Annual Report 2017-2018

From the Director

It is my pleasure to present the Public Policy Center's Annual Report for academic year 2017-18. All of the work we do is in the name of creating new knowledge about issues that advance the public good and sharing this information with policymakers and the public. At the same time, the Public Policy Center (PPC) increases student success by training and employing over 100 students in research related activities, and supports interdisciplinary research activities on campus. This report highlights some of the accomplishments of our team at the Public Policy Center this past year. I hope you'll take some time to look through the report and explore the great work of folks associated with the Center.

In fulfilling our mission of being in the UI Central Administration as part of the Office of the Vice President for Research, we had the pleasure of working with colleagues in over 50 units on campus. These collaborations involved the conduct of interdisciplinary research; the sharing of research through engagement activities; and grant development, data collection and methods workshops through our Iowa Social Science Research Center.

Of particular note, we broadened our research programs to include the Crime and Justice Policy Research program this past year. In addition to our traditional research of national and international significance, both our Crime and Justice Policy Research Program and our Social and Education Policy Research Programs had productive local research-related community partnerships: our Crime and Justice Program worked in both Johnson and Linn counties, and our Social & Education program furthered its work with the Iowa City Community School District in its Equity Implemented Partnership, funded by the Spencer Foundation's Research-Practice Partnership Program.

The academic rigor of our applied research programs was again evident with the many publications in top journals, including an article from our health policy team that was selected as one of the ten best in the top health policy journal, Health Affairs.

To fulfill our community engagement mission, the PPC hosted events ranging from lectures, to symposiums, panel discussions, and an immersive, mock UN negotiation on climate change. We supported the Equality, Opportunity, and Public Policy in America class for undergraduates as a Big Ideas course. The PPC co-sponsored numerous events with other campus colleagues, including Ellen Stofan's (NASA) lecture, Climate Change: Keeping the Earth Green, Clean and Habitable, and held fundraising events for the UI Veterans Association and the Johnson County Crisis Center.

I especially look forward to this next year, 2018-19, as it is the PPC's 30th anniversary year. It is exciting to think of how much the Center has grown and how integrated the PPC's activities are all across campus. This cross-fertilization from interdisciplinary activities is what makes the Public Policy Center such a vibrant and fulfilling hub on campus.

I feel privileged to lead the Center's dedicated staff and faculty and am grateful for all their hard work and creativity that leads to our success in generating new knowledge and sharing it with the campus and beyond. On behalf of all of us, thank you for your support, and we look forward to working with you in 2018-19.


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 2017-18, the PPC maintained 24 active grants and contracts totaling nearly $14.8 million from Federal, State, and Foundation sources. The breadth of research topics this year included health care reform, healthy behavior incentives, school nutrition, interpersonal conflict and violence, integration of oral health and primary care, water demand, Iowa family planning evaluation, campus climate diversity and equity, social safety net policies, farm equipment safety, income inequality, education policy and taxation, and local school climate.

More than 83 journal articles, reports, presentations, proceedings, policy briefs, and blog posts have been published or delivered.

Involve students

The center provided 103 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 (ISRC), the Center assisted researchers from 12 units across three colleges apply for 34 grants ($12.7 million).

The ISRC completed data collection for 22 projects, and hosted nearly 40 workshops with over 500 attendees.


The Public Policy Center is home to 116 faculty and staff—including those who are full-time at the PPC and those with secondary appointments. PPC investigators spread across six 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 907 PPC papers that were downloaded more than 20,000 times in the past year.

Crime and Justice Policy Research

Statue of Lady Justice, blindfolded and holding balance scales

The Crime and Justice Policy Research Program conducts research on the causes and consequences of crime, interpersonal violence, and antisocial behavior. The program also considers the implementation and implications of public policies designed to prevent and control offending and victimization.

Mark T. Berg, associate professor of sociology, directs the program.

Crime and Justice Policy is Newest Area of Research for PPC

Mark Berg and Ethan Rogers stand in front of the Old Capitol with Marion Police

In July of 2017, the Public Policy Center added a sixth policy program – the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program (CJPRP) - to continue its mission towards providing policy makers and the public with research that helps our communities thrive. Dr. Mark Berg, associate professor in the Department of Sociology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was appointed director of the CJPRP. Berg has extensive training in crime and justice policy and his research interests primarily include interpersonal violence, social determinants of health and the social context of adolescent development. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on criminology, communities, and interpersonal violence.

Ethan Rogers was hired as a research coordinator in the CJPRP to facilitate and conduct national and local policy research on crime and justice. In the past year, Rogers' research has focused on criminal justice processing, the escalation of violence in interpersonal conflicts, and the mobilization of the law. Research in the CJPRP is also supported by faculty with joint appointments in other academic departments as well as graduate and undergraduate students.

Understanding the Dynamics of Conflict Escalation

Two sets of hands tugging on opposite sides of a rope

Knowing the dynamics of conflict escalation has important implications for understanding individual-differences in interpersonal violence and can inform interventions designed to reduce retaliatory actions, and has been a core research interest for the Crime and Justice Policy Research program.

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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, professor of civil and environmental engineering, directs the program.

Silvia Secchi Joins Environmental Policy Research Program

Siliva Secchi talks to an audience at the Iowa City Public Library

In Fall 2017, Dr. Silvia Secchi joined the Environmental Policy Research Program at PPC in a joint appointment with the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences. Hired as part of the campus-wide Water Sustainability Initiative, Dr. Secchi's research interests focus on the environmental impacts of agriculture, floodplain policy, conservation policy, land use science, and adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. Previously, Dr. Secchi served as an Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Resources at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

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.

Health Affairs Article Makes Editor's Top Ten

Health Affairs journal being read

A journal article submitted to Health Affairs by PPC researchers Natoshia Askelson, Brad Wright, Suzanne Bentler, Elizabeth Momany, and Peter Damiano, was selected as one of editor-in-chief Alan Weil's editor's picks. Each year, Weil selects what he considers to be the ten most noteworthy pieces of the year. The article is entitled, "Iowa's Medicaid Expansion Promoted Healthy Behaviors But was Challenging to Implement and Attracted Few Participants." It can be found here

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.

Domestic Violence Policy Examined at Day-Long Conference

Black and while portrait of a woman looking to the side

On October 9, 2017, the PPC's Politics and Policy Research Program hosted the Conference on Gendered Violence, a day-long event focusing on international, national, and state and local problems concerning domestic and sexual violence policy. The conference brought together practitioners and researchers to learn from each other and discuss problems and possible solutions.

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Kreitzer Returns as 2018 Summer Scholar

Portrait of Rebecca Kreitzer

In May of 2018, Rebecca Kreitzer, Department of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Tracy Osborn of the University of Iowa political science department, participated for a second year in the PPC's Summer Scholar Program. They focused on their ongoing project about women's representation in state legislatures.

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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.

Bruch Receives Grant for Equity Implemented Partnership

Sarah Bruch presents findinds from the Equity Implemented Partnership project with the Iowa City Community School District

The PPC and the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) have received a $400,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation's Research-Practice Partnership Program to support the Equity Implemented Partnership led by Sarah Bruch, Director of the Social and Education Policy Research Program at the PPC, in coordination with Kingsley Botchway, Director of Equity and Engagement at the ICCSD.

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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.

Reyes and Peek-Asa Seek to Implement Farm Equipment Road Safety

Michelle Reyes inspects instrumentation installed on a combine

Dr. Corinne Peek-Asa and Michelle Reyes are conducting an Instrumented Farm Vehicle Roadway Study, examining crashes between farm equipment and other vehicles, and focusing on vehicle interactions that contribute to rear-end and passing crashes. The goal of the study is to implement a farm equipment roadway safety program at the community level.

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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.

Boehmke et. al Develop Database on Policy Innovation

Graph of policy changes which was generated using the State Policy and Innovation Diffusion database

Fred Boehmke was part of a team that assembled the State Policy and Innovation Diffusion (SPID) database on the Harvard Dataverse. The database includes policy adoption dates for the 50 states for over 700 policies and was collected with the support of the National Science Foundation.

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Joe Palca speaks with graduate students

During academic year 2017-18, the PPC employed 103 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.

Doctoral Student Works to Improve Safety of Farm Vehicles

Kayla Faust sits inside a farm tractor simulator

UI doctoral student Kayla Faust is working to change farm injury statistics through the use of a specialized driving simulation.

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Sukalski Wins Graduate Student Merit Award

Jennifer Sukalski

Jennifer Sukalski, a Graduate Research Assistant in the PPC's Health Policy Research Program, was awarded the Leverett Graduate Student Merit Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dental Public Health for Master and Doctoral Degree Students in Dental Public Health and Dental Public Health Residents at last week's (April 16-18) National Oral Health Conference (NOHC).

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Students Represent Equity Implemented Partnership at Research in the Capitol

Kaelynn Heiberg and Rachel Maller present thier research poster

PPC students Kaelynn Heiberg and Rachel Maller presented at the annual Research in the Capitol event. Their poster, "Evaluation of Educational Equity Interventions," highlighted the importance of the Equity Implemented Partnership between the Iowa City Community School District and the Public Policy Center Social & Education Policy Research Program.

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In fulfilling our community engagement mission, the PPC hosted fourteen Forkenbrock Series events, which included the undergraduate "Big Ideas" course, Equality, Opportunity, and Public Policy in America series. The Forkenbrock Series features guest speakers and symposiums, and provides a forum for dialogue about policy areas from applied, academic, and interdisciplinary perspectives. The series was formed in honor of David Forkenbrock, who established the PPC at the University of Iowa in 1987.

We co-sponsored 13 events with other departments, including Ellen Stofan's lecture, "Climate Change: Keeping the Earth Green, Clean, and Habitable," and fundraising events for the UI Veterans Association and Crisis Center of Johnson County. We collaborated with the University of Iowa Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, and the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research on the symposium, "Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest." For the first time, the PPC co-sponsored the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council's noon luncheon series, which features speakers from around the world.

Community Members Engage in Mock Negotiations on Climate Policy

Participants in the World Climate Simulation attempt to broker a deal

In celebration of Earth Week, the PPC hosted a World Climate Simulation at the Iowa City Public Library. In a mock UN negotiation, participants, assigned to six different delegations (United States, European Union, Other Developed Nations, China, India, and Other Developing Nations), pledged policy changes aimed toward meeting the Paris Agreement goal: to reduce carbon emissions and prevent ocean temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius. The simulation was led by Jon Carlson and David Cwiertny, of the Environmental Policy Research Program.

Using a C-ROADS climate simulation model, the pledges were entered into the program for instant results. The group failed to meet the goal after the first round of negotiations, although they came close at 2.7 degrees.

A second round of negotiations revealed the complex and interesting socioeconomic dynamics among the delegations, with the developing nations revealing that they felt ignored by the more powerful delegations. Feeling a distrust in the pledges the US and EU had made, they withdrew some of their own commitments. A "planted" fuel fossil lobbyist (Silvia Secchi, Environmental Policy Research Program) added to the difficulty of the negotiations.

Though the group ultimately failed to reach the 2°C goal, they felt it was a valuable learning exercise, and left with a better understanding of the complexities of the issue.

View a video summary of the event here.

Wonk Wednesdays Showcase PPC Research at Iowa City Library

Natoshia Askelson presents at a Wonk Wednesday event

A new monthly series, Wonk Wednesdays, featured PPC researchers presenting within their areas of expertise, in their choice of format. The events were intended to draw university and community members alike to discuss topics such as immigration policy, the Affordable Care Act, and school nutrition, and were held at the Iowa City Public Library.

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Conference on Gendered Violence

On Monday, October 9th, about 120 guests gathered for a Conference on Gendered Violence.

The event started with a welcome and some solemn remarks from Beth Krayenhagen, who was a victim of sexual assault as a student at the University of Iowa. It was the first time she had shared the story of her assault publicly.

Brad Kunkel, a sergeant with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office, and co-chair of the Domestic Violence Intervention Program's board of directors, spoke next about the domestic violence his family experienced during his childhood, and about his sister, who was killed in a domestic violence incident.

The panelists examined the topic from local/state, national and international perspectives, touching on their own research and experiences. For more details about the panel discussions, see the Politics and Policy Research program section of this report.

Sarah Super, a rape survivor, educator, and activist, gave the keynote speech. Super described her rape, and talked about a "trauma-sensitive" approach to the care of sexual assault victims. Break the Silence, an organization founded by Super, offers victims an outlet for telling their own stories and to organize public protests or demonstrations.

Included in the event was a gallery of work related to domestic violence, by local artists Melissa Kreider, Jessica Pleyel, and Rachel Williams.