Annual Report 2016-2017

From the Director


The Public Policy Center (PPC) is one of the only interdisciplinary research centers in the central administration with the campus-wide mission of both conducting and stimulating research. For almost 30 years, the PPC has investigated and shared data and information about the most important issues affecting society. Our activities involve investigators from every college and our research is of local, state, national and international scope.

The Public Policy Center has four primary goals:

Conduct policy-relevant research

In 2016-17, we maintained 18 active grants and contracts totaling nearly $15 million from Federal, State, and Foundation sources. The breadth of research topics this year included health care reform, healthy behavior incentives, racial disparities in criminal justice processing, integration of oral health and primary care, water demand, dental workforce, preventing violence in schools, governance of climate engineering, UI faculty and staff parental leave, social safety net policies, housing, public policy diffusion, income inequality, education policy and taxation, and local school climate.

More than 132 journal articles, reports, presentations, proceedings, policy briefs, and blog posts have been published or delivered.

Involve students

The center provided 89 undergraduate and graduate students, from a wide variety of disciplines, with applied research training experience and opportunities to collaborate with their peers and colleagues. We also supported Big Ideas: Equality, Opportunity, and Public Policy in America, an undergraduate course exploring policy issues from interdisciplinary perspectives.

Support interdisciplinary research

Through the Iowa Social Science Research Center, we assisted researchers from 13 units across five colleges with applying for 34 grants, requesting $8.9 million in funding. The ISRC also completed data collection for 15 different projects.


The Public Policy Center is home to 94 faculty and staff—including those who are full-time at the PPC and those with secondary appointments. PPC investigators spread across five research programs in various disciplines:

In addition, we directly support interdisciplinary research on campus through the Iowa Social Science Research Center, which provides grant development support and data collection and management services.

Our researchers collaborate with and are supported by many federal, state, and local agencies. Nationally, this includes the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Safety Council. Within Iowa, collaborations include the Iowa City Community School District, Johnson County, and the Iowa Departments of Public Health, Human Services, Education and Transportation. Of particular scientific significance, our health policy researchers have had two articles accepted in Health Affairs, the top health policy journal in the country. Our research monographs also receive significant national and international attention through our website and through Iowa Research Online. Iowa Research Online is managed by the UI Libraries and features more than 240 PPC papers that were downloaded more than 6,114 times in the past year. Click here to view 2016-2017 publications.

Environmental Policy Research

River and a green bluff

The PPC's Environmental Policy Research Program investigates issues such as water use, pollution and climate change. These challenges are considered from an economic, legal, and/or policy perspective.

David Cwiertny, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, directs the program.

Cwiertny Gets a Firsthand Look at the Business of Lawmaking

Professor David Cwiertney

When it came time for David Cwiertny to plan his sabbatical, a time away from classroom teaching duties that many professors use to make progress on a book or conduct research, the University of Iowa College of Engineering professor decided to take a different route. He decided to go into politics.

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Health Policy Research

Stethoscope wrapped around an apple

The PPC's Health Policy Research Program investigates the effects of policy initiatives and government activities on cost of, access to, and quality of health care systems and their effects on consumers, health care providers, policymakers, and businesses across Iowa and the nation.

Peter Damiano, professor of preventive and community dentistry, directs the program.

Elizabeth Momany, associate research scientist at the PPC, is the assistant director of the program.

Partnership With Iowa High Schools Empowers Students

Assistant Professor Natoshia Askelson speaks to high school students in their lunchroom

How do you decide what to eat?

Is it the way the food is displayed? A creative meal description? The first thing you see when your stomach is growling? When it comes to school lunch, it can be all three and more. A partnership among the University of Iowa Public Policy Center, the College of Public Health, the Iowa Department of Education, and five high schools across the state aims to make healthy choices easier by empowering students to assess and change their lunchroom.

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Politics and Policy Research

Flags of many nations

The Politics and Policy Research Program conducts research on local, state, national, and international government and politics, and how these politics affect the creation of public policy. We also consider whether and to what extent governments "work" and the implications of government design.

Tracy Osborn, associate professor of political science, directs the program.

Series and Blog Take a Look at Politics and Policy Leading up to 2016 Election

Run Up to the 2016 Election — A series of events examing the politics and policies relevenat to the 2016 election

The Politics and Policy Research Program hosted a series of events leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election as part of the Forkenbrock Series on Public Policy. The events examined a variety of political topics, including environment, health, education, and women in politics, among others.

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Social and Education Policy Research

Young students huddled around a laptop

The Social and Education Policy Research Program conducts research on social policy, education policy and finance, criminal justice, and housing policy; participates in community-engaged research partnerships; and provides research internship opportunities for students at the University of Iowa.

Sarah Bruch, assistant professor of sociology, directs the program.

Berg Conducting Evaluation of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Case Processing and Sentencing in Johnson County

Johnson County, Iowa courthouse

Mark Berg, associate professor in the Department of Sociology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, began a collaboration with the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the Johnson County Attorney to evaluate racial and ethnic disparities in case processing and sentencing.

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Transportation and Vehicle Safety Policy Research

Cars driving on a multi-lane highway

The Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research program works to improve technology design through a better understanding of human behavior. The challenge is to match user needs with the optimal solutions—technological or otherwise.

Daniel McGehee, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, occupational health and emergency medicine, directs the program.

UI Study Finds Significant Shifts Occurring in Distracted Teen Driving

A younger driver is tutored by an older driver

To commemorate National Teen Driver Safety Week, the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Program released a study that found significant shifts occurring in distracted teen driving.

Proportionally more than any other age group, teens involved in fatal crashes are reported to have been distracted at the time of the crash. Distractions vary widely, with the most prevalent behaviors including attending to passengers, cell phone use, and attending to something inside the vehicle. Inexperience, overconfidence, social pressures, a tendency to underestimate risk, and more frequent engagement in risky behavior are just a few of the factors confronting teen drivers today.

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Iowa Social Science Research Center

Three ISRC student employees conduct a door-to-door survey

The Iowa Social Science Research Center (ISRC) is a resource for interdisciplinary social science research. It provides grant development support and data collection, management, and access services to the university community and beyond.

Fred Boehmke, professor in the Department of Political Science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is director of the ISRC.

ISRC Hosts Data Science Institutes, NSF Mini Workshop Series

An instructor lectures during an ISRC data science institute session

The ISRC hosted a number of events during 2016-17 focused on outreach and teaching, including two Data Science Institutes and a series of National Science Foundation (NSF) mini workshops.

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Joe Palca speaks with graduate students

During academic year 2016-17, the PPC employed 89 students who assisted with research, data collection, and administrative support. Fifty of the undergraduate students employed by the PPC were trained by the ISRC in social science research activities, including data collection methodology and human subjects training.

Sukalski Recognized for Excellence in Dental Public Health Research

Jennifer Sukalski

Jen Sukalski, graduate research assistant in the Health Policy Research Program, won the Keith E. Heller Dental Public Health Graduate Research Award from the Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry in the UI College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics.

The award is given to a graduating student for excellence in research in the field of dental public health. Sukalski received a plaque and a one-year membership to the American Association of Public Health Dentistry.

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To fulfill our community engagement mission, the PPC hosted five Forkenbrock Series events, the RELAX: TALK: GROW series, and the Big Ideas: Equality, Opportunity, and Public Policy in America series. The Forkenbrock Series, which features guest speakers and symposia, provides a forum for dialogue about policy areas from applied, academic, and interdisciplinary perspectives. The series was established in honor of David Forkenbrock, who established the PPC at the University of Iowa in 1987.

We also co-sponsored 48 events with other departments, including Jeffrey Toobin's lecture, "Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court," and fundraising events for the UI Veterans Association, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, and Crisis Center of Johnson County. We collaborated with the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and FilmScene to screen the documentary, "Starving the Beast: The Battle to Disrupt and Reform America's Public Universities," and the College of Public Health to screen the documentary "Newtown."

China, Iowa, and Diplomacy in the Trump Administration

Panelists speak to audience memebers at the China, Iowa, and Diplomacy in Thrump Administration event

Shambaugh Auditorium was filled to capacity for "China, Iowa, and Diplomacy in the Trump Administration," on May 3, 2017.

A group of former ambassadors and China experts – all currently living in Iowa – discussed several topics, including U.S./China relations in the Trump administration, Iowa's role in the United States' relationship with China, Branstad as ambassador and the impact for Iowa and trade, and how Branstad's selection fits within the broader vision of diplomacy in the Trump administration.

Panelists included:

  • Mary Kramer, former Iowa State Senator from 1990 to 2003 and U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean from 2004 to 2006
  • Ronald McMullen, former career diplomat and U.S. ambassador to the State of Eritrea from 2007 to 2010, and current Ambassador in Residence in the UI Department of Political Science
  • Bill Niebur, President and CEO of Origin Agritech and former Vice President and General Manager with strategic oversight responsibility for China, East Asia, and Oceania for DuPont Pioneer
  • Wenfang Tang, UI Stanley Hua Hsia Professor of Political Science and International Studies, whose current research focuses on public opinion and political change in contemporary China

Lynn Hicks, Opinion and Engagement Editor for The Des Moines Register, and Ben Kieffer, host of Iowa Public Radio's River to River, moderated the discussion.

The Effect of Women in Politics: Do They Make a Difference?

Jay Newton-Small speaking to an audience

On Nov. 1, 2016, the PPC hosted Jay Newton-Small for a lecture, "The Effect of Women in Politics: Do They Make a Difference?," and book signing. The first 25 students to arrive at the event were given a free copy of her book, "Broad Influence: How Women are Changing the Way America Works." The lecture was a part of the Run Up to the 2016 Election series. Joining Newton-Small for a panel discussion after her remarks were Jean Lloyd-Jones, former Iowa State Senator, and Tracy Osborn, director of the Politics and Policy Research Program and associate professor of political science.

Newton-Small was a Washington correspondent for TIME, and wrote about everything from Washington politics to foreign policy and national trends. She has written more than half a dozen TIME cover stories and contributed to dozens of others. She has interviewed numerous heads of state, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as senators, governors, and foreign dignitaries.