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Masters in Public Policy and Management students collaborate with SAHMRI for their Capstone Project

Posted 18th August 2016

The curriculum at Carnegie Mellon University is unlike anywhere else. Its focus on real-world problem solving drives students’ intellectual curiosity to produce works that really matter.

The curriculum at Carnegie Mellon University is unlike anywhere else. Its focus on real-world problem solving drives students’ intellectual curiosity to produce works that really matter. After students gain a thorough understanding of policy frameworks, students then apply what they’ve learned to real clients.

Each year, students produce a systems synthesis project, a culmination of what they’ve learned at CMU in Australia. This year, the Masters in Public Policy and Management (MSPPM) students collaborated with the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) on their final capstone project. SAHMRI is the premier medical research institution in Adelaide. Students worked as consultants for the Population Health Research Group at SAHMRI which focuses on behavioural and policy research to improve health outcomes of whole and sub populations.

The project focused on the health consequences of sugary, water-based drinks or SSBs. Over the course of the semester, eight students, under the leadership of their faculty advisor – Paul Chapman - advised SAHMRI of possible policy options that fit within the present state and national legislative framework of Australia and provided them with an assessment of each option with supporting evidence.

Many of the researchers at SAHMRI, including our clients, have had deep involvements with policy issues in the past. This set the bar higher than usual as students had to prepare a report useful for a client with a very high level of knowledge of the area being researched. This experience challenged students critical thinking and problem solving skills, but the wealth of information and experience that they gained made it all worth it.

Overall, it was an amazing opportunity for students. Their thinking was assisted by meeting with former SA Government Health Minister, John Hill. Tka Tyne, Class of 2016 MSPPM, says, “It’s one of my favorite academic experiences at CMU. I left the meeting with a greater respect of the Australian political process.”   

From this experience, students learned how to produce effective strategies that not only meet the objectives of their client’s needs from start to finish, but hopefully in the future will deliver actionable results. Rocio Molina, a graduating MSPPM student, says, “We learned a great deal from them, particularly about the context in which policy-based public health issues are researched and communicated. In return, I hope our group was able to provide insights into ways of formulating and presenting compelling cases systematically and rigorously."

At the end of project, the students presented their final report findings to clients – Director Caroline Miller, Manager Jacquie Bowden and Researcher Jo Dono – and Tim O’Loughlin, CMU Professor of Practice (Public Policy). The clients repeatedly expressed their satisfaction with the students’ work. Caroline Miller states, “The detailed analysis that students provided is integral to the research that SAHMRI is doing to reduce obesity in South Australia. It provided tremendous insight into what actions the South Australian government should take to curtail the problem.”

It’s not often that students get an opportunity to complete real-world problem solving in an academic setting. Opportunities like this showcase CMU’s dedication to providing students with a holistic learning experience.

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