Annual Report 2020-2021

From the Director

It is my pleasure to present the Public Policy Center’s Annual Report for academic year 2020-2021. Through the tremendous efforts of our faculty, staff, and students, the Public Policy Center’s research and engagement activities addressed the most challenging issues of our times, including questions of particular salience, such as the policy implications of the pandemic; issues of social justice; health and environmental disparities; criminal justice topics; and education and social policy. I am very appreciative that our faculty, staff and students have not only continued their research, but pivoted and broadened their scope during this unprecedented and difficult year.

The academic rigor of our policy research programs was again evident with the many publications in the top journals in our fields, 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.

In fulfilling our campus-wide mission as part of the Office of the Vice President for Research, we had the pleasure of collaborating this year with colleagues from all across campus on 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.

In addition, we have expanded our efforts related to the implementation of the UI’s strategic plan to find ways to engage more students in meaningful, policy-related, experiential learning activities. With pilot funding provided by the Provost’s office, we spent FY2021 beginning to build the infrastructure for the IowaRISE Initiative – a campus-wide initiative to get more students engaged in Research, Internships and mentoring, Service learning, and civic Engagement activities. In collaboration with the 70+ faculty, staff and students from across campus on our IowaRISE advisory committee and sub-committees, we applied for and received funding from the P3 initiative to continue building and implementing IowaRISE during FY2022. Our Pilot Year IowaRISE report is available here.

Again this year, the ISRC supported a significant number of grant applications (92 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 virtual events ranging from lectures to symposiums, including a panel discussion on the research around Access to Voting. The PPC co-sponsored numerous events with other campus colleagues, including Nikole Hannah Jones’ visit. In December, the PPC’s director of the environmental policy research program, David Cwiertny, had a compelling conversation with Erin Brokovich.

Internally, the PPC was committed to using AY 2021 as an opportunity to increase the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion activities within the PPC and learn how our individual thoughts and actions impact others as we strive to move forward to improve racial justice. Issues of importance to the Black community were front and center in our minds, as well as those of other underrepresented groups on campus, such as first-generation students and student veterans, who may need extra support to find their path at Iowa.

Our faculty and staff participated in the United Way’s 21-Day Equity Challenge during Fall 2020 – a program that included topics around understanding privilege, housing and redlining, justice system inequities, ally-ship, and much more. Additionally, we created "Brave Space PPC,” guided conversations structured around the Scene on Radio podcast series, Seeing White. We continued these efforts by creating Team spaces in which faculty and staff could safely share their thoughts on DEI issues, we entered an immersive partnership with the Multicultural Initiatives Research Team at the College of Education which included workshops and surveys to explore where we are. In 2022, we plan to continue these efforts in collaboration with other units in the OVPR.

I feel privileged to lead the center’s dedicated staff, students 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 2021-2022.

Impact

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 2020-21, the PPC maintained 16 active grants and contracts totaling $10 million from federal, state, and foundation sources. The breadth of research topics this year included local school climate and equity, opioid risks in rural communities, health disparities, sexually transmitted disease incidence and social determinants of health, violence prevention and adverse impacts in schools, community mental healthcare, 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, Iowa Health and Dental Wellness Plans, and Iowa’s Oral Health Workforce Evaluation. PPC researchers also received NSF Rapid Response grants related to COVID-19.

More than 160 journal articles, reports, presentations, proceedings, policy briefs, and blog posts have been published or delivered.

Involve students

The Center provided 148 undergraduate and graduate students, from a wide variety of disciplines, with applied research training experience and opportunities to collaborate with their peers and colleagues. Students worked at the PPC and ISRC as research fellows; participated on research teams across campus via IowaRISE or through the PPC’s Summer Policy Research Program; or joined the Summer Policy Research Institute.

We engaged an additional 550+ undergraduate students through classwork. The PPC is proud to host Life Design and Explore Iowa, two courses that help students explore themselves and their communities. Through stories, lectures, assigned readings, guest speakers, and reflective writing, Life Design is organized to help students discover what they are innately drawn to do. Topics include the integration of one’s worldview and professional life, practical skills, and exercises for investigating different career paths, cultivating mentors, the relationship between ambition, drive, and success, and the role of happiness in achieving excellence and success.

“Best class I have taken at Iowa in the three years I have been here. This is a class where you can grow as a person, rather than a student, which I think is so important. Every student at Iowa needs to take this class.” – Student, Life Design ACE survey (Spring 2021)

The goal of Explore Iowa is to help students explore a variety of fields, issue areas, and experiences in their community and beyond. We know that experiencing a broad range of issue areas will enhance the collegiate experience, encourage lifelong learning, and spur an interest in civic engagement. We want students to ask the question: How can I change the world?

The PPC collaborates with the GEAR UP program by reserving class sections for these students – we also work with Advising, IVETS, and other units on campus to recruit transfer students, student veterans, first generation students, and other under-represented students who can benefit from these courses.

Support interdisciplinary research

Through the Iowa Social Science Research Center (ISRC), the Center assisted researchers from 18 units across three colleges apply for 92 grants ($20.0 million).

The ISRC completed data collection for 14 projects, conducted 4,939 interviews, provided 19 free statistical and survey consultations, and recorded and posted 12 workshops.

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

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. From research to engagement, our activities rely on the inclusive exchange of ideas from diverse perspectives

Our policy-relevant research projects investigate inequalities that drive many of the most critical issues facing society. Examples of these studies conducted and/or published in the past year by our faculty and staff researchers include evaluating issues in public health and health disparities, race-restrictive covenants, race-related stress among educators of color, environmental disparities, improving STEM outcomes for women and underrepresented students, anti-racism in dental public health, and more.

Many of our student success activities, including the development of the IowaRISE Initiative, have been aimed at improving access to high impact, policy-relevant experiences for students that have often been less likely to receive these services. This year, 250 students in the GEAR UP program for first generation students enrolled in Dave Gould’s Life Design class to assist with their career and life discernment. Twenty of these students have continued as peer mentors for the fall 2021 semester. Additional activities to assist under-represented students have been conducted with the Division of Student Life, the Iowa Veterans Education, Transition and Support office (IVETS) and the Provost’s Office.

During 2021, we sponsored events and conversations exploring issues of equity and racial justice such as how a lack of access to voting affects Black and brown communities, racial health disparities in the US, and race and the media. We co-sponsored the CLAS racial and social justice series, including Race and Policing, and partnered with the League of Women Voters in a salute to the 19th amendment.

We continued our partnerships with those in our community doing parallel work toward a more equitable society, including the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, CommUnity (formerly Crisis Center of Johnson County), League of Women Voters, Iowa City Darwin Day, and many others.

As mentioned in the Director’s note, the PPC used AY 2021 as an opportunity to learn how our individual thoughts and actions impact others as we strive to improve our individual knowledge and behaviors related to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Our faculty and staff participated in the United Way’s 21-Day Equity Challenge during Fall 2020 – a program that included topics around understanding privilege, housing and redlining, justice system inequities, ally-ship, and much more. We also participated in a series of guided conversations called "Brave Space PPC,” structured around the Scene on Radio podcast series, Seeing White, and continued these efforts through online conversations where faculty and staff could safely share their thoughts on DEI issues. We were guided in internal reflection and exploration through an immersive partnership with the Multicultural Initiatives Research Team at the College of Education which included workshops and surveys. In 2022, we plan to continue these efforts in collaboration with other units in the OVPR.

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.

Research

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 60,000 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.

Berg Continues Study on Childhood Stressors and Cardiovascular Disease Risk

EKG Drawing

Mark Berg, director of the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program, has spent much of his past year studying and discussing the link between childhood adversities and cardiovascular disease risk. In one study, Berg and colleagues found that respondents tend to recall negative childhood events less often as adults than they do as children. Even if not recalled in adulthood, childhood adversities still predict lower quality cardiovascular health. These findings were highlighted in a brief report by Berg and Ethan Rogers, assistant research scientist and postdoctoral fellow of the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program. They were also featured in an IowaNow article, "Study: fading memories make childhood trauma research a challenge in adults."

In another study, Berg and colleagues found that children who grew up in hostile social environments had an elevated risk of long-term cardiovascular disease. However, warm and supportive parenting during childhood protected against these adverse health effects. Rogers and Berg wrote a summary of those findings in the research highlight, "A Legacy of Love During Troubled Times."

Berg's work was part of the US Centers for Disease Control’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. Follow more updates on the project here.

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.

Cwiertny and Scherer Brief Iowa Legislators on Lead in Drinking Water

Drinking Fountain

David Cwiertny, director of and senior research fellow in the Environmental Policy Research Program, and Michelle Scherer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, met with Iowa lawmakers in December, to warn them about the high levels of lead in drinking water. A study by Cwiertny, Scherer, et al, found that about 65,000 Iowans are at risk from drinking water with lead content above the US Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level,” which is when lead levels reach 15 parts per billion and copper exceeds 1.3 parts per million in more that 10% of samples. Iowa’s recommended action level, 20 parts per billion for lead, trails other states.

The source of the higher levels of lead is not typically the public water utilities, but corrosion in the pipes that distribute the water to sinks or drinking fountains.

Cwiertny and Scherer urged the lawmakers to replicate Michigan’s “filter first” law, which was enacted after the Flint Water crisis.

Read more about their presentation in this Des Moines Register article, or learn more about their study here.

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.

Askelson to Lead COVID Vaccination Study

Vaccination Shot

Natoshia Askelson, senior research fellow in the Health Policy Research Program, will lead a project to examine COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy in less densely populated areas of Iowa and to promote community confidence in the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will support the University of Iowa Prevention Research Center for Rural Health (PRC-RH), Iowa Public Health Association, and the statewide Iowa Immunizes Coalition as they team up with Iowa’s 17 micropolitan communities (localities with populations between 10,000 and 49,999 people), public health leaders, community based organizations, health providers, and other community leaders to promote COVID-19 vaccine uptake among residents in these communities.

The year-long project will involve three phases: first, collecting data to understand who is not getting vaccinated and why; second, pilot testing interventions and strategies that have been shown to be effective; and third, disseminating successful interventions and strategies across the state.

Read more about the study and linked articles here.

View Health Policy Publications

Media, Policy and Public Opinion

Someone browses a news website on a smart phone

The Media, Policy and Public Opinion research program (MPPO) is the newest PPC program – launched in 2019. MPPO aims to tackle questions about our changing media landscape, media laws, peoples’ mistrust in media, and how media affects our voting behavior.

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 also a senior research fellow in-residence with the PPC's Environmental Policy Research Program.

Ekdale Awarded $1 Million Grant to Study Social Media Algorithms

Algorithm

Brian Ekdale, 2020 summer scholar-in-residence, and now senior faculty affiliate in the Media, Policy, and Public Opinion Research Program, was awarded a $1million grant from the Minerva Research Initiative to continue his research on social media algorithms and extremism.

His work examines how social media algorithms reinforce personal biases, and in some cases lead to extremism.

To view a presentation that Ekdale gave on his study, and to read more about his grant, click here.

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.

Tolbert Named Carnegie Fellow

Caroline Tolbert

Caroline Tolbert, distinguished research fellow in the Politics and Policy Research Program, was selected as one of the winners of the prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellowship. The fellowship awards up to $200,000 to fund the data analysis, writing, and publishing of high-caliber scholarly research.

The award will allow her to continue her work on voting accessibility, which was the subject of her recent book, Accessible Elections: How the States Can Help Americans Vote, published in October 2020. Having been published before the 2020 election, Tolbert and co-author Michael Ritter, assistant professor of Political Science at Washington State University, were missing data from one of the most unique elections in history.

Read more about Tolbert’s award here.

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.

Iowa-Oslo Partnership Increases Internationalization for Graduate Students

Cassie Barnhardt, senior research fellow in the Social and Education Policy Research Program, is involved in a partnership with the University of Oslo that gives graduate students a virtual study abroad experience. The collaboration allows graduate students, who rarely have an opportunity to study abroad, to be exposed to other cultures and develop international professional research networks.

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.

NADS Awarded Grant to Study Automated Driving in Rural Areas

The University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) 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.

The ADS for Rural America project, developed in partnership with Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Transportation, focuses on connecting rural and especially aging populations with automated vehicle technologies, as 22 percent of Iowa’s population is expected to be over the age of 64 by 2030.

Read more about the study here.

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.

Hawkeye Poll Assesses Iowans’ Opinions on Governor Reynolds, Social Media Biases, Gun Rights and QAnon

The March/April 2021 Hawkeye Poll examined Governor Kim Reynolds' approval rating among Iowans, the biases of social media posts, Iowans' opinions on gun rights and permitless carry, and Iowans' opinions of QAnon.

The results of the poll showed the following:

  • A plurality of Iowans dissaprove of the way Reynolds is handling her job as governor, with an approval rating of 36.6% and a dissaproval rating of 45.2%. The Republican party supports the Governor at a higher rate (69.0%) than Democrats (14.5%). This poll also measured approval ratings of the state legislature and whether or not respondents approved of the direction Iowa is moving in policies.
  • A majority (56.5%) of Iowans believe that social media companies target political ideologies, particularly conservative viewpoints, when deciding whether to label posts or ban individuals from their platform. Among respondents that believe ideological targeting exists, 56.0% of those believe that conservative viewpoints are targeted more than moderate or liberal viewpoints.
  • A slight majority of Iowans opposes permitless carry of firearms, with 53.7% strongly (39.9%) or somewhat (13.8%) opposing the purchase and carrying of guns without a permit. 32.7% strongly (19.1%) or somewhat (13.6%) supported the measure.
  • Though a plurality of Iowans supports a proposed constitutional amendment to protect their right to bear arms, a large percentage remain undecided. 39.4% were in favor of the amendment, 29.6% were against it, and 31.0% responded that they were not sure, or declined to respond.
  • A little over half of Iowans (54.9%) have heard of QAnon, and of those who know about it, 59.6% thought it was a "very bad thing for the country" and 14.2% thought it was somewhat bad. Less than ten percent of respondents thought that it was a good thing for the country.

For links to more detailed results on each of the polling topics, click here.

Boehmke Receives Diversity and Inclusion Research Advancement Award

Fred Boehmke, director of the Iowa Social Science Research Center and senior research fellow in residence in the Politics and Policy Research Program, was among the inaugural winners of the American Political Science Association's (APSA) Diversity and Inclusion Research Advancement Awards.

In October 2020 APSA awarded the inaugural APSA Diversity and Inclusion Research Advancement Awards to research projects in the following areas: Early Career Scholars and Indigenous Politics. A total of seven awards were made. Boehmke was selected for his project, "Creating an Indigenous Studies Dataverse," along with Rick Witmer of Creighton University. Read more about Boehmke’s award and the selected projects here.

IPOL Surveys Gauge Interest in COVID Vaccines and Opinions on Constitutional Amendment on Abortion

The Iowa Policy and Opinion Lab (IPOL) conducted one survey that found most Iowans were interested in getting COVID-10 vaccinations, and another survey that found most Iowans are not in favor of a constitutional amendment on abortion.

IPOL is a teaching, research, and service project supported by the ISRC. It is comprised of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students, and is part of the PolicyRISE initiative to expand experiential research for UI students.

The first survey on COVID-19 vaccinations, conducted between January 13 and February 3, 2021, found that 50.2% of respondents would definitely be interested in receiving a vaccine that was approved as safe and effective. 21.3% indicated they would probably be interested, as opposed to the 10.7% who said they would probably not, and 11.4% definitely not. You can read the complete results here.

The survey asking if Iowans support an amendment to the Iowa constitution saying that the state constitution “shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion,” found that 14.8% strongly supported it and 14.3% supported it compared to 12.8% that opposed it and 33.9% that strongly opposed it. 15.2% of Iowans were neutral and 9.0% did not know or declined to answer. To read complete results of this survey, click here.

Student Success

Joe Palca speaks with graduate students

During academic year 2020-2021, the PPC engaged 148 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; others worked on PPC faculty-led projects as graduate and undergraduate Research Assistants; and several students joined our IT and Communications teams this year. More than 30 students participated in the Summer Policy Research Institute, and 17 undergraduate students – many from groups under-represented in the sciences – joined faculty research teams supported by the PPC’s Summer Policy Research Program.

Summer Policy Research Program

Students with masks working together

The Public Policy Center, in collaboration with the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates, developed and supported the Summer Policy Research Program (SPRP). This program encouraged faculty members to hire undergraduate students to work on their policy-related research over the summer months by supporting student salaries. Eight projects were funded for Summer 2021 from Journalism and Mass Communication, Sociology and Criminology, Communication Sciences, Physics and Astronomy, and Political Science. Diverse projects included topics on community disaster preparedness; barriers incarcerated women face navigating the criminal justice system; the use and success of negotiations and cooperation in civil wars; disaster-driven migration and the role of governments; the Flint water crisis, and student-designed 3D printing of space concepts. Seventeen students participated on SPRP research teams.

IowaRISE

The PPC, in collaboration with more than 70 members of the university community, continued to develop the IowaRISE program – an initiative to provide more high-impact learning experiences to students. RISE stands for Research, Internships and mentoring, Service learning, and civic Engagement. During academic year 2020-2021, the IowaRISE initiative met all of its goals for the year as outlined in the pilot grant funding application, including these highlights:

  • Successful inaugural Summer Policy Research Institute (SPRI), which engaged 26 students its first year. SPRI introduces students to academic research through a mentored, team-based experience.

  • Launch of seven faculty-led research teams that included 55 undergraduate and graduate research assistants.

  • Completion of the prototype learning module; these modules will help launch students into other IowaRISE activities by providing them the foundational knowledge about activities they may pursue – like a service learning course/project, a job in a research lab, or an internship.

  • Two mentoring programs were successfully piloted, enrolling 23 Criminology and Political Science students.

  • More than 500 undergraduate students participated in PPC courses, Life Design and Explore Iowa. These courses have been redesigned to introduce students to IowaRISE.

During FY20/21, IowaRISE was supported by pilot funding from the PathForward Strategic Plan. IowaRISE is currently supported by P3 Year 0 funding, awarded in Spring 2021.

Undergraduate Research Teams Present Their Work in Virtual Presentations

Two groups of undergraduate student researchers had an opportunity to present their studies and findings to a virtual audience.

“Policing and Mental Health on the Front Lines,” was presented by a team of criminology students who developed a plan to provide feedback on policing practices related to working with citizens with mental health challenges. The project - in Waterloo - was guided by Dr. Karen Heimer, with a goal to assess current approaches, review other research on best practices, and offer recommendations to help improve police response. A recording of their presentation can be viewed here.

“Applied Research – The Flint Water Crisis,” was presented by a team of students who analyzed emails pertaining to the Flint Water Crisis, to increase accessibility to them. The group, guided by Dr. Louise Seamster, worked to make the contents of the email archive easily searchable to members of the public, and helped to develop tools for working with the data. A recording of their presentation is available here.