Thursday, May 11, 2017

STEP at APPAM Student Conference 2017

Matt Grimley, Ben Ihde, Isaac Evans

Matt Grimley (MS-STEP), Ben Ihde (MS-STEP), and Isaac Evans (MPP) represented the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the Association for Public Policy and Management (APPAM) conference in Riverside, CA from April 9th-10th. This conference brought together graduate researchers from many policy disciplines to share and receive feedback on their research from their peers. The team attended to present their research on community solar gardens in Minnesota.

At APPAM, the team, represented by Matt Grimley, presented their research on Minnesota’s community solar gardens. Community solar is a financing mechanism where subscribers to a solar array help to overcome the high up front capital costs of renewable energy. These solar arrays were designed to allow Xcel Energy customers without appropriate rooftop space or capital to enjoy the benefits of solar power. The program has rapidly expanded solar power capacity in Minnesota, but the Humphrey team is examining how the policy behind the program has influenced or restricted the flow of benefits to different classes of ratepayers.

Matt presented on the second day on a panel alongside two other graduate students. The first student was researching the costs and benefits of investments in charging stations versus battery technology, while the second focused on heat-wave vulnerability in India. Matt, Isaac, and Ben fielded questions from the audience, and returned from the conference with new perspectives on their research and how best to communicate it to a larger audience.

For Ben, the highlight of the conference itself was a session presented by the Pardee RAND Institute that discussed the policy of startup accelerators and autonomous cars, two of his personal interests. As a native Midwesterner, he also enjoyed hiking up Mount Rubidoux with Isaac, due to the warm weather, the incredible views, and the opportunities for bouldering.

Isaac really enjoyed attending the talks of other students and learning about the wide range of policy tools and perspectives other students are using that could be incorporated into the community solar garden project. Particularly, he found analyzing the use of crime rates and determinants using regression and spatial analysis the most interesting. Finally, anyone who knows Isaac would know that he especially loved trying all of the food Riverside had to offer.  

Matt enjoyed the pleasant climate and fresh food, almost as much as he enjoyed the policy discussions with his conference peers.

STEP at APPAM Student Conference 2017
Haley Bloomquist, Brianna Denk, Ally Hillstrom

Over the weekend of April 7th-8th, we attended the APPAM Student Conference held by George Mason University, Schar School of Policy and Government in Arlington, VA. APPAM, Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, is a non-profit organization committed to improving public policy and management by promoting excellence in research, analysis and education. At this conference, we gained valuable research presentation experience by presenting our research in panel format, allowing us to receive important feedback from academics, practitioners, and other students.

We started our day off by presenting our research as a part of the Clean Energy and Responsible Sourcing Practices panel. Dr. Eliane Catilina was chosen to be our discussant and chair of the panel. She is a regulatory economist and works for the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics at the U.S. EPA, and is a professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University. Unfortunately, Dr. Catilina was unable to make the conference, however Brianna, assumed the role of the discussant and successfully facilitated the program and discussion.

During the panel, we presented on The Political Economy of Carbon Offsets: A Comparative Analysis of Post-2020 Sustainable Development Mechanism Architectures. Two other Humphrey School of Public Affairs graduate students, Jill Rook and Ashfaqul H Chowdhury, presented on the Gains from Collaborative R&D: A Patent Analysis of U.S.-China Co-Invention. The third panel participant, Nicholas Mastron, from the George Washington University, presented on the Gusher and Roughneck Economies. After the presentations, Brianna facilitated the discussion between our panel participants and the audience. Several audience members asked questions about the presentation and offered insightful feedback. Afterwards, we were each able to talk one-on-one with audience members for further discussion.

One of our favorite parts of the conference was the opportunity to attend the session called Policy Career Paths WorkshopPresenters gave background information on how they began their public service careers and how they have achieved their current positions. The workshop session speakers included Kimberly Arnold, Johns Hopkins University; Katrina Hubbard Dunlap, George Mason University; David Johnson, University of Michigan; Roberto Amorosino, The World Bank; Tom Barnett, Fairfax County Government; and Peter Reuter, University of Maryland. Later in the conference, we were able to continue further discussion of policy career paths with the panelist Kimberly Arnold at one of the poster and networking events. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

WRC Shared Water Shared Responsibility

University of Minnesota Water Resources Students In Action (WRSIAhosted a community discussion with key Minnesota policy makers last Thursday, March 23 at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Co-sponsored by the University's Humphrey School of Public Affairs' Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy and the University's Water Resources Center, the event  addressed challenges facing clean water and explore how Minnesotans from all walks of life can play a role in promoting sustainable practices.

Inspired by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s Year of Water Action, the event included a reception and poster session on water research, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with policy experts.

The panel discussion was live-streamed and recorded (click here to view).

Panel Discussion

Representatives from the Governor’s office and state agencies discussed topics related to April’s Year of Water Action theme of water sustainability.
  • Anna Henderson, Water Advisor for Governor Dayton
  • Paul Allwood, Assistant Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Health
  • Rebecca Flood, Assistant Commissioner, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • Whitney Place, Director of Government Affairs, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
  • Luke Skinner, Director,  Division of Ecological and Water Resources,  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Doug Thomas, Assistant Director, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

Friday, March 24, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Coffee and Conversation with Filmmaker Shalini Kantayya

Thursday, March 2, 3 – 4 p.m.
Humphrey School Room 170
Meet the maker of Catching the Sun, award-winning filmmaker Shalini Kantayya. Catching the Sun captures the global race to lead the clean energy future through the stories of of workers and entrepreneurs in the U.S. and China. The film premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles film festival and was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick.
Filmmaker Shalini Kantayya uses film as a tool to educate, inspire, and empower audiences. he mission of her production company, 7th Empire Media, is to create a culture of human rights and a sustainable planet through wildly imaginative media that makes a real social impact. For more information:
This opportunity is a collaboration between the Boreas Leadership Program and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy.

After coffee, join us for the film:

Catching the Sun

March 2nd, 2017 | 6:00 PM

Bell Museum Auditorium

Speaker: Shalini Kantayya, Catching the Sun Filmmaker

Through the stories of workers and entrepreneurs in the U.S. and China, Catching the Sun captures the global race to lead the clean energy future. Over the course of a solar jobs training program, Catching the Sun follows the hope and heartbreak of unemployed American workers seeking jobs in the solar industry.  With countries like China investing in innovative technologies and capitalizing on this trillion-dollar opportunity, Catching the Sun tells the story of the global energy transition from the perspective of workers and entrepreneurs building solutions to income inequality and climate change with their own hands.
Program ScheduleFood and tabling from local and campus environmental groups | 6:00 – 6:30Film Showing | 6:30 – 7:40
Filmmaker Q&A with audience | 7:40 – 8:30

Monday, December 5, 2016

STEP Prof. Ramaswami offers insight into Trump Administration impact on Environment at Humphrey School Panel

A panel of professors from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota discussed how Donald Trump presidency will change the country. Trump promised a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure which would help the economy. STEP Professor Anu Ramaswami said, There will be interest in investing in transit and high-speed rail. Thinking through infrastructure and how it connects with employment, with the environment, and with public health is an area where we could move forward more cooperatively.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Week in Paris: Reflections on the International Science-Policy Dialogue on Resource Use


My name is Kyle Flanegin, and I am a first year MS-STEP student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. This past week I attended the 19th meeting of the International Resource Panel (IRP) and its Steering Committee in Paris, France. I was accompanying my advisor, Dr. Anu Ramaswami, who is an expert member on the Panel. Back at home, she is the Charles M. Denny, Jr., Chair of Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Functionally, the IRP has two parts. The IRP Panel is comprised of the 34 top experts on global material flows, responsible resource management and city-level decoupling strategies. Meanwhile, the IRP Steering Committee is made up of 25 governments, international organizations, and civil society organizations which provide strategic guidance and political support to the IRP Panel, which produces state of the art independent science reports. The two distinct parts are brought together by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Secretariat, which develops the procedures and outreach mechanisms for the IRP.

The first day in Paris (Monday) was a pre-dialogue for the official IRP meetings, which was a national science-policy discussion focused on reducing our resource dependence to enhance human well-being. It was carried out half French and half English. The logistics at this event were incredible, with live translation provided by two translators in a sound proof booth who translated for six consecutive hours.

Besides the impressive setup of the event, I was fascinated that many of the ideas that we talk about in the MS-STEP program at UMN are the same exact conversations that the top experts on resources in the world have. For example, a large part of the discussion on Monday revolved around the need for metrics that measure growth, besides GDP. One of the fundamental problems in the science of resource use is that human progress, for the large part of history, has been driven and measured by increased economic capacity. Thus, the developing and developed part of the world have tried to maximize economic growth – which is currently the metric of human well-being – by consuming finite resources and creating large environmental impacts. As the group discussed alternative metrics to measure human development, I couldn’t help but to think back to my courses in the Sustainability Research Network at the University, because we had previously discussed many of the problems with alternative metrics under the guidance of Dr. Ramaswami earlier in the semester. I came to Paris wondering if I would even be able to follow the conversations at the IRP meetings, but soon enough I found myself very engaged in the discussion of the most pressing problems our world faces.

The Monday meeting set the tone for the rest of the trip. I soon found myself engaged in other topics that I had been introduced to, including one that interests me in particular: the interactions between the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and sustainable resource use in cities. With 60% of the built environment required to accommodate the globe’s urban population in 2050 yet to be built, resource scarcity and equity on a global scale are of high interest to me, and I was humbled to be able to experience the cutting-edge thought and dialogue.

Experiencing the science-policy interactions at the meetings taught me a lot about the place of STEM research in the larger context of policy. In several of the policy reviews of the IRP’s current reports, I noticed that there was a tension between what the policy makers wanted the IRP to produce and what the IRP thought they could produce within a given timeframe. This tension ranged from the need for higher levels of funding for the IRP to produce more detailed work, to the specific language used in the report, and even to the communication structures in the report. For example, some words that existed within the reports had clear definitions and intent between the science panel members, but between policymakers, phrases such as ‘green economy’ were highly contentious. Additionally, it was interesting to view the science and policy interactions revolving around uncertainty. Several aspects of sustainable global resource consumption have varying amounts of uncertainty, but if the policy makers at the meeting got a hint of any uncertainty of the science they became highly uncomfortable in the discussion. In the end, it very hard for policymakers to justify funding science if there is the smallest of uncertainties, and understandably so. 

One last takeaway that I had was in the arena of science communication. At the IRP meetings, many of the scientific breakout sessions focused on the overall narrative that the IRP wants to create surrounding sustainable resource use. The story of resource use and resource scarcity is connected to many other stories in the environmental realm, but many of the researchers wanted to focus on the specific context of material consumption as the key focal point for the reports that the IRP will publish. On the other hand, others were interested in combining the IRP’s previous narrative with other reports from other groups, such as GEO-6, Habitat-III and other work by the UNFCCC.

These conversations hinged on the decision of communicating a concise narrative with very key policy takeaways, versus painting the overall pictures for larger policy change outside the direct scope of resource consumption. Many agreed that a narrow focus may result in only limited policy action, while flaring the scope too far would inhibit policymakers from acting at all. Even further, the group discussed the methods of communications, and how new methods of creative visualization could help the IRP to expand their impact on the policy world.

Overall, this trip was a very enriching aspect of my education in the Sustainability Research Network at the University of Minnesota. As a Master of Science student, being able to witness this international science-policy interaction firsthand could not have been replaced with any amount of classroom work and study.

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