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How do I learn about public policy as a social work student?

I'm interested in doing public policy and community organizing in the future, but I'm currently a social work student. There are only 2 classes about policy for social work, and I completed one with not a lot learned. I am pursuing a political science minor, but there are no classes on policy writing or analysis. I am a member of a few political-oriented student organizations at my college, but we don't have lots of info about policy and how it works. What programs are available to teach me more about public policy? Are there any online resources available for undergraduate students? #social-work #policy #politics #political-science #social-justice

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Brandon’s Answer

Hi Deana. Great question, and I encourage you never to lose sight of your goals or to have that passion for helping your community out fizzle out. I had a somewhat similar problem, as my major and my classes didn’t focus on the types of policy that are immediately relevant to the municipal or school setting policy areas that I could immediately affect. However, there are ways to get up to speed. See the below recommended steps I thought might be helpful to remind you of. Good luck!

Brandon recommends the following next steps:

Read up on your school’s standing policies, or your student government’s standing Bylaws, Constitution, Charter, and any pieces of legislation written by your peers* (bills, resolutions, directives, etc.)
Try finding a policy focused political science class, such as a National Security seminar or American Congress Lab. These may not be as realistic or close to home as you like, but it’s good to be exposed to the legalese, and get used to the actual formatting of policy briefings/documents—regardless of the context/content.
Try finding an internship for a law office, a local politician, or a non profit that specializes in policy drafting.
Take some time to read policy briefs and policy manifestos from the two major Political Parties (e.g. The 2016 Democratic Party/GOP Platforms). It’s good to remind yourself of who may be more welcome to your ideas and who won’t be, and, again, helps you with the language commonplace in policy marketing, formulation, and implementation.
Stay up to date on pressing issues in any organization or community that could use some help and offers institutional pathways towards addressing its needs. It’s particularly useful to get to really know the institutional levers and machinery of the organization you work for...get into the minutiae—the boring stuff is sometimes the most critical.

Thank you for the help! It's a frustrating situation, but I hadn't thought to look for those technical reading and writing skills. I'll definitely read into the documents that our SGA create and political party's policy memos. Thank you so much for the excellent advice! Deana A.

Hi Deana: On top of some great suggestions from others, I would add to check on opportunities in your local government. They are always looking for residents to volunteer in various committees or boards that are advisory to City Council. The commitments usually don't require a lot of hours - usually a meeting a month or every other month but you will get great exposure to local policies and discussions around them. As a committee or board member, you will also get to add input and influence those policies. You will also be working with city staff who draft up those policies, do additional policy research and learn from them if you let them what you are seeking in terms of enhancing your education in this area. Hope this is helpful and best of luck! angela Angela Chan

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Paul’s Answer

Public Policy is a very broad topic. Most people pick an area of policy they are interested in and then do an internship with an organization that has that focus. I was interested in Education, so found a company (AIR=American Institutes of Research) that was active in that area to work for. While there, I learned enough to be able to become an expert in a particular area (School District Finance).

Paul recommends the following next steps:

Narrow down your area of interest
Find organizations that do that
Write to them expressing your interest in getting an internship or job to learn more about it.