Annual Report 2018-2019

From the Director

It is my pleasure to present the Public Policy Center's Annual Report for academic year 2018-19. 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) contributes to student success by employing and training 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.

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.

To fulfill our community engagement mission, the PPC hosted lectures, workshops, symposiums, and a film screening. Tamara Keith of National Public Radio participated in a dialogue about the future of US politics and we co-sponsored lectures by Cokie Roberts and US Senator (NE) Ben Sasse. Again this year we helped sponsor the Provost's Global Forum – "Why School? International Perspectives on Education and Social Transformation" and the ISRC's Data Science Institute.

2018-19 was also the PPC's 30th anniversary year. In celebration, we hosted "Visualizing Equitable and Sustainable Communities in Iowa," which highlighted the work of our various research programs in a fun, fast-paced, "3-minute thesis" format, along with poster presentations.

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 2019-2020.


The Public Policy Center (PPC) is the only interdisciplinary research center in the central administration with the campus-wide mission of both conducting and stimulating research. For more than 30 years, the PPC has conducted research about important issues affecting society, and shared that knowledge with our communities. 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 2018-19, the PPC maintained 18 active grants and contracts totaling over $14.2 million from Federal, State, and Foundation sources. The breadth of research topics this year included racial disparities in criminal justice processing, preventing violence in schools, incentivizing healthy behaviors, K-12 school climate studies, integration of oral health and primary care, agricultural land-use impacts, the dental workforce, mental health outcomes in community health centers, efficacy of state-funded teen pregnancy prevention programs, opioid risks in rural communities, income inequality, education policy and taxation, and health care reform.

More than 80 journal articles, reports, presentations, proceedings, policy briefs, and blog posts have been published or delivered.

Improving Student Success

The center provided 100 undergraduate and graduate students, from a wide variety of disciplines, with employment opportunities where they gained research training and the ability to collaborate with their peers and colleagues on research-related activities. We supported Big Ideas: Equality, Opportunity, and Public Policy in America, an undergraduate course exploring policy issues from interdisciplinary perspectives, and the Green Room events, to engage students with national speakers to assist with career development and connections to the community.

Support interdisciplinary research

Through the Iowa Social Science Research Center (ISRC), the Center assisted researchers from 14 units across three colleges in applying for 60 grants ($22 million).

The ISRC completed data collection for 25 projects, 28 statistical and survey consultations, and hosted nearly 40 workshops with over 800 attendees.


The staff and faculty of the PPC had another outstanding year:

Several summer scholars-in-residence teams advanced their research in:


The PPC supports students' educational success in a number of ways. We provide employment and internship opportunities for more than 100 students each year; we support student organizations across campus like the Lecture Committee and Hawk the Vote; and in 2018-2019 we taught and supported several undergraduate courses, including Big Ideas: Equality, Opportunity, and Public Policy in America – exploring policy issues from interdisciplinary perspectives; Passport Project – a seminar built to expose students to a range of cultural, political, scientific, and other scholarly activities that may spark a potential interest; and the Green Room – featured here.

The Green Room

The PPC proudly supported The Green Room, a course that was built on the premise that higher education is no longer asking students the right questions. If that assertion is even partially true, then the larger inquiry becomes: What are the right questions and who can help us find them?

The Green Room students present to a university and community audience.

The Green Room students present to a university and community audience.

The idea was to invite the brightest thinkers we could find and ask each to bring along the most important question they believe twenty-somethings should be struggling to answer and higher education should be helping to inform. These questions became the connective tissue linking one session to the next.

Searching for answers, residents of Iowa City were invited to join The Green Room for a series of Monday evening classes. The tagline quickly became "inviting the city to school" and over 600 local residents joined 90 honor students in a public learning experience.

What The Green Room brings new to the pedagogical table is how it calls on the students to take over every part of the production, e.g. publicity, greeting, introducing speakers, running the lights, working out logistics and setting the tone for the conversation. Blending music, lecture, formal Q-and-A's and informal conversations, the result has been described as "less like a traditional classroom discussion and more like a TED talk, combined with an episode of The Moth: Radio Hour, combined with a late-night discussion over coffee with 500 close friends."

Magician Nate Staniforth performs in The Green Room.

Magician Nate Staniforth performs in The Green Room.

Communities function best when empathy is combined with information. In an age when the stakes couldn't be higher, what role do universities play as "knowledge centers" to the cities and states where they reside? How does engaging in community make you smarter? And can the city become our classroom?

"I truly think The Green Room is the best thing I have ever been a part of. I knew from the first night we met in Schaeffer Hall that this was something special. I went home and wrote 3 pages in my journal about how excited I was for this, and it went on to surpass all my expectations." – Green Room student.


The PPC supported lectures and symposia on campus and in the community around issues of climate change, voting access and rights, how unbiased data helps inform policy-makers, worker rights, and much more. We also kicked off our Run Up to the 2020 Caucus series and celebrated the Center's 30th anniversary.

The Future of Politics: Looking Ahead to 2020

Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for National Public Radio; Chris Buskirk, publisher and editor of American Greatness; and Melissa Ryan, writer, organizer, and digital strategist of Ctrl Alt-Right Delete; engaged in a conversation about the current state and the future of politics in front of a crowd of nearly 600 at the Englert Theatre.

This event was the first of the PPC's Run Up to the 2020 Caucus series, which runs through the end of January 2020. Ben Kieffer of Iowa Public Radio moderated the discussion, and started by asking the three guests to describe how they saw the current state of the major parties in politics.

Buskirk replied that we are in a time of political and cultural realignment. The parties are uncertain about the future and are aware of some dissatisfaction among their constituents, and so must rethink their identities. He felt that when Donald Trump announced his candidacy it forced Republicans to assess who they were as a party. Now the Democratic party is facing the same sort of identity crisis, with so many candidates running, and so many new representatives that emerged from the mid-terms.

Ryan answered that faith in institutions is at an all-time low, and that neither Republicans nor Democrats are doing very well with voters. She believes there is an increased focus on personalities like President Trump, and amplified attention on new Democratic representatives. Ryan also believes that Democrats are paying more attention to the constituencies that bring them into office, and not just swing voters. Republicans are holding onto the base they have left, and will need to refocus on emerging demographics if they want to continue to win in a fair fight.

Finally, Keith's assessment was that "for all of the soul-searching going on, there's also a lot of falling in line." Republicans have become the "party of Trump." She pointed to the 2018 Republican candidates who separated themselves from Trump and did not win. Likewise, during the debates between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Democratic voters were opposed on certain issues such as minimum wage, but now are more unified on the same issues.

Keiffer guided the conversation through many political topics, and audience members had an opportunity to ask questions.

To read more about Buskirk, Ryan, and Keith, or to listen to the program, click here.

Visualizing Equitable and Sustainable Communities in Iowa

In honor of its 30th Anniversary, the Public Policy Center showcased how our research impacts the lives of Iowans and our communities. In a fun, fast-paced, "3-minute thesis" style, and poster presentations, researchers talked about the issues they study. The event drew approximately 80 community members, and offered an opportunity for them to mingle and ask questions of the researchers. Attendees also were able to provide feedback on the issues that are most important to them.

What is the most import policy issue for creating equitable and sustainable communities in iowa and why?

Topics included material hardship and income in Iowa, equitable access to safe drinking water, how Integrated Health Home policies affect vulnerable children, ideological differences between male and female legislators, Iowa as a policy innovator, and more. The program was split into three oral presentation sessions, with 15-minute poster sessions in between.

Iowa City Mayor, Jim Throgmorton and former Iowa City Councilor, Kingsley Botchway presented remarks. Throgmorton talked about the importance of public policy in the community. "Our plan is to foster a more sustainable city, address racial inequity, have affordable neighborhoods, allow for immigrants and refugees to better adjust, address climate change, and revise some of our city codes to help with sustainability and bring more diversity to the community," he said. Botchway spoke about the collaborative partnership between the Iowa City Community School District and Sarah Bruch's Equity Implemented Partnership project.

To view presentations and posters from this event, click here.

Other key events of 2018-2019 included:

For a full listing of our 2018-2019 events schedule, please visit our events page.