Ford School event showcases student work, honors late dean

For Brandy Johnson-Faith, a group public policy project has become a tribute of sorts to her mother.

Johnson-Faith, of Mesa, Ariz., collaborated with five Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy students on a project that will be among 34 featured in an event named after the late Federal Reserve Governor Edward Gramlich.
Graduate student Brandy Johnson-Faith, of Mesa, Ariz., debates prison privatization in Minnesota with her group at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. They simulated a Minnesota House of Representatives committee hearing and testified for or against a bill that would prohibit inmates from being housed in privately run prisons. The project is one of 34 that will be featured March 11 at the Gramlich Showcase of Student Work. (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

Her group explores prison privatization in Minnesota, which critics say has a devastating effect on employment and the state economy. The topic is important to Johnson-Faith because a drunk driver killed her mother, Robin, in 2002. The driver was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to nearly 11 years in an Arizona public prison. Four years into his sentence, prison officials transferred him to a privately operated facility in Indiana.

"When I met with my group and told them my story, they all were really enthusiastic about the topic," says Johnson-Faith, who wants to pursue a career in highway safety policy. "We put a great deal of effort into this project and were thrilled with the outcome."

The Gramlich Showcase of Student Work begins at 4 p.m. March 11 on the first and second floors in Weill Hall. The two-hour event is free and open to the public.

Gramlich, former U-M interim provost and first dean of the School of Public Policy, died in September at age 68. The showcase highlights students' creativity and achievements, and establishes a permanent tribute to Gramlich's belief in the value of a public policy education.

"So much of what Ned Gramlich did to help build the Ford School was motivated by his commitment to the value of a public policy education," says Susan Collins, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy. "I know he was extremely proud of the intellectual achievements of our students and a showcase of student work seems like a particularly appropriate way to honor him."

Ford School faculty nominated students who completed exceptional work in class or external opportunities.

Jessica Goldberg, of Mequon, Wisc., spent her summer and several weeks in October and February in Africa. Her project uses small lotteries in 250 agricultural clubs to test whether social pressures make it difficult for people to save money. She hopes that people who see her poster board will learn more about the field experiments conducted in rural Malawian communities.

"As researchers, we learn a lot by listening to the people we study, and understanding how they make decisions," says Goldberg, a third-year doctoral student in the joint program between the Ford School and Department of Economics. "Our academic training gives us tools, but observing people in the real world lets us ask important and policy-relevant questions."

Public policy professor Elisabeth Gerber asked Jennifer Cruickshank and Julia Dreier to show their work on health care policy reforms from the Ford School's Integrated Policy Exercise, an annual three-day course. Many reforms seek to expand access to affordable health care coverage for low- to middle-income residents. They differ enormously in the types of coverage available, the costs of the programs, the methods for providing expanded access, and the mechanisms used to finance the policies, Cruickshank says.

"I would like people to get an idea of how Ford School students managed these difficult trade-offs in a real-time, politically charged environment," says Cruickshank, a Needham, Mass., resident who expects to graduate in April with a master's degree in public policy.