SPIA Policy Task Force

February 17, 2021
Naomi Hess

One of the main reasons I chose to concentrate in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) is the format of the junior papers (JPs). In one semester, juniors enroll in a research seminar, in which students learn quantitative and qualitative research methods and then write a research-based JP. In the other semester, juniors have a policy task force, which involves writing a JP that makes recommendations about the best ways to address important public policy problems affecting society today. As I was deciding which department to concentrate in, the policy task force excited me because it would allow me to gain practical skills in policy research and development. I just finished my task force and greatly learned and benefited from this experience. 

My task force was called Improving Health Care for Vulnerable Populations in the U.S. During the COVID-19 Pandemic and it was taught by Heather Howard, lecturer in SPIA and former Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. One of the coolest parts of the task force is that they are often taught by people with real-world experience in the subject being studied. Professor Howard has an amazing breadth of knowledge and I learned so much from her. Our class only had nine students, so we all had the opportunity to get to know each other and contribute to class discussions.

It was fascinating to study the pandemic as it was unfolding in front of us. Each week, we talked about a different theme, ranging from racial disparities in health outcomes to vaccination strategies to maternal mortality. I was inspired by a discussion of the disproportionate impact the virus has had on people residing in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. I wrote my JP on the importance of home and community-based services, which ensure that senior citizens and people with disabilities can receive support and assistance at home in a way that maximizes independence and prioritizes safety. I conducted research on how other states provide home and community-based services in order to make recommendations for the state of New Jersey.

In the last week of the semester, my classmates and I presented our recommendations to a group of stakeholders who work at the New Jersey Department of Health. It was incredible to be able to discuss our research findings with the people in charge of making decisions about the state’s health care system. They listened to what we had to say and will hopefully keep our research in mind going forward.

Because of my task force, I feel more comfortable researching and evaluating the best policy proposals to solve a problem. I plan to use these skills in my senior thesis and future career in policy and advocacy. This experience confirmed to me that I made the right choice in concentrating in SPIA.