Mountains, now I miss terribly. I haven’t had the chance to go back in more than a year so I’m very excited to visit during the holidays and share some quality time with my friends and family.