Capstone course impacts real-world policy

Community participants listen to the student presentations

Human Ecology capstone courses allow undergraduates to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world settings. In PAM 4950: Capstone Projects Course, students are offered the opportunity to integrate and apply knowledge and skills they have learned in the PAM major by addressing real-world problems for outside agencies.

This year’s class provided research support for a new parenting education program Cornell Cooperative Extension is piloting in the Tompkins County Jail. Using research methods to answer program or policy questions presented by a community partner, students worked in teams to frame interventions through social science research methods, conduct background research, and collect and analyze data.

“Students had the opportunity to use the knowledge and skills they learned in the major to help a community partner address pressing questions they are facing related to the design, implementation, and evaluation of their programs,” said Maureen Waller, associate professor of Policy Analysis and Management. “This engaged learning project not only benefits our community partners, but also gives students valuable experience working on a collaborative research project, producing a high-quality report for community partners, and briefing stakeholders in a community setting.”

Students briefed community partners on their research findings and recommendations, and produced a final report for stakeholders. Suggestions included access to transitional housing and career programming, connecting individuals to ongoing mental health and substance abuse services in the community post-release, and continued and separate support groups for previously incarcerated mothers, fathers and their co-parents throughout the reentry process.

“This experience also provides excellent preparation for the type of work many students will be doing after Cornell and for graduate school,” Waller said.

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