From the Classroom to the Council Chambers

How the skills learned in Batten’s first-year curriculum were put into practice in my summer fellowship.

The Batten School’s first-year curriculum is often challenging, but it was fascinating watching class concepts come to life every day over the span of my summer fellowship. I had the opportunity to serve Councilman Bruce Kraus in Pittsburgh’s 3rd City Council District as a Policy Fellow between my first and second years at Batten.

During my time with the Councilman, I had a portfolio consisting of what is largely called “quality of life issues,” mainly public safety, public works, and economic development, where so many policy decisions are based upon data collection and presentation by stakeholder groups. This is where first-year course concepts enter. Both semesters of Research Methods and Data Analysis (RMDA) allowed me to look at the data presented by stakeholder groups and ask the difficult questions concerning how the data was obtained and how the treatment (the policy) was enacted, just to name a few examples. RMDA really changed the way I look at numbers; I now ask myself: What does this data mean in this case? The hard skills from RMDA were the first gatekeepers to whether I thought a policy could be effective.

RMDA allowed me to scrutinize data in policy proposals, but concepts of Economics of Public Policy - my favorite class at Batten - made me ask the questions: OK, so we are going to enact this policy – if it’s a program, how do we analyze tradeoffs? What is our opportunity cost by enacting or not enacting policy? Does this make society better off economically or not? As President Bartlett in the West Wing once said, “You have to show me the numbers,” and the quantitative first-year courses proved to be major pillars of my policy work.

The final pillar came to be when the office would internally look at what other governments do in response to public policy challenges. Opportunities like these were my times to shine, and I ultimately believe it is what makes the Batten School really stand out – I was able to marry the quantitative skills of RMDA and Economics to skills learned in Introduction to Policy Analysis to write full policy reports. These reports included problem statements, backgrounds on public policy challenges, literature reviews, and oftentimes, a recommendation based on a set of criteria.

I can honestly say that without the first-year curriculum, I would not have been able to hit the ground running as relatively seamlessly as I did. The biggest piece of advice I wish I could give to incoming first-year Scott is this: Yes, these courses will challenge you and even take you out of your comfort zone, but it is when you are out of your comfort zone you will learn the most, and it is what you will carry with you as the next generation of public policy leaders.

Scott is a first-generation college student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a proud Steelers fan. Coming straight from undergrad into Batten's MPP program, Scott brings with him valuable internship experience on Capitol Hill and a passion for learning. You can read more about Scott in our student spotlight post!