New Bootcamp Orients Cohort '18, Immerses Them in Policy Analysis

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

October 5, 2018

One of the first new elements of the Pardee RAND’s “reimagined” curriculum rolled out in September when the twenty students of Cohort ’18 arrived for their orientation.

In addition to the typical onboarding activities, the students spent several afternoons during the 10-day bootcamp wrestling with one of the thorniest policy issues in Santa Monica and nationally: how to reduce the number of homeless individuals and help them to rebuild their lives.

Teams of students visited local agencies that assist the homeless where they heard from service providers as well as formerly homeless people. They conducted structured observations on the streets in Santa Monica to determine where and how homeless individuals live. They worked together to understand local policies aimed at addressing the problem. The students also heard from two local guest speakers, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin and Cal State L.A. Professor Raphael Sonenshein, who added important political context to their exploration.

The goal of the homeless “immersion exercise” was to push students to “open their apertures,” said Assistant Dean Gery Ryan. He said he wanted them to begin see beyond their individual expertise and experiences and to appreciate the complexity of policy problems.

Gery Ryan (right) and faculty discussed the new bootcamp at the Board of Governors meeting.

Professors Lisa Meredith and Molly Selvin, students Stephanie Tanverakul (cohort '18) and Jarrett Catlin (both cohort '18), and Assistant Dean Gery Ryan discussed the new bootcamp at the fall Board of Governors meeting.

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

“We’re setting the context for them to feel comfortable with each other and rely on each other’s talents and skills” throughout their time at Pardee RAND, Ryan added.

For first-year student Max Griswold, who lived in cities with significant homeless populations before coming to Pardee RAND, the exercise was “a really valuable opportunity to understand what the role of an analyst might be.” He particularly appreciated being able to hear from people with “lived experience” on homelessness.

The team presentations that culminated bootcamp spoke to the experiment’s success. Each of the four teams had a different yet imaginative take on what they’d learned about homelessness, how they understood the complexities and policy tradeoffs, and where they saw opportunities for change.

The homeless policy immersion was the centerpiece of the new bootcamp, but other new elements reflect the principles guiding the broader curriculum overhaul—to equip students to take on complex problems in a rapidly changing world by emphasizing solutions through new thinking, new tools and methods. Those new elements included an introduction to ethics in public policy, a mini-course on U.S. politics and government, and a self-reflection exercise.

The new bootcamp emerged from months of planning by Ryan; professors Angel O’Mahoney, Molly Selvin, and Dave Baiocchi; and Assistant Dean Stefanie Howard. Anonymous student evaluations of the orientation, which largely underscored Griswold’s positive assessment, will help guide Pardee RAND faculty and staff in planning for coming years.