March 25, 2013

Student Research At Texas A&M Brings Fresh Perspective To Critical Issues

As one of the nation’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M University sets a high standard of investigation, innovation and discovery. Aggie students are an integral part of the university’s research efforts, including the graduate students at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service whose capstone projects serve the public by finding solutions for some of today’s most complex problems.

The Bush School is a graduate college at Texas A&M where students can pursue a master’s degree in public service and administration (MPSA) or international affairs (MPIA).

Bush School students participate in capstone projects as a requirement of their degree plans. Capstones are team-based research projects in which students work for real-world clients to produce public policy research reports. The teams of students craft research, make policy recommendations and present formal reports to clients.

From government agencies and nonprofit organizations to private sector companies, the list of prominent capstone clientele grows each semester.

The students do all the work to produce their reports, with professors playing supervisory roles.

Bush School students at Texas Senate

Texas A&M Bush School students were honored by the Texas State Senate for their service during the 82nd Legislative session.

Bush School capstone reports provide fresh perspectives on the biggest issues of the day, said Ann Bowman, a Bush School professor who leads capstone groups. “There’s a tremendous benefit for the residents of the State of Texas for having students who are bringing new ideas, enthusiasm and talent to these public policies,” she said.

Bowman’s 2011 capstone group’s report, titled “Introducing…Objectivity” may play an important role in future Texas congressional redistricting.

The group of seven MPSA students spent a semester working with the Texas Legislature and focused on the issue of redistricting. The resulting report provides a review of current redistricting practices and develops criteria that would increase the objectivity of the process, Bush School officials note. Using those criteria, the students proposed three different alternatives for redrawing Texas congressional district boundaries.

“The students said, ‘if we were to take a look at the 36 Senate districts to represent demographics equally, what would it look like?’” said Bowman. “They came up with three options, decided which one they felt was best and really took an objective look at the political landscape.”

The aftermath of natural disaster is another subject that Bush School MPSA students delved into with a 2010 grant from the Bush-Clinton Coastal Recovery Fund. In the project “Organizational Resiliency After Hurricane Ike,” supervised by Sharon Caudle, a Bush School faculty member, students compared the post-Ike development of Cameron Parish, La., and the Bolivar Peninsula in Texas, areas that were devastated after the storm.

Working with officials and community members from the two areas, the students focused on long-term recovery and resiliency, economic development goals, policy options to meet these goals, and the strengths and weaknesses of each, including implementation challenges.

President George H.W. Bush, namesake of the school, described this project as “near and dear to my heart,” having seen the devastation of a storm first-hand when he had worked in offshore drilling.

Other MPSA capstones have explored such issues as immigration reform, diversity in job recruiting, social services and hazard preparedness.

Bush School students at NATO

A Bush School capstone project culminated in a trip to Belgium where students presented a report to NATO.

Students pursuing their MPIA have investigated numerous issues related to homeland security, including cyber security, economic espionage and border security, along with a variety of other topics of national and international importance.

A 2013 MPIA capstone project culminated in a trip to Belgium, where students presented a report to U.S. intelligence officers at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The students were supervised by Bush School Lecturer Lt. Gen. Randolph W. House and endeavored to research and summarize how selected NATO countries gather, manage and report intelligence. The group studied intelligence operations in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland and Turkey.

“Capstone projects take Bush School students from a powerful academic experience to a real world problem-solving event,” House said. “It requires students to write a hard-hitting, succinct report tailored to busy clients’ daily situations and is a win-win for the Bush School and the outside agency.”

President Bush said capstone projects serve both the participating students and the public as a whole. “This type of real-world research is a valuable aspect of higher education and can help illuminate important public policy issues,” he stated.

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About 12 Impacts of the 12th Man: 12 Impacts of the 12th Man is an ongoing series throughout the year highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world. To learn more about the series and see additional impacts, visit http://12thman.tamu.edu.

Media contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-5591

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