The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Why Public Engagement?

As citizens and as scholars, we have an interest in today’s debates about public policy, conversations about the state of the world, and imagining a different future. Read more about the Public Engagement Projects' Mission and Vision

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2019 PEP Fellow, Mike Knodler, featured in NEPR story on the use of “zipper merge” technique to relieve highway congestion

Drivers who confront lane closures or other merging situations should use the “zipper merge” technique says Mike Knodler, 2019 PEP Fellow in a NEPR news story.  With the zipper merge, drivers use all open lanes as long as possible and then take turns at the merge point. Knodler and other traffic engineers say the zipper merge is safer and keeps traffic flowing. Story also featured in Maine Public.

Julie Brigham-Grette, 2017 PEP Fellow, comments in Science Magazine news story about the increasing ship traffic in the Arctic

Julie Brigham-Grette, 2017 PEP Fellow, comments in a Science Magazine news story about the increasing ship traffic in the Arctic seas off Alaska in recent years, partly due to climate change and melting ice. “The overall picture is mixed,” she says. “We’re opening up an entire environment that has otherwise been cut off from human influence.” She also notes that funding for research in that region is relatively limited so the increased activity may be limited.

2017 PEP Fellow, Erica Scharrer, quoted in Western Mass News story on the role of video games in mass shootings in the U.S.

In a Western Mass News stories on mass shootings in the U.S., 2017 PEP Fellow, Erica Sharrer, responds to politicians who blame violent video games saying it is impossible to trace a link between video games and mass shootings. She also says that other countries consume the same video games as the U.S. and don’t have the same rate of mass shootings.

2015 PEP Fellow, Michael A. Rawlins, quoted on WWLP TV about the record warm July temperatures in Western Massachusetts.

A local weather reporter from WWLP TV notes that Western Massachusetts experienced the sixth warmest July on record and quoted Michael A. Rawlins, 2015 PEP Fellow, saying Amherst tied with last year as the eighth warmest July on record with an average temperature of 74.2 degrees.

2018 PEP Fellow, Donald T. Tomaskovic-Devey, writes an essay in The Conversation discussing President Donald J. Trump's political strategy of promoting white racial resentment

2018 PEP Fellow, Donald T. Tomaskovic-Devey, and colleague write an essay in The Conversation where they look at why promoting white racial resentment is an effective political strategy for President Donald J. Trump, but it does little to address the issues of low wages and job insecurity that are the sources of tension. They say economic factors that are used to divide people by race have negative effects on all low-wage workers. Reprinted in the Houston ChronicleChicago Tribune and Honolulu Civic Beat.

Timothy Randhir, 2018 PEP Fellow, developing a new decision tool to help assess climate impacts on urban and rural areas.

In a new project funded by the Commonwealth, 2018 PEP Fellow, Timothy Randhir is developing a planning tool to support and improve community and agency decisions in the Connecticut River watershed. It will provide a broad look at possible future effects of climate change on urban and rural areas that include storm water flooding, drought, disrupted water supply, heat waves, soil erosion and loss, groundwater depletion, soil deterioration, and variable rainfall and temperature patterns. The work is supported by an 18-month, $82,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation; Randhir hopes to deliver a prototype of the decision tool in the fall. Read more here.

Elizabeth Evans, 2018 PEP Fellow, receives $10 Million grant to study jail-based opioid addiction treatment program

2018 PEP Fellow, Elizabeth Evans, is among scientists at a dozen institutions nationwide that will form the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network (JCOIN), an ambitious, $155 million effort to improve opioid addiction treatment in criminal justice settings, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced. Evans, and a colleague at the UMass Medical School-Baystate will receive a $10 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to examine a pilot opioid treatment program for jail detainees in seven Massachusetts counties. The treatment program, including community-based follow-up care after detainees’ release from jail, was mandated by the Massachusetts Legislature. Story covered on Medicine Newsline,, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Associated Press, Western Mass News,, WFXT-TV Fox 25 Boston, NECN, WWLP-TV and News Office release.