New undergrad fellowship offers policy research

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Photo by Chris Melamed .

Josh Eisenstat ’15 conducts research on family relationships in New Haven and wants to explore how family laws can help separated fathers stay involved in the lives of their children. And a new fellowship for Yale College students at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS) will provide Eisenstat with the resources to do just that.

Beginning this semester, the ISPS — an organization that conducts research on the intersection of politics, policy and social science — will provide 16 undergraduates with policy training and work experience to help them bridge the gap between theory and practice in U.S. domestic policy-making. Through the new Director’s Fellows program, students will attend seminars throughout the semester with policy experts and journalists to learn about policy research and presentation skills. They will apply their skills during summer policy internships and build on these experiences during the fall by conducting a related research project.

“I don’t have much experience in policy analysis, so I’m excited,” said Eisenstat, adding that his ethics, politics and economics major provided a solid theoretical understanding of policy-making, but not a real-world application of it.

ISPS Director Jacob Hacker GRD ’00 said the new fellowship program will fill the vacuum of a domestic policy program for Yale College students. It will also provide a setting for undergraduates to conduct public policy research that is relevant to today’s political decision-making.

“The Director’s Fellowship is the first step in what I hope will be a long movement for making ISPS a center for public policy at Yale,” Hacker said. “I think this is something Yale really needs, and this is just one element of a larger strategy to create endowed fellowships for undergraduates to do research with professors.”

The new program, which began accepting applications last fall, was modeled on an existing fellowship for graduate students. Under the guidance of Hacker, three graduate students — Rakim Brooks LAW ’16, Raph Graybill LAW ’15 and Michael Sierra-Arevalo GRD ’18 — will coordinate the undergraduate program and advise fellows.

Brooks said he hopes for the undergraduate fellows to learn to communicate policy research in a way that resonates with the public — an essential skill for those who wish to influence policy.

ISPS will provide fellows with the high-end research technology, labs and mentors necessary to take their interests to the next level, said Sierra-Arevalo. He added that the program will serve as a breeding ground for further undergraduate public policy work.

Graybill said he looks forward to watching the fellows grow as researchers and connect their interests to impact politics locally and nationally.

“This is a really decisive step for public policy at Yale,” he said. “ISPS is one of the premier research institutions in the world, and it’s nice to take this first step to becoming committed to including Yale College students in what we do. We’re really excited for them to be part of it.”

The program’s new undergraduate fellows said they are eager to begin pursuing their respective interests.

In his application to the program, Rahul Singh ’15 wrote a mock policy memo that proposed a high school financial literacy requirement. As an economics and mathematics major, he said, his studies have been primarily method-based, and he hopes to put his ideas into practice as a Director’s Fellow.

“I know ISPS tries to address really relevant questions that are best approached in an interdisciplinary way,” he said.

Viveca Morris ’15 said she hopes to pursue research related to food and farming policy, which impacts issues such as global warming, public health and worker’s rights.

Morris added that she is a big fan of Jacob Hacker and his team, and hopes to learn the skills necessary to impact agriculture policy from them.

“I want to have a tangible impact on the issues I care about,” she said, “To do that, I need to understand who makes important policy decisions, based on what criteria, and under whose influence — in other words, what actually happens.”

The 16 fellows will attend their first seminar on Jan. 29.

Correction: Jan. 23

A previous version of this article misidentified Rahul Singh ’15 as Rahul Kini ’15.

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