The Public Policy Lab engages students and faculty in policy and program analysis and evaluation for government and community-based organizations (CBOs) in the state of Rhode Island.
Recent Policy Lab Projects
- Honors Project: Women in Politics
In Spring 2023, Mollie Melnick (Majors: Political Science & Spanish) completed an Honors Project under the mentorship of Dr. Emily Lynch (Political Science) about women in politics, interviewing several women legislators in Rhode Island. Click here for a link to her YouTube podcast.
Title: Does Sexism Alter a Woman’s Decision to Run for U.S. Political Office?
Abstract: Women make up approximately 25% of the United States Congress, yet women account for more than half of the country’s population. In our current Congress in power, the 118th Congress, there are 25 women in the 100 person Senate and there are 124 women in the 435 person House of Representatives. And 71% of these women in Congress are Democrats. These disparities prompted me to evaluate the reasons behind the clear absence of proportional representation in the United States Congress. My research indicates that political scientists mostly agree that while women and men can and do win Congressional seats at the same rate, the decision for a woman to decide to run for office is much harder to make than for a man. Women are less confident than men, which leaves them doubting their political skills and ability to run for office and serve the public. Women, especially women of color, also tend to lack political party support, which can make it harder for women to obtain the necessary means to run. And women face racial and gender stereotypes from the media which can influence voters. After looking at research at a federal level, I then conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with seven women members of the Rhode Island General Assembly to evaluate whether my conclusions about women in Congress hold true to Rhode Island. The interviewees included a diverse group with variations in age, political experience, political party, and race and ethnicity. To summarize my findings, I created a short podcast series featuring clips of my interviews. I found many similarities, yet also profound differences, between women politicians in Rhode Island and women politicians in Congress.
- 2023 Public Policy Lab Fellowship Awardees
Congratulations to the below mentioned on receiving the Public Policy Lab Fellowship!
Bridge to Opportunity: A Fidelity Assessment and Preliminary Program Evaluation
In partnership with Building Futures (BF) and the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC), Dr. Chelsea Farrell and Dr. Natalie Pifer will be evaluating BF’s Bridge to Opportunity program. Bridge to Opportunity is funded through the Bureau of Justice Assistance Second Chance Act and offers a construction readiness program in prison that connects participants to Building Futures’ community-based pre-apprenticeship program upon release. Broadly, the goal of this program is to reduce recidivism and aid in the reentry process post-release by offering a career pathway into the construction field through continued involvement with BF to obtain the necessary certifications and experiences to enter the high demand and high wage construction industry. Dr. Farrell and Pifer will be joined by two undergraduate research fellows funded by SSIREP’s Public Policy Lab in the Fall of 2023 through Spring 2024. These student fellows will have an opportunity to gain skills in both qualitative and quantitative data management and analysis, along with a deeper understanding of program evaluation and program fidelity assessment.
Mapping Diverse Services from Alternative Urban Food Provisioning Networks and Identifying Opportunities for Policy Support
Immigrant communities and communities of color are more likely to have limited food access and to experience food insecurity. However, they’re also more likely to engage in self-provisioning through growing, fishing, and foraging for food for cultural reasons or to address food system gaps. These self-provisioning activities may be part of larger-scale alternative urban food provisioning networks (AUFPNs) held together by social relations and resource flows, e.g., of food, knowledge, and inputs. The immediate goal of this project is to map the AUFPNs of focal communities in metropolitan Providence and to identify factors contributing to or limiting the success of these networks, with the ultimate goal of developing policy recommendations for encouraging and sustaining AUFPNs.
- “Washburn Up” Student Podcasts
Professor Emily Lynch, of URI’s Department of Political Science, asked her students in Rhode Island Politics course (PSC 305) to make podcasts on local political issues in Rhode Island. Topics range from affordable housing policy to proposed educational reforms. Find the podcasts below and have a listen!
Tyler Vanable’s Podcast on university and college curriculums in Rhode Island.
Julia Melendez’s Podcast on the upcoming Seekonk River Soccer Stadium in Pawtucket and possible implications of the Rhode Island rent stability act.
Peter Remke’s and Isaiah Aponte’s Podcast on homlessness in Rhode Island: Actions taken so far in housing and what still needs to be done.
Rachel Severn’s Podcast on the police bill of rights in Rhode Island and its implications on our communities.
Kirsten Hauschildt’s and Chady Bandoma’s Podcast on the intersectionality of poverty and quality education in Rhode Island and the greater New England area.
- Developing Engaged Citizens at URI
Perri Leviss and Student Public Policy Fellows:
Nethra Prasanna (International Studies and Spanish), Aly Crowley (Political Science and Criminal Justice), Angelina Gomes (Early Childhood Education and Human Development), and Sareena Shetti (Sociology and French).
This is a research project that examines the experiences of recent URI college graduates from the December 2021 and May 2022 classes to explore their levels of civic engagement. The project addresses a series of research questions about the civic mindedness of URI students (and how this may differ by race + ethnicity, gender, class, major etc.), the types of civic-oriented activities students participated in during their time at URI (including academic experiences and co-curricular activities) and the relationship of these activities to students’ sense of community and belonging at URI as well as their post graduation plans. As an engaged research project in partnership with Generation Citizen/RI (https://generationcitizen.org/tag/rhode-island/), members of the URI student community were involved in the design of the research project, the data collection, and the analysis and reporting of both quantitative and qualitative data. The project builds upon a pilot study that was developed in spring 2022 through a student directed course to 1) identify validated measures of civic engagement and citizenship used at other institutions of higher education and 2) test the data collection instruments.
- Rhode Island “Back-to-School” Survey on Media Literacy
Primary Investigator: Dr. Renee Hobbs, Professor of Communication Studies (pictured at left)
On October 25, just in time for National Media Literacy Week, a SSIREP Public Policy Lab team led by Dr. Renee Hobbs released a Back-to-School Report Card describing the current state of media literacy education throughout the Rhode Island school system. The report has been featured in the Boston Globe alongside an interview with Dr. Hobbs. (more…)
- “Stuck in Solitary”
Hannah Beaucaire, an undergraduate senior majoring in Political Science and Criminal Justice, created a series of digital video stories on the topic of solitary confinement. The videos seek to make information about the practice and effect of solitary confinement more accessible and provide a resource for advocates pursuing solitary confinement policy reform. Beaucaire’s project was supported by the College of Arts and Science’s Summer Fellows Program and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Innovation at URI.
Beaucaire conceptualized the project while learning about solitary confinement in a criminology and criminal justice class taught by Dr. Natalie Pifer, an Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice and a SSIREP fellow. Dr. Pifer, who served as the faculty advisor for Beaucaire’s work, is a punishment scholar who studies criminal justice reforms, including solitary confinement. Dr. Pifer has received SSIREP support to collect interview data as part of her research on reforms undertaken by the Maine Department of Corrections. She has conducted research into reforms to solitary confinement policy undertaken by the Washington state Department of Corrections. Information about these reforms is available here. (more…)
- The Ocean Tides School Research Assistant Program
Primary Investigator: Dr. Judy A. Van Wyk, Associate Professor of Sociology & Anthropology (pictured at left)
Dr. Van Wyk’s team at the Public Policy Lab will work to encode data from the case files of residents at Ocean Tides, an accredited school and residential treatment program for adjudicated boys (ages 13-17) in Narragansett, RI. Ocean Tides is operated by De La Salle Christian Brothers, a non-profit organization, under the auspices of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). Student research assistants on the team will include Olivia Johnson (pictured above, at center), Antineice Muhammad and Randy Urena (at right). They will practice valuable research skills, learn about the Ocean Tides School and meet the staff. The data they process will help Ocean Tides develop future programming for their residents and inform research about troubled youth.
- Developing Apprenticeship Models in Early Childhood Education
Primary Investigator: Dr. Sue K. Adams, Professor of Human Development and Family Science (pictured at left)
In partnership with the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children and the RI Department of Human Services, Dr. Adams, colleagues from the URI Child Development Center and HDF undergraduate student, Sarah Behm (pictured above, at right), will be working to develop a model to provide training for associate-level teacher apprentices in the provision of high-quality early childhood education and care. The URI Child Development Centers will provide intensive mentorship to teachers and teaching assistants at 4 community preschools to help enhance skills and develop the beginnings of a sustainable model of apprenticeship in early childhood education and care.
- The Inclusive Housing Project
Primary Investigators: Drs. Brendan Skip Mark, Assistant Professor of Political Science (pictured in top row, left); Richard McIntyre, Professor of Economics (top row, center); Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz, Professor of Political Science (top row, right); and Robert Widell, Associate Professor of History (center row, left)
In partnership with the South Kingstown Housing Authority and the Johnnycake Center, faculty investigators will work together with students–including , Olivia Johnson (pictured above in the bottom row, at left), Patrice Pierre (middle row, center), Yisel Vasquez (middle row, right), Katie Norman (middle row, center), and Breanni Torres–to produce an oral history of South Kingstown’s public housing; develop and deploy a community survey of public housing residents and waitlistees to assess constituent needs; and conduct a review of best practices for public housing financing and design that builds social capital and integration of the community.
- State Policies to Facilitate Higher Education and Workforce Training for Former Foster Youth
Primary Investigator: Dr. Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz, Professor of Political Science (pictured at left)
In brief: Dr. Pearson’s Public Policy Lab team partnered with Adoption RI to conduct an analysis of state policies that aim to increase access to higher education for former foster youth. The team, which includes undergraduate students Austyn Ramsay (center), Shawn Sheppard (right), and Emma Mariano, analyzed current educational and economic outcomes among foster youth as well as the barriers to college entry and graduation. They also evaluated the current resources and aid available for foster youth in Rhode Island and investigated best practices from other states that could serve as models for Rhode Island. (more…)
- Rhode Island Trauma-Sensitive Education Collaborative (RITSEC)
Primary Investigator: Dr. Diane Kern, Professor of English Language Arts and Literacy Teacher Education (pictured at left)
In brief: Dr. Kern’s Public Policy Lab team joined the Rhode Island Trauma-Sensitive Education Collaborative (RITSEC) to develop an online mini-curriculum designed to provide pre-service and in-service teachers throughout the state with resources to help them support students experiencing traumatic conditions such as entering the foster system, foster relocation, homelessness, and food insecurity. The team, which includes Jova Trochez (center), Caroline Kennedy (right), and Tyrone Thomas, joined partners such as the URI School of Education, Adoption RI, and House of Hope to improve educators’ understanding of both the traumas themselves as well as trauma-informed teaching strategies. Students are currently producing a podcast to raise wider awareness of these subjects–stay tuned! (more…)
- PACE RI Family Caregiver Survey Development
Primary Investigator: Dr. Skye Leedahl, Associate Professor of Human Development & Family Studies and Political Science
In brief: Dr. Leedahl’s Public Policy Lab team researched and designed a caregiver survey for the PACE Organization of Rhode Island (PACE RI), a non-profit community-based healthcare and insurance provider for adults 55 or older with complex medical conditions who prefer to live at home. The survey will allow PACE RI to assess and improve the support it provides to its clients’ caregivers. Led by Dr. Leedahl, students Madeline Green, Isabella Olczak, Sarah Robitaille, and Elizabeth Lubera conducted research and incorporated input from meetings with PACE RI administrators and social workers in order to design the survey. The team’s work will also inform survey redevelopment for the URI Cyber-Seniors program. (more…)
Previous Policy Lab Reports
- Launching the Rhode Island Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program (TCI): Employee Experiences One Year Later
- The Future of McCoy Stadium
What should the state do with the soon to be vacant McCoy Stadium? Bridget Hall and Michael Steiner, in Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz’s 2016 HPR 412 course, conducted a detailed analysis of what options there are for the stadium and the costs and benefits of each option. (more…)
- Year Round Education Analysis
What are the impacts of a year round school calendar? Chris Maher, Superintendent of Providence Public School Department, asked University of Rhode Island students Kateri Gomes and Ana Nimaja to conduct an analysis on the details of year round education (YRE) and ultimately give the Providence school system a recommendation. (more…)
- Short Term Rentals in Rhode Island
University of Rhode Island MPA policy fellows Alice Aieskoll, Jake Clemen, Jenna Maloney, and Zachary Perkins were asked by the The Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns to analyze the short term rental environment throughout the state. Their examination focuses on best practices and policy recommendations for the burgeoning short term rental markets throughout each municipality in Rhode Island. Read the full report.
- Evaluation of Rhode Island’s Autism Project
Joseph J. Armendarez wrote a program evaluation proposal for the Rhode Island Autism Project in his PSC 505: Public Program Evaluation class. At the time, he was interning for The Autism Project, and staff from the organization asked him to follow through with the proposal and complete the evaluation. Below is the proposal and completed report. Read the proposal here, or read the report here.
- Seaport Risk Assessment
SSIREP fellow Austin Becker and PhD candidate Duncan McIntosh have been working to direct their research toward assessing the risks posed at seaports in the face of climate change. (more…)
- Summer Youth Employment Program Recommendations
What are best practices in designing a government run summer youth employment program (SYEP)? Students in PSC 524 students conducted an analysis of best practices of SYEPs for the City of Providence and the Department of Labor and Training. You can read the executive summary here, and the final report is available here.
- Legalization of Marijuana in Rhode Island
Should Rhode Island Legalize Marijuana? Students Mark Bocchini, Catherine Garcia, Dakota Porto, and Sarah Sangeado worked on researching the details of Marijuana Legalization in Rhode Island in Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz’s HPR 412. (more…)
- The Town of Bristol Recycling Program: A Policy Analysis
Aaron Ley and MPA student student Devina Thakur as part of a class on administrative theory (PSC 501) completed this policy analysis for the Town of Bristol’s Department of Public Works. It puts forth several options for transitioning recycling pickup from a manual collection system to an automated curbside collection system. Read the full report here.
- The Economic Benefits of a Flexible Workplace
SSIREP fellow Barbara Silver, in 2016, conducted a detailed analysis on the economic implications of work-life balance and the growing demand for flexible workplaces. Her work was published through The Collaborative. Read a copy of the full report here.
- Ensuring Paid Family Leave Pays Off
Rachel-Lynn Longo, with Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz, looked at the benefits of paid family leave and researched how to ensure that all workers see those benefits. The full report is available here. (This report was published by The Collaborative. The link provided for the full report is from an archived copy of their website. As a result, some linked resources may not display as originally intended.)
- Improving Outcomes for Foster Youth in Rhode Island
Sacanna Bebe, Vanessa Kolb, Brittany Kraft, and Robert Krule were asked by the RI state legislature to study how to improve outcomes for foster youth in Rhode Island. There received guidance from SSIREP fellow, Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz. The report brief can be read here, and the full work can be found here. (This report was published by The Collaborative. The link provided for the full report is from an archived copy of their website. As a result, some linked resources may not display as originally intended.)
- The Economic Impact of Expanding Medicaid
SSIREP fellows Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz and Liam Malloy did a deep analysis on the impact of Medicaid expansion, including how health insurance coverage rates and health care spending levels can affect economic growth. Read the full report here. (This report was published by The Collaborative. The link provided for the full report is from an archived copy of their website. As a result, some linked resources may not display as originally intended.)