CORVALLIS, Ore. – A growing number of students drawn by Oregon’s reputation as a trend-setter in policy decisions are enrolling in Oregon State University’s Master of Public Policy program – one of the few such programs in the West.
Student interest in climate change and other environmental issues have prompted the OSU program to add a special concentration in science policy, says Brent Steel, a professor of political science who directs the program.
“Oregon is where it’s at in terms of environmental policy,” Steel said, “and the state’s reputation is definitely drawing students – not only nationally, but internationally. Whether it’s owl wars, salmon wars, Measure 37, or some other conflict, there have been some compelling public policy issues in the state.”
This is the sixth year OSU has offered the Master of Public Policy program, which it modeled after a similar program at Harvard University. While many other universities offer a degree in public administration, the OSU program focuses specifically on policy design and the research that supports the design. It is the only program of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.
Because of interest in politics and the environment, however, public policy degrees are one of the fastest-growing areas of interest nationally among college students, Steel said.
“One of the goals of the program – and of students – is to learn how to inject science into the policy process,” he pointed out. “To effect change on the ground, you have to create ‘useable’ knowledge that can be utilized by the public, by resource managers and by other decision-makers. Typically our graduates become policy analysts or research analysts in the public or non-profit sectors.
“The potential for students to get involved in areas of personal interest, which have far-reaching policy implications, is unlimited,” Steel added. “OSU’s research enterprise, coupled with Oregon being on the cutting edge of environmental change, has spawned a lot of interest from students in everything from biofuels to wave energy.”
There are 34 master’s level students in OSU’s Master of Public Policy program and the quality and diversity of applicants improves every year, Steel said.
“We have five international students who were drawn to OSU because of the growing reputation of our program and because of the state of Oregon, including one student who turned down the number one program in the country to come here, and another who chose us over a top-five program,” Steel said. “If you look at the Graduate Record Exams and the grade point averages of entering students, we’re definitely in the top 10 percent nationally.”
Students in the Master of Public Policy program have the opportunity to work with faculty in a variety of related OSU units, including the Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative, the Institute for Water and Watersheds, the Marine Resource Management Program, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the Institute for Natural Resources, and OSU’s Land Grant, Sea Grant and Sun Grant programs.
The students are required to do an internship, Steel noted, and many are engaged in projects that are affecting real people in significant ways.
“Two of our students are working with (OSU sociologist) Mark Edwards on a project analyzing homeless youths in southern Oregon, two others are working on a Ford Family Foundation project with (OSU economist) Bruce Weber studying how to help struggling rural counties, and another is designing an outreach program with OSU Extension to encourage Latino students to pursue higher education,” Steel said.
“We also have several students involved with established agencies and organizations, including the United Nations, the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., and the Oregon Governor’s Office,” he added.
The new science policy concentration will allow students to design some of their own curriculum revolving around a core of issues including technology, ethics, history of science, philosophy of science, and scientific controversy.
“There’s no shortage of issues, especially in Oregon, that touch upon ethics, controversy and technology,” Steel said with a laugh.