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Educational policy class offers Washington D.C. trip to engage students in policy learning

The Washington, D.C. trip has become one of the most memorable experiences for higher education students.

Led by Pamela Eddy, Professor and Department Chair of Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership, for the ninth consecutive year, students visited education policymakers and officials in D.C. where they were able to experience current concepts from their Educational Policy: Development and Analysis course. Over the course of the day, students listened to leaders at top educational research institutions and learned about the latest educational policy that shapes students nationwide.

The morning sessions featured speakers discussing policy research in higher education. Jonathan Turk, the Associate Director for Research at the American Council on Education (ACE), kicked off the day by discussing an overview of current policy research. Other speakers included Michael Hansen, Marie O’Hara and Steven Lovern ’13, M.Ed. ’17. 

Hansen, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, shared how the Institution is improving education policy. The Brookings Institution conducts research at the local, national and global level to influence public policy. In the educational realm, the Institute focuses on early childhood education, K-12 education and higher education. O’Hara, Director of Research at Achieve, a nonprofit education reform organization, presented efforts to implement state policy that encourages student preparation for the demands of higher education and the workforce. Lovern, project strategist of SimpsonScarborough, a higher education research company, shared his journey in higher education and discussed how his learning experience at William & Mary contributed to his career. 

“The trip was an eye-opening experience for me,” Rob Thompson, Ph.D. ’23, a student in Higher Education Administration, said. “When reading about policy every week, it is easy to lose sight of the people doing the policy work. Whether they were from focus groups, or they worked in the legislature, all the presenters gave a unique perspective on their corner of the policy arena.” 

Students reconvened in the afternoon to discuss the current political climate surrounding the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act led by Paula Daneri, the Policy Director for the Committee on Education & Labor. Karishma Merchant, the Senior Education Policy Advisor for the Office of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, contributed to the conversation with her discussion of how to advance policy agendas at the state and local levels. The last presentation of the day featured Dominque Wardell, the Senior Legislative Assistant for U.S. House of Representative Elaine Luria. She spoke about planning legislative initiatives and connecting research and policy development. 

The experiences of the day made coursework in the classroom more engaging for the students as they were able to see how research could affect education at all levels.

“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with representatives from professional organizations, think tanks, nonprofits and especially policy advisors and legislative assistants for our representatives from the state of Virginia,” said Denise Lewis, Ph.D. ’22 student in Curriculum and Learning Design, “It’s clear that everything that we do as scholars and researchers will have policy implications.”

Eddy has been leading the trip for nine years because she is motivated by student participation and support from policymakers to generate conversation about education from a different lens.

“It inspires me to promote the Washington, D.C. trip as an important opportunity to engage students in policy learning.”