Brown School set to launch policy institute, expand graduate offerings

| Contributing Reporter

Following student demand for more policy-based offerings, the Brown School of Social Work is set to launch the Clark-Fox Policy Institute in the spring of 2017.

The two main goals of the institute, made possible by a 2015 gift from the Clark-Fox Foundation, will be to raise public awareness on social policy research and to create programming to engage the Washington University community.

HillmanStephen Huber | Student Life

The institute will increase the capabilities of the Brown School to promote innovative, evidence-based policy outcomes, according to Manager of Brown School Initiatives Atia Thurman.

“The interest, coupled with the gift, really created a catalyst for this institute. We have spent about a year doing a lot of analysis, assessment and strategic planning in terms of giving more definition as to what the policy institute will be,” Thurman said.

Thurman added that the communications part of the platform will focus on relationships with Brown School faculty, while the programming portion of the platform will focus on adding more opportunities for students to experience hands-on learning.

“We’ll build the communications platform of how we disseminate information and translate disseminated information. And that is working on building relationships with faculty who will provide the content for us,” Thurman said. “The second piece is the programming that’s more engaging. That’s going to include more experiential opportunities for students and training opportunities for the community.”

At its most recent meeting, the board of trustees discussed the development of a more robust set of policy-related offerings at the graduate level, Chancellor Mark Wrighton said.

“I’d like to see, and I think our new dean [of the Brown School of Social Work], Mary McKay, agrees, that we would strengthen our scholarly work and maybe even have a degree program in policy. A lot of the work that’s being done is relevant to social policy,” Wrighton said.

The policy specializations within the Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health programs are among the most popular offered by the Brown School, according to McKay. In addition to specializing within their course of study, students have opportunities to engage in policy work, including through participation in a semester course in Washington D.C., a student day in Jefferson City, Mo. and as research fellows at the Clark-Fox Policy Institute.

McKay added that it is crucial to be engaged in social policy research and discussions, especially considering the social and political climate following the recent presidential election.

“For our school, we want to look at the implications of our democracy, our current vote and how it aligns with the populations we most care about in terms of social change and equity, and figure out what our space is to either support policies that are going to support the populations that we care about or actively disrupt the policy process that we think could harm citizens,” McKay said. “We need to be actively engaged in critically thinking about whether we’re doing the right thing by the populations we care about.”

While Brown School students have the opportunity to specialize in policy, it is not available as a stand-alone degree, with the exception of a Masters in Social Policy (MSP) available only to international students. But, McKay noted that there is demand from faculty to increase these offerings.

“The faculty is very interested in exploring if that could be a platform to enlarge that set of offerings, offer more, but also expand that MSP program to students here in the U.S. and to other international partners,” McKay said. “So we don’t have a new degree program yet but we’re looking at all of the options for how we support those interests.”