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April 20, 2011

Using real-world connections to engage in education policy

Jeremy Friedman ’08 always had a passion for education and business but was torn between which direction he would head. In 2010, armed with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he discovered a new pathway within the University that would allow him to pursue an educational career on a more global level.  He enrolled in the educational policy master’s program at the Warner School.

The program was created in 2009 for individuals who want to help improve education—but not necessarily in a classroom or school—and want to become skilled and effective advocates for education policy at the local, state, and federal levels. The program is interdisciplinary in nature, allowing students to examine complex policy issues from multiple lenses, like sociology, politics, economics, business, and law.

“My mom’s a teacher, so education has always been very important to me growing up,” says Friedman, who adds that he hopes to make a difference for youth. “I always thought that you go into education to become a teacher, and I didn’t think that I wanted to be a teacher.”

Field research projects are a key feature of the program, combining cutting-edge research and theory with hands-on experience necessary to affect tangible positive change. The four-month project, which typically runs concurrently with the spring semester, gives students the opportunity to conduct an applied policy project in a local organization as part of their coursework. Each student, with the help of his or her advisor, secures a placement with a nonprofit, governmental, or policy organization. Students then gain hands-on experience while examining a specific educational policy issue or problem.

“Our goal is to have students gain additional knowledge and skills by expanding upon the types of things they learn about in our classes through their master’s program and applying these understandings by focusing on a real-life policy problem,” says Kara Finnigan, who directs the educational policy program. “Another benefit of these field projects is that they give students a chance to give back to the community.”

This year’s cohort is working on policy issues at the local, state, and federal levels.

Friedman, whose policy interests focus on out-of-school time—in particular afterschool and summer school programs—works at a local agency called the Children’s Agenda as part of his field project. He devotes most of his time to working on community development block grants, finding ways to get urban youth more of the resources they need to succeed. He also works with lobbyists, funders, and community organizations on ways to reallocate funds toward youth services for afterschool programs and buildings.

“I’m getting practical, relevant, real-world policy experience that I probably would not have gotten otherwise with a traditional program where this is not built in,” he says. “I definitely think that I’m developing great skills in reaching out to people and asking the right diplomatic questions, while also honing my research skills. I’ve also learned a lot about the roles of perception and the politics of policy in education and funding—that’s definitely been a valuable lesson for me.”

Other students in the program have been placed at WXXI, Rochester City School District Parent Engagement/Student Placement, and the Warner School’s Department of Educational Leadership.

For more information about the Warner School’s educational policy program, visit www.rochester.edu/warner/programs/edl/policy or contact Kara Finnigan at kfinnigan@warner.rochester.edu. For more information about admissions procedures and deadlines, contact admissions at 275-3950 or by email at admissions@warner.rochester.edu.

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