School of Public Policy launches Beacon Hill Project

The program provides opportunities for students to meet policy makers in Boston


(Flickr Creative Commons: Francisco Antunes)

By Barkha Bhandari, Collegian Correspondent

The School of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts launched its Beacon Hill Project on Friday, Sept. 21, which plans to provide opportunities for students to get a glimpse into the real world of politics.

The project involves monthly trips to Boston where students will meet with legislators, government officials and advocacy groups, while also gaining important insights into the arena of policy-making.

This project is one of the star attractions for students in master’s programs at the School of Public Policy. The school’s mission has always been to prepare students for public service, but this year the school is trying to implement programs to make the degrees offered more interesting for students who desire a future in government.

SPP director Al Roberts spoke about the motivation behind the project, saying that they “are innovating within the curriculum to connect students more closely to the real world of public policy. That’s where the Beacon Hill project comes in.”

According to Roberts, this opportunity is unique in that it gives students exposure to iconic people and think tanks in Boston.

Roberts laughed, “Practically speaking, even though we’re in Amherst, our students will probably get more face time with decision makers than most people in the Boston area do.”

The project has already had its first trip to Beacon Hill this month at the UMass Club. The trip included around a dozen panelists, including UMass President Marty Meehan. There were panel discussions on the topic “Making Your Voice Heard: How Advocacy Groups Contribute to Policy Making.”

The trip helped students gain an outlook on what their very own future may look like. Joseph Jayne, a master’s student at the school of public policy at UMass, gushed about the first trip and said, “The best features of this experience was of course the guest speakers. Hearing the different perspectives on social and political issues from leaders helps shape my viewpoints, which I can bring back to the classroom and recapitulate.”

Elizabeth Berman, another master’s student at the UMass school of public policy, also enjoyed the trip.

“The first trip was great. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in positions, career paths and political ideologies among the speakers,” Berman said. “Besides a great meal with a view at the UMass Club, this opportunity provides invaluable network connections, a chance to learn more about the types of opportunities available in public policy and advice about how to succeed and advance in the field.”

Alfonso Hidalgo, a master’s student at the UMass school of public policy, noted, “I felt that the first trip was a huge success. The structure of the program made it easy for students to engage in the discussion.”

“The featured panelists did a great job of addressing the elements of effective government relations strategies, unpacking the challenges of economic development policy and discussing the role of independent research organizations in the policymaking process,” he added.

The panelists at the event were also impressed with the planning and organization behind the project. They observed that the students were curious and outgoing, with a keen interest for public policy. Raija Vaisanen, director of research at the Commonwealth Corporation and a panelist for the first event, described the project with great appreciation.

“The small-group format allows students to ask questions and have robust conversations with panelists,” she said. “It also allows students the opportunity to see people in different roles and occupations throughout the public service realm. This can help them envision themselves being in these jobs one day.”

The project will be taking another trip on Oct. 19 to visit experts at UMass Boston and the Kennedy School at Harvard. The project aims to connect students who want to do public service with people who actually engage in policy-making. The School of Public Policy hopes to expand this project to more places with a larger set of students getting the exposure they need to create a future in public policy.

Barkha Bhandari can be reached at [email protected]