Annual Report 2019-2020

From the Director

It is my pleasure to present the Public Policy Center's Annual Report for academic year 2019-2020. It's been an extraordinary year in many ways. The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work and I have been overwhelmingly pleased with the way the Public Policy Center (PPC) has risen to this challenge. Not only have our researchers and staff effectively adapted our work environments to stay productive, but many have pivoted or broadened their scope of work to include important research related to the implications of the pandemic.

Equally important, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the shooting of Jacob Blake have raised our collective consciousness about the systemic racial injustices that have significant policy implications across all program areas at the center. Equity and inclusion have been at the heart of the research conducted at the PPC; however, we know there is more we all need to do. We are committed to using AY 2021 as an opportunity to increase the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion activities at the PPC and strive to move forward to improve racial justice, particularly in issues of importance to the black community.

In fulfilling our campus-wide mission, we had the pleasure of collaborating with colleagues in over 50 units on campus this year. 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.

The academic rigor of our policy research programs was again evident with the many publications in top journals, including Health Affairs, Military Medicine, Journal of Health Economics, International Studies Review, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Journal of Safety Research, and many more.

Of particular note, we broadened our research programs to include the Media, Policy and Public Opinion Research program (MPPO) this past year, led by Professor Kajsa Dalrymple from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The primary mission of the MPPO is to conduct research on media policy and the implications of media coverage and public opinion of policy issues.

Our ongoing efforts to find ways to engage more students in meaningful, policy-related, experiential learning opportunities have not only continued, but are expanding in coordination with the University's Path Forward Strategic Plan implementation. Students want to change the world, and we are creating opportunities for career and life discernment. This year we incorporated the Life Design class for undergraduates into the PPC, supporting David Gould's efforts to help students discover the interests to which they are innately drawn and inspire them to achieve. Another example is the establishment of the Iowa Political Opinions Lab (IPOL), by Kajsa Dalrymple and Fred Boehmke, Professor of Political Science and Director of the PPC's Iowa Social Science Research Center (ISRC), to engage a team of undergraduates in public opinion survey research and policy assessment.

Speaking of the ISRC, they supported a record number of grant applications in AY 20 (84 proposals) and conducted research-related data collection activities for units across campus. Our commitment to supporting social science research as part of the OVPR is a key part of our mission.

To fulfill our community engagement mission, the PPC hosted events ranging from lectures, to symposiums, panel discussions, and a podcast on race in society in partnership with WNYC: The United States of Anxiety. The PPC co-sponsored numerous events with other campus colleagues, including Stacey Abrams' visit and the Legatum Institute's United States Prosperity Index webinar.

To help us self-reflect, the Public Policy Center engaged students from Tippie's Marketing Institute to help evaluate how we can better share our research and services with the university community. The PPC has launched several initiatives based on their recommendations after a year-long review.

I feel privileged to lead the center's dedicated staff and faculty and am grateful for the 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 2020-2021.


The Public Policy Center (PPC) is an interdisciplinary research center in the central administration (Office of the Vice President for Research) with a campus-wide mission of both conducting and stimulating research; engaging with policymakers and the public; improving student success; and supporting social scientists across campus. For more than 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.

We are proud of the impact that the Public Policy Center had across all four of our missions during the past academic year:

Conduct policy-relevant research

In 2019-20, the PPC maintained 10 active grants and contracts totaling $12.3 million from federal, state, and foundation sources. The breadth of research topics this year included racial disparities in the criminal justice system, nutrition and healthy behaviors, local school climate and equity, oral health care workforce, opioid abuse in rural communities, health disparities, patient-centered dental home, sexually transmitted disease incidence and social determinants of health, injury prevention, community mental healthcare, violence prevention in schools, and, tele-dentistry. The PPC also contracted to evaluate several Iowa education and health programs, including the Personal Responsibility Education Program, Iowa's State Innovation Models, and Iowa Health and Dental Wellness Plans.

More than 200 journal articles, reports, presentations, proceedings, policy briefs, and blog posts have been published or delivered.

Involve students

The Center provided 67 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 engaged an additional 60 undergraduate students through classwork. The PPC supported Policy and Persuasion, a course in which students build a professional skill set in the area of public policy and create a portfolio of materials to present to an actual client around a policy issue. The PPC was proud to host the Life Design course for the first time in 2019-2020. Through stories, lectures, readings, guest speakers, and reflective writings, Life Design helps students discover what they are innately drawn to do.

Support interdisciplinary research

Through the Iowa Social Science Research Center (ISRC), the Center assisted researchers from 18 units across three colleges apply for 84 grants ($19.2 million).

The ISRC completed data collection for 23 projects, conducted 8,946 interviews, provided 15 statistical and survey consultations, and hosted 31 workshops with 461 attendees.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion runs through all the missions at the Public Policy Center

As mentioned in the Director's letter, the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the shooting of Jacob Blake have raised our collective consciousness about the systemic racial injustices that have significant policy implications across society, and are reflected in all of our research program areas. As a unit in the central administration, the Public Policy Center (PPC) strives to be a leader in advancing the university's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals across all of the missions of the Center. All PPC missions, from research to engagement, rely on the inclusive exchange of ideas from diverse perspectives.

It is critical that our research mission includes the analysis of inequalities across all of our program areas if we are truly investigating the most critical issues facing society. In the past year, our faculty and staff researchers have conducted important studies in areas such as public health and health disparities, environmental disparities, housing, school climate, food insecurity and the digital divide.

Our student success activities have been aimed at improving access to high impact experiences for students that have often been less likely to receive these services, such as the center's involvement in the Hawkeye Talent Initiative for first generation students and our engagement with students from the Student Research Opportunities Program.

During 2019-2020, we sponsored events and conversations exploring issues such as the unequal impact of climate change and natural disasters on vulnerable populations; building a multi-racial democracy; voter suppression in minority communities; and the COVID pandemic's disproportionate effect on our Black and brown communities. We continued our partnerships with those in our community doing parallel work toward a more equitable society, including the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, African American Council, CommUnity (formerly Crisis Center of Johnson County), League of Women Voters, and many others.

We know there is more to do. The PPC is committed to continuing and expanding our DEI-related work and activities, both internal to the center and beyond our borders. We welcome your suggestions for areas in which we can improve.


The Public Policy Center is home to nearly 100 faculty and staff—including those who are full-time at the PPC and those with secondary appointments. PPC investigators work across seven research programs in various disciplines:

We directly support interdisciplinary, social science research on campus through the Iowa Social Science Research Center, which provides grant development support; data collection and management services; survey development and statistical software consulting; and other related services.

Our researchers collaborate with and are supported by federal, state, and local agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Iowa City Community School District, Johnson County, and the Iowa Departments of Public Health and Human Services, among others. 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 nearly 1,000 PPC papers that were downloaded more than 40,000 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.

Team Develops Webpage to Track Impact of COVID-19 on Iowa's State Correctional Population

Map show COVID-19 positive cases by county and COVID-19

Ethan Rogers, assistant research scientist in the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program, Alex Sukalski, senior application developer, and Mark Berg, director of the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program, developed a webpage to track the statistics, news, and policy decisions relevant to the impact of COVID-19 in Iowa's correctional facilities. The page provides up-to-date visualizations of current patterns and trends of cases, prison and jail populations, and other correctional data.

Berg Awarded CDC Grant

Mark Berg, director of the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program, was awarded a grant from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to work on a two-year project, "Childhood Stressors and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Adulthood: A Longitudinal Investigation of Divergent Explanatory Models." The project is one of four interdisciplinary research projects as part of the CDC's $4.2 million, five-year grant to the University of Iowa to continue the Injury Prevention Research Center in the College of Public Health.

View Crime and Justice Policy Publications

Environmental Policy Research

River and a green bluff

The Environmental Policy Research Program investigates issues such as water quality and use and climate change adaptation and mitigation. These challenges are considered holistically from multiple perspectives, including economic, legal, and/or policy ones, anchored by a science-based approach.

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

Online Map Helps Iowans Learn More About Their Well Water

Clean water streams through cupped hands

A team of University of Iowa researchers, including David Cwiertny, director of the Environmental Policy Research Program, has developed an interactive online map which allows Iowans to learn more about their private wells, in terms of location and water quality.

The searchable map includes information about the depth of wells, and the presence of contaminants such as nitrates, arsenic, and bacteria. This information can help well drillers and residents make decisions on the placement and depth of new wells. The map was developed in a collaboration among the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), the University of Iowa Hydroinformatics Lab, the Iowa Geological Survey, and IIHR - Hydroscience and Engineering, and uses years of public health data.

View Environmental Policy Publications

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, Bernstein professor of preventive and community dentistry, directs the program.

Kuthy and McKernan Publish Iowa Dentist Workforce Trends Atlas

State dentists at a glance

Raymond Kuthy, distinguished research fellow in residence, Susan McKernan, senior research fellow in residence and Julie Reynolds, research fellow in residence in the Health Policy Research program, and faculty in the College of Dentistry, have compiled an atlas of dentist workforce trends in the state of Iowa. The atlas uses data from the Iowa Dentist Tracking System and describes 20 years of historical dentist workforce trends since 1997. This research is being used for workforce planning purposes in the state of Iowa.

View Health Policy Publications

Media, Policy and Public Opinion

Someone browses a news website on a smart phone

The Public Policy Center created a new research program in Media, Policy and Public Opinion (MPPO) in the fall of 2019. It aims to tackle questions about our changing media landscape, peoples' mistrust in media, media laws, and how media affects our voting behavior. The mission is ongoing, as the MPPO scholars and their teams are sharing expertise with policy makers and communities through a series of talks and workshops.

Dr. Kajsa Dalrymple is serving as the first MPPO program director. Dalrymple is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and senior research fellow in-residence with the PPC's Environmental Policy Research Program. She worked with senior research fellow Dr. Melissa Tully to develop the program's proposal. Tully's "Misinformation in Emerging Democracies Project" and Dalrymple's "Iowa Values Project" launched the program.

View Media, Policy and Public Opinion Publications

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.

Osborn Accepts Fellowship at King's College in London

The front entrace of King's College

In the Spring 2020 semester, Politics and Policy Research Program director and senior research fellow in residence Tracy Osborn accepted a Visiting Senior Research Fellow position in the Global Institute for Women's Leadership (GIWL) at King's College, London, UK. In this position, she worked on a book manuscript and participated in events at GIWL. While in the UK, she also presented the manuscript draft, "Increasing Women's Representation? Women Candidate Groups in the U.S. States" at Strathclyde University (Glasgow, Scotland) and at Birkbeck College, University of London. In the process of planning for a talk at GIWL at King's College, the global pandemic of Covid-19 cut her London stay short, and she returned to the US in mid-March 2020. However, the research time and feedback from new audiences was invaluable to her research on election policy.

View Politics and Policy Publications

Social and Education Policy Research

Young students huddled around a laptop

The Social and Education Policy Research Program conducts research on education policy, poverty and inequality, housing and regional development, tax policy, and family and child policy.

David Frisvold, associate professor of economics, directs the program.

Frisvold Named Director of Social and Education Policy Research Program

Portait of David Frisvold with Iowa City skyline in the background

David Frisvold, associate professor in the Department of Economics, was named the new director of the Social and Education Policy Research Program on July 1, 2019. He replaced former director Sarah Bruch. Frisvold has worked with the PPC for more than six years as a scholar-in-residence and as a senior research fellow in both the Social and Education and Health Policy programs. Frisvold hopes to enhance the visibility of the social and education research currently being done on campus, to foster collaborative opportunities for faculty, and to develop new projects to strengthen understanding of the influence of social and education policy on the welfare of individuals.

View Social and Education Policy Publications

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.

National Advanced Driving Simulator Receives Grant to Study Automated Rural Driving

The University of Iowa's National Advanced Driving Simulator was awarded a $7 million grant in September 2019 to research the safe integration of automated driving systems. UI's program was chosen as one of eight projects across the country that gathers data and insights about self-driving technologies and how to safely bring them to streets and highways. The U.S. Department of Transportation, which awarded the grant, received 73 project proposals for funding.

Developed in partnership with Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Transportation, UI's project is called Automated Driving Systems for Rural America. It focuses on connecting rural and especially aging populations with automated vehicle technologies, as 22 percent Iowa's population is expected to be over the age of 64 by 2030.

Testing is set up over eight phases and two-and-a-half years, during which researchers will compare different levels of automation with the occupant's comfort and emotional states. The testing route will start in Iowa City and then travel through small towns via rural roads. The goal of the project is to improve driverless vehicle technologies and demonstrate how they can benefit the older and mobility-challenged members of Iowa's communities.

View Tranportation and Vehicle Safety Publications

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.

Despite the challenges of 2020, the Iowa Social Science Research Center (ISRC) had a record-setting year helping researchers across campus with grant support. The ISRC team assisted 92 investigators across 18 departments and submitted 84 grants ($19.2M) – a 40% increase over the previous year (which was also a record-setting year), including the successful $2.8 million Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant awarded to John Warren, Professor of Preventive & Community Dentistry.

The ISRC hosted a new grant writing group with ten faculty members from nine different departments participating in regular sessions. The camaraderie within the cohort was a big part of the appeal – members appreciated getting out of the office and working with others for a few hours. The grant support team was on hand to answer questions and offer whatever support was needed.

The ISRC conducted the Hawkeye Poll of Iowa in Fall 2019. More than 150 undergraduate students participated in this teaching, research, and service project run by the Hawkeye Poll Cooperative, comprised of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students in the political science and sociology departments. The students completed 1,288 surveys during the October 28 to November 10 polling period.

Student Success

Joe Palca speaks with graduate students

During academic year 2019-2020, the PPC engaged 67 students in research, data collection, and administrative support. Many of our undergraduate students were trained by the ISRC in social science research activities, including data collection methodology and human subjects training.

Summer Policy Research Institute Launched

Students work together on a paper

Twenty-six students from various disciplines participated in the inaugural session of the Summer Policy Research Institute (SPRI), which was launched in June 2020. The six- to eight-week program was designed for undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in policy research. The mission of SPRI is to develop a model for exposing students to academic research through a mentored, team-based experience. It is part of the university's Path Forward Strategic Plan Engagement Work Group initiative to provide students with high-impact, meaningful experiences outside the classroom.

Benefits of participating in SPRI include an appointment at the PPC as an undergraduate or graduate research fellow, weekly seminars on policy research-related topics, instructor-guided feedback sessions, opportunities to meet with UI leadership about their experiences in research, and development of a policy brief to be published on the PPC website.

SPRI is part of the development of Iowa RISE, a program to engage more students in Research, Internships, Service learning, and civic Engagement.

Burke Leads Iowa City Senior Center Project to Complete Practicum

Kyle Burke, who earned his master of social work (MSW) in Spring 2020, spent his final year at the Public Policy Center (PPC) doing his practicum. The MSW advanced practicum provides students with real-world experience and mentorship while ensuring they meet the competencies required to become a social worker. It is a year-long, 700-hour internship during which students work closely with an established social worker in their chosen field to build skills and gain valuable knowledge. During his internship, Burke collaborated extensively with Iowa City's Senior Center, with guidance from his mentor, Tessa Heeren, research specialist in PPC's Health Policy Research Program.

Additionally, Burke completed a project for the PPC – surveying current and past PPC students about their experiences working at the Center. He asked for their perspectives on the training and learning opportunities they had, the skills they learned, their mentoring experience; plus, importantly, how they felt their work at the PPC contributed to our mission and whether and how the experience was a positive one. His work will have a lasting impact on the Center because we will continue to use a version of the survey to collect input from every student who works here. This data will help us understand what we're doing well and where we may need additional efforts and training so we can continue to provide students with valuable work and life learning experiences.

"Collaborating with the Senior Center was one of the best learning opportunities I could have hoped for during my practicum at the Public Policy Center. The project utilized skills I had worked on throughout the MSW program and gave me various tasks which improved upon them. By the end of the project, I had designed a survey, led meetings, conducted quantitative and qualitative data analysis, and created a report for Senior Center staff. I cannot thank the PPC enough for giving me the tools I need to succeed in my future social work career." – Kyle Burke, MSW

Roof Receives Outstanding Community Contribution by a Student Leader Award

Jocelyn Roof, who studies political science and sociology, has been an undergraduate research fellow at the PPC for two years. During the 2019-2020 academic year, Roof contributed to the university's Path Forward strategic plan by participating in a project on K-12 civics education in Iowa. She also participated in the PPC's Student Policy Research Institute – doing research for a project on social determinants of health for rural seniors.

In Spring 2020, Roof received the Outstanding Community Contribution by a Student Leader award. Roof was recognized for her efforts through "Hawk the Vote" to promote voter registration, education, awareness, and turnout among the student population and the broader community. Through large-scale events such as the mock caucus, meet the candidate events, and a post-caucus event, Roof helped increase voter turnout among the 18 to 25 age group by nine percent, compared to 2016.


In fulfilling our community engagement mission, the PPC hosted 61 events (including three Forkenbrock Series events) and co-hosted 27 events with university and community partners during 2019-2020.

The Forkenbrock series showcases some of our signature events, features guest speakers and symposiums, and provides a forum for dialogue about policy areas from applied, academic, and interdisciplinary perspectives. The series was started in honor of David Forkenbrock, who established the PPC at the University of Iowa in 1987.

Extreme Weather in Iowa: a Symposium

Thermeter with caption 'Extreme Weather in Iowa: 'Paths to Equitable Response, Recovery, and Resilience'

This symposium was held in Des Moines on October 2, to bring together various constituencies to share information and discuss extreme weather events in Iowa, including trends, prevention, response, monitoring, and long-term recovery.

The day featured two keynote speakers. Gene Takle, professor emeritus in the Geological and Atmospheric Sciences Department at Iowa State University, gave an overview of weather trends in Iowa. His presentation focused largely on changes in temperature from the early 20th century through 2019, both globally and in the Midwest, increases in the length of frost-free seasons and variations in precipitation.

Eric Tate, associate professor in the University of Iowa Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, was the second keynote speaker. His presentation focused on equity in disaster response and how vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by weather events.

The all-day event included panel discussions focused on heat and floods. Representatives from county-level health and emergency departments, as well as aid agencies talked about the impacts of extreme heat on the communities and clients they serve, and academic experts presented their research on the topics.

The event ended with a policy discussion among a diverse panel of Iowa House representatives and senators, and representatives from the Iowa governor's office and the Des Moines City Council.

All presentations and discussions can be viewed here.

The Burden of Gun Violence: Trends and Policy Solutions

A panel of experts discussed the burdens of gun violence in the United States, and offered evidence-based policy solutions at this Iowa City event on October 23, with almost 200 people in attendance.

Presenters included Thomas Abt, a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Philip Cook, Terry Sanford professor emeritus at Duke University; Janet Lauritsen, Curators' distinguished professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri – St. Louis; and Richard Rosenfeld, Curators' distinguished professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

The panel discussed topics such as gun violence trends in the United States; gender, intimate partners, and gun violence; regulation of guns and gun markets; violence reduction strategies and their effectiveness for reducing suicide and criminal violence.

Following their presentations, Ben Kieffer of Iowa Public Radio moderated a Q&A session. Audio of the Q&A and KCRG's news coverage of the event can be found here.