Transitioning to the Batten Classroom

The first few weeks of classes at Batten have been challenging and rewarding. Like all postgraduate MPP students, I am taking a full course load of four classes: Economics I, Research Methods and Data Analysis I, Politics of Public Policy, and Psychology for Leadership. Unlike some of my peers who have worked before coming to Batten, I am a 2021 college graduate. However, there still has been a transition to the graduate classroom. Graduate classes are similar to undergraduate classes in terms of structure, but the content and coursework load is much heavier. 


Professors squandered no time, diving straight into coursework the first day. I am so thankful to be attending classes in-person mainly in Monroe Hall (see below), and to be surrounded by peers who are vaccinated and take measures to protect themselves and others in our community by wearing their masks. As I become deeply immersed in my coursework, professors seek to foster an environment of collaborative learning that pushes you to go deeper in your understanding of policy. Coursework has been rigorous, covering difficult policy concepts with tangible implications, such as health disparities stemming from the pandemic. Studying public policy is exciting for a number of reasons, but perhaps most notable is the constantly changing political climate requiring educated decisions to provide relief to situations and communities who would otherwise not receive aid.

Monroe Hall

Each class is different in terms of expectations, with RMDA and Econ I being quantitatively heavy and Politics of Public Policy and Psychology of Leadership focusing on more qualitative discussion. For example, in Econ I we are learning about indifference curves and elasticity, whereas in Politics of Public Policy we have been learning about the power of the bureaucracy and the power of agency policy implementation. I have found it helpful to work in partners/groups (when permitted) on homework assignments and share strategies in order to conceptually understand the course material. Attending office hours with graduate teaching assistants has also been helpful in the first few weeks of the semester so that I can nail down the introductory concepts and create a solid foundation for the semester to come. 


As I have settled into Charlottesville and the course load has increased, I have started exploring coffee shops in the area to scoop out the best study nooks on or off Grounds. My newfound favorite place to hang out and work on a policy memo or problem set is Shenandoah Joes on Preston Ave. With plenty of seating, natural lighting and outlets, it is the perfect place to sip on a latte and focus. However, Grit on the Corner and Mudhouse Coffee (downtown) are honorable mentions. 1515 on the Corner is a great late night study spot, staying open to around midnight with plenty of comfy chairs to do a Politics of Public Policy reading. For a quick lunch between classes, I typically head to the Corner and grab a smoothie or Bodo’s bagel. 


Mondays-Thursdays, you can find me in classes throughout the day, with my latest class ending at 6pm. I typically spend my Fridays catching up on projects, as I do not have class. I love having a flexible schedule and do not treat my coursework like a typical 9-5. Many of my classmates do choose this and find that it works well to boost their productivity. I prefer to work early in the morning and finish up later in the evening. I find my motivation ebbs and flows throughout the days and taking breaks in between my classes to just breathe helps me to refocus. 


As I look towards midterms, I am excited to put what I have learned so far to the test. Graduate work is grueling, but incredibly rewarding. I have found that although I wrestle with difficult concepts, the feeling of achievement when I finally understand is second to none. It is hard to believe I am already four weeks into my first year of graduate school, and sometimes I sit for a moment to look back on where I came from, and it reminds me of my “why.” Why Virginia, why Batten, and why public policy. After spending time in Washington, D.C. and becoming aware of the horrors of gentrification, I felt my heart bend toward justice. To better serve the needy, sick and the poor through equitable policy is my hope for the future. This hope fuels my passion for reconciliation. It is because of my “why” that the bad days seem bearable, and the best days feel like my purpose has been realized. Bring on the midterms!


Ellie Murphy