Policy Students Work with Community Clients in Workshop Course

Marta Vicarelli
Marta Vicarelli

This spring, students at the School of Public Policy (SPP) are examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Massachusetts communities, developing resources on nature-based solutions to pressing global problems and working to support economic opportunities for LGBTI people around the world.

The students are taking part in the projects through SPP’s Public Policy Workshop course, in which teams of students are matched with clients to work on issues related to policy and economic analysis.

“Every year, the workshop gives SPP students the opportunity to make a difference while they are still studying,” said professor Marta Vicarelli of the School of Public Policy and the department of economics. “Over the years, the projects have covered a large variety of topics — including food security, green infrastructure, gender studies, and renewable energy programs — for clients including local, national, and international organizations.”

This year’s projects:

The Impacts of COVID-19 and Its Socio-economic Fallout in Massachusetts Municipalities

A multidisciplinary group of researchers from across the UMass Amherst campus are working with the Massachusetts Municipal Association to collect data about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected communities, through a survey of municipal leaders.

The survey, sent to mayors and town managers, asks about the pandemic’s effects on housing and food insecurity, local businesses and municipal operations, as well as about vaccination efforts. In addition, the survey includes questions about post-pandemic socio-economic recovery strategies, with an emphasis on inclusive and sustainable policies, in keeping with the “green recovery” approach promoted by the United Nations and other international organizations. At the end of the project, the research team will produce a report with the survey results, along with recovery recommendations for municipalities and suggestions for future research.

The group working on this project includes SPP students George Plouffe and Madeline Leue; SPP alumna Elizabeth Murphy; Isenberg School of Management students Anna Gishin and Yash Tyagi; Kyle Compton of the department of economics; and Yu Ya Htut Tin of the department of economics and department of mathematics. Vicarelli serves as the project’s principal investigator. 

Economic Valuations of Nature-based Solutions

SPP students Michael Kang, Michael Marr, Shannon McAndrew, Miranda Vance and David Wasielewski are working with the international Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction to create a database of studies that examine “nature-based solutions” to socio-economic problems. In particular, the team will focus on projects that employ sustainable management and restoration of local ecosystems in disaster-risk reduction and climate change adaptation efforts.

“This research is momentous, as nature-based solutions are part of COVID-19 green recovery plans all over the world,” Vicarelli said. However, she added, there is not enough research on the economic benefits of this approach — a gap the workshop project will fill. The database created by the team will include peer-reviewed studies that assess the economic aspects of nature-based solutions, across a wide range of regions.

LGBTI Crowdfunding

SPP students Derek Dunlea and Taylor Lewis are working with Alturi.org, a news and advocacy website focused on LGBTI rights around the world, and the LGBTI Livelihoods Project, created to promote economic opportunities for LGBTI people. That livelihoods project was developed by professor Lee Badgett of the School of Public Policy and the department of economics.

Dunlea and Taylor will help the clients develop a crowdfunding platform to raise money for projects that provide economic opportunities for low-income LGBTI people. The platform is tentatively called LGBTQrowd, pronounced “LGBT Crowd.” The student team will analyze existing crowdfunding platforms and identify possible models for the new effort. They also will interview leaders of LGBT organizations to get their perspectives as potential users.