Policy Lab

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

  • Rhode Island Survey Initiative

    The Rhode Island Survey Initiative is an effort by URI researchers to gather insights from Rhode Islanders about issues that are important to the Ocean State through an annual opinion poll. Faculty Collaborators Dr. Emily Lynch (Political Science), Dr. Ying Xiong (Communications), and SSIREP Director Dr. Julie C. Keller devised the surveys, which are administered by YouGov, an international internet-based market research and data analytics firm.

    Abstract: The RI Survey Initiative provides insights into Rhode Islanders’ attitudes toward public education, trust in media, government, elections, political participation, and other issues. The research team collected the 2023 survey data in late August 2023 and analyzed how identities impacted Rhode Islanders’ perspectives on social issues. The team hopes the survey initiative could be a tool for other researchers, policymakers, the media, and others interested in understanding where Rhode Islanders stand on key issues.

    Information on RI Survey Initiative
  • 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!

    Chelsea Farrell, PhD., Criminology and Criminal Justice, Bridge to Opportunity: A Fidelity Assessment and Preliminary Program Evaluation
    Natalie Pifer, PhD., Criminology and Criminal Justice, Bridge to Opportunity: A Fidelity Assessment and Preliminary Program Evaluation








    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.


    John Taylor, Plant Sciences and Entomology, Mapping Diverse Services from Alternative Urban Food Provisioning Networks and Identifying Opportunities for Policy Support

    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


    Emily Lynch: Assistant Teaching Professor, Political Science Department

    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! 

    Ryan Estus‘ Podcast on School Committees in Rhode Island

    Jonathan Leon’s, Gregory Manni’s, Kiersten Sundell’s Podcast on The Environment and Energy in Rhode Island

    Meredith Wilkinson’s, Kacie Curran’s, and Bella Evangelista’s Podcast on Criminal Justice Reform in Rhode Island

    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 homelessness 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). 

    Sareena Shetti (left) and Aly Crowley (right) in action during data collection/interviewing on campus
    Aly Crowley (left) and Angelina Gomes (right)


    Nethra Prasanna (ISD/Spanish)
    Perri Leviss:  Currently Assistant Prof.  of Political Science at Rhode Island College (previously in Political Science Department at URI)

    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