Foundation Fellows and Ramsey Scholars have extended a hand of service through participation in the Roosevelt Institute, a national student-run “think tank” located on some 70 college campuses throughout the country, including UGA, with 7,000 students participating.
Roosevelt@UGA urges collaboration between scholars and faculty mentors in identifying pressing social issues – be they local, regional, statewide, national, or global – going deep into research and creating policy papers that offer potential solutions.
Recent public response to healthcare reform has placed the practice of policymaking in the spotlight, and through their involvement with Roosevelt, UGA students are learning the finer points of unearthing, explaining, and rectifying problem issues throughout the world.
Lucas Puente, who chairs Roosevelt’s executive board and has also served as a center director of international trade and security, says he was “hooked” on Roosevelt after attending one meeting as a freshman and promptly set out to create his first policy paper. During his sophomore year, he earned a spot in the Roosevelt Scholars course. An international affairs and finance major who graduated in May, he wrote on the benefits of American trade with Cuba. “I included a lot of information about the politics behind it and the Castro regime but also the economic benefits for both countries.” The following summer Puente interned with the State Department in Central America.
“Roosevelt jump started my interest, or at least has taken my interest to another level, in terms of public policy and the political process. I’ve always been interested in politics, but I didn’t know exactly what about it piqued my interest. The policy world is an exciting side of government because it has the ability to enact change on so many levels.” Puente went on to intern in fall 2008 with then-Senator Barack Obama in DC and returned to the nation’s capital to work with the Economic Policy Institute the following summer.
Students are quick to point out that among the important things they learn about policy is that no one has all the answers and social change often occurs at a glacial pace. Theirs is not a “save the day” posture but rather a vehicle for instituting positive change for community challenges.
Topics for dissemination and discussion cover the gamut in Roosevelt. Bobby Rosenbleeth, a third-year economics and international affairs major, wrote his first paper on the posture the U.S. Army will assume after the Iraq war. “I see Roosevelt as an opportunity to deploy debate and research skills to something substantial and an opportunity to use my skills to contribute to policy discussions on campus and in the community. It’s why I wanted to get involved in Roosevelt in the first place.”
Kelsey Jones, a 2010 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and a master’s in public administration, made healthcare her first Roosevelt foray, discussing how nutritional choices in restaurants have contributed to the country’s obesity problem.
“You learn so much about analysis and implementation and the different fields of policy work being done by faculty on campus,” says Jones, whose career goal is to work in the area of health policy. “What first turned me on to Roosevelt was the interactive and collaborative nature of the organization. You’re essentially putting people in a room and having them discuss and constructively criticize different policy ideas. That was really stimulating.”
Tracy Yang, a third-year anthropology major with plans to attend medical school, is also intrigued by healthcare policy and wrote her first paper on the effect procedural changes to the state of Georgia’s Children’s Health Insurance Program has had on the more than 100,000 children eligible for the service.
“I had an idea that I was interested in policy, but I didn’t know a lot about the type of research and decision making that goes into policy recommendations,” says Yang, who presented her paper at the annual CURO Symposium, saw her paper published by Roosevelt’s national publication, and served this past year as Roosevelt’s center director of domestic issues.
Through Roosevelt, students are receiving an excellent tutorial on how to change the world one issue at a time, but they’re also receiving excellent instruction in the nature of crafting workable policy presentations and divining their career path.
Jones, who has had two papers published, says Roosevelt was a process of self discovery. “Roosevelt changed a lot of what my interests are. I came into college knowing what policy was and hearing about national issues, but I didn’t really know how the process worked. Realizing how much I enjoyed policy work led me to pursue an MPA.”
“Roosevelt really has been a great way to be a leader on campus,” notes Yang, “to practice the type of leadership I believe in, which is building relationships with people, helping them develop their own skills and talent.”
Although still a rather new entity on the UGA campus – Fellow alumnus Deep Shah ’08 was one of the founders of the UGA chapter in 2006 – those students who put the program in place understood that perhaps the most important aspect of Roosevelt was to see it continue its practice of discerning and addressing community problems long into the future.
“The key to any campus organization is sustainability, and that’s pretty tough given that we’re essentially here for four years and then we move on to the next station in life,” says Puente. “You’re heavily invested in the organization while you’re working on it – there are a lot hours that go into it. You really want it to continue and be successful when you move on.”