Spotlight: UNC Charlotte
August 18, 2014 02:00 PM
UNC Charlotte is North Carolina’s urban research university located in a vibrant city with a growing economy. The metro area boasts world-class events, dining, culture, professional sports, plus such hot spots as the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Mint Museum, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, Discovery Place, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Blumenthal Performing Arts and the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Charlotte was the recent host of the Democratic National Convention and is a city committed to and relentlessly seeking growth but, according to US Airways Magazine (an airline for which Charlotte is a hub city), “maintains its small-town feel.”
The Public Policy Ph.D. program began in 2001 as a predominately part-time program focused on applied work but has grown to a full-time program that is relatively evenly split between academic and applied foci. The group of faculty across a number of departments that launched the program in the late 90s, backed by a “pay it forward” dean, pulled together this innovative interdisciplinary Ph.D. at a time in UNC Charlotte’s history when it seemed unlikely that there would be a social science Ph.D. at the university.
Out of those heady days, the program developed a unique organizational structure that provides considerable flexibility for students to design a course of study that is uniquely suited to their policy interests. Rather than being housed in any one department, Public Policy is multi-disciplinary and draws its almost 30 core faculty and close to 20 affiliate faculty from nine departments spanning four colleges (Liberal Arts and Sciences, Health and Human Services, the Business School, and the College of Education).
Further evidence of the programs interdisciplinary “heart” is the directorship. The first director, Dr. Jerry Ingalls, was Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences; the second Director, was Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, and the current Director, Dr. Beth A. Rubin, is Professor of Sociology. Such variety of expertise provides students in the program with a truly unique and rich array of mentor support to tailor the program to their individual research and career interests. The faculty members that participate in the program are some of the most prolific researchers at the university, well-published, award winning and recipients of grants from federal, state and national foundations. They are well-regarded and well-connected scholars regionally, nationally, and internationally.
Some of those faculty members include:
Jacqueline Chattopadhyay is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at UNC Charlotte. Her research focuses on American politics and social policy, particularly the public safety net, policy implementation, household exposure to financial risk, and the politics of immigration. She is the co-editor of Outsiders No More? Models of Immigrant Political Incorporation, with Jennifer Hochschild, Claudine Gay, and Michael Jones-Correa, published by Oxford University Press in 2013. She is currently researching the content and political consequences of media portrayals of those eligible for Medicaid and tax credits under the Affordable Care Act.
Cherie D. Maestas, Marshall A. Rauch Distinguished Professor of Political Science, publishes on topics related to political communication, risk perceptions, public opinion, and legislative responsiveness. Her recent book, Catastrophic Politics: How Extraordinary Events Redefine Perceptions of Government (Cambridge University Press) examines public response to government failure during natural disasters. Her current research examines how emotions and personal characteristics (e.g. personality traits, political predispositions) moderate the effects of media messages and policy framing. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York and appears in leading journals including American Political Science Review, Journal of Politics, American Journal of Political Science and Political Analysis.
Roslyn Arlin Mickelson is Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Mickelson’s research focuses upon the political economy of schooling and school reform, particularly the relationships among race, ethnicity, gender, class, and educational organization, processes, and outcomes. Her forthcoming coedited book, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Desegregation and Resegregation in Charlotte will be published by Harvard Education Press in early 2015. With support from the National Science Foundation, Mickelson and her colleagues Elizabeth Stearns, Stephanie Moller, and Melissa Dancy have been investigating the social structural, individual, and, K-16 educational forces that contribute to successfully majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina system.
John Szmer, J.D., Ph.D., has published research on a variety of topics including gender and judicial decision making, court efficiency, judicial selection, and the effects of resource disparities on legal outcomes. His forthcoming co-authored book, The View from the Bench and Chambers (UVA Press), takes a comprehensive look at the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Presently, he is working on another coauthored book that examines the role of diversity in the legal system from a comparative perspective.
Mission & Vision
UNC Charlotte’s mission is to generate leading public policy scholarship, to achieve excellence in public policy doctoral education and, through both, to advance the design and conduct of public policy application and research in a local, regional, state, national and international context.
The program’s vision is that leaders in civil society and involved citizens will turn to Public Policy at UNC Charlotte, for reliable, non-partisan policy education, research, training, and evaluation on issues of concern to the local, national and international community and for UNC Charlotte Public Policy Ph.D.’s to become leaders in academic and applied public policy institutions.
Three core principles drive the program:
Interdisciplinary Perspective: Effective policy analysis and policy formation is not informed by any single discipline. Rather, it requires an understanding of the historical, cultural, political, social, institutional, geographic and economic aspects that frame each policy arena.
Applied and Empirical Policy Analysis: Public policy is an inherently applied endeavor that seeks practical solutions and cogent analysis. While all research and analysis is informed by theory, the purpose of policy research is to elevate public discourse and improve public decision-making.
Place-Based Research: To exercise applied policy analysis in an interdisciplinary context, policy research must be place-based. Valid policy analysis, based on real data, applied to actual policy settings is one of the main strengths of the program. Students work with professors in numerous capacities to develop the practical skills underpinning place-based research.
One of the great strengths of the program, and a relatively unique characteristic is that in addition to the highly interdisciplinary nature, students are well trained in economics so that they are able to do what one professor calls, “non-naïve” policy analysis. Another unique aspect of the program is the high level of collaborative research and the professional participation that generates. Students routinely present at conferences and publish both alone and with faculty in a variety of policy oriented journals.
Students in the program have won such prestigious awards as the American Educational Research Association National Dissertation Support Award that provides $20,000 for stipend and travel (Public Policy student Ada Uche) and recent Public Policy graduate Jason Giersch (2013) received UNC Charlotte's award for best dissertation in the social, behavioral, and educational sciences.
While the range of policy areas on which students can focus is as broad as the faculty expertise, some of the stronger areas of concentration are: Economic policy, Environmental and Transportation Policy, Health Policy, Justice Policy, Social and Educational Policy and Urban and Regional Development Policy.
In response to demand by the many foreign born students in UNC Charlotte’s program, as well as the globalization that is the hallmark of the twentieth century, the school plans to develop offerings in comparative public policy. A second goal is to continue to grow their resource base in order to expand the size of its incoming classes.
Another major goal is to deepen its partnership with Project Mosaic, a Social Science Research Initiative whose mission is to enhance social and behavioral science research at UNC Charlotte. It provides an intellectual collaborative community that connects social science researchers with a broader community of scholars, fosters interdisciplinary research and provides research support in the form of workshops, seed grants, seminars, and methodological consultants. Public Policy students are deeply involved in providing some of these services as well as benefiting from them through research assistantships.
Alumni from the program have indicated that the rigor of their training as served them well in their careers and, in fact, has provided them the opportunity to obtain those careers. About half of the graduates of the Public Policy Ph.D. at UNC Charlotte have gone on to academic positions such as Public Administration (Drs. Junfeng Wang, Huiping Li), Public Policy (Dr. Alexandra Tsvetkova); Political Science (Dr. Swartz who serves as Director of the Public Policy and Administration, School of Public and International Affairs, Department of Political Science), Criminal Justice (Dr. Tammatha Clodfelter ); Sociology (Dr. Martha Bottia)and related fields.
Other alumni have obtained a variety of applied jobs. Some of these include Vice President for Educator Effectiveness at the Southern Regional Education Board (Dr. Andy Baxter), City Manager (Reid Wodicka-soon to defend), Community Health Project Leader, MURDOCK Study for Duke University’s Translational Medicine Institute (Dr. Ashley Dunham); the Public Policy and Computer Forensic institute of Forensic Sciences in the Turkish National Police Academy (Dr. Hakan Hakim), Staff Pharmacist for a major hospital (Dr. Galen Smith), Practice Leader, Retrospective Observational Research at Humana Pharmacy Services (Dr. Stephen Stemkowski); AVP and Business Economist (Dr. Kristin Wells) and related fields.
Students from the Public Policy Ph.D. are truly interdisciplinary and work in a wide range of urban policy areas.
Follow UNC Charlotte at its blog, on Twitter, and Facebook.