The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Rockefeller Student Profile Highlights: Michael Sanchez '13

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During the break, we are taking the time to appreciate the many student program assistants and students of the Policy Research Shop that help the Rockefeller Center run smoothly. Without the support and time of these students, many of our public programs would not harbor the same impact and outreach that currently exists for Dartmouth students. This series of posts will document the daily tasks of these students, what they do, and anything else they care to share about their experiences. Today we have Michael Sanchez, a member of the class of 2013 pursuing an Economics Modified with Public Policy and a Government Minor.

What are you involved in on campus?
I have been working for the PRS for a little over 2 years, including one term for class credit, and have worked on about 8 different projects. I am also a member of the investment committee for the Dartmouth Investment and Philanthropy Program (DIPP). For a little over two years I have been a member of Zeta Psi fraternity, where I currently serve as the social chair. 

What is the day in the life of a PRS student?
Projects for the PRS typically begin about a week or two into the term, and usually end about a week before finals period begins, depending on the depth of the project. The first week or two usually revolves around learning more about the project, and talking to our contacts in the state and local governments in the area. Once we get a solid idea of what the agencies are looking for, we delve into the heart of the project. The work is usually a combination of data analysis, phone and in-person interviews, and online research. At the end of the project, the team compiles all of its findings into a professional report, usually 10-20 pages in length, and a 15-20 minute presentation to be given to the relevant government stakeholders. During the term, work is usually about 10 hours per week, but because the projects are so long term, the schedules are extremely flexible.

One of the most interesting projects I worked on was for Grafton County's commission on jails. The county had just completed construction on a new county jail building, and were looking for alternative uses for the old building. We worked with the Grafton County Commissioners to create a list of alternative uses for the building, and provided analysis on the feasibility and cost effectiveness of each of the solutions. Work mainly involved reaching out to other county commissioners in the New England area who had recently constructed new buildings to see what ideas may prove useful. After 6 weeks of research and writing, we created a published report as well as a 20 minute presentation. Near the end of term, our group went to the commissioners' hall and presented our findings to a 10-person committee.

How did you hear about the PRS? What made you want to be involved?
I found out about the PRS through the class, Public Policy 45 (Intro to the Policy Shop). I had taken Public Policy 5 with Professor Shaiko, and this class looked like a good next step. The PRS is one-of-a-kind in the level of responsibility students have and the hands-on impact and skills we can learn as an undergrad. Instead of learning about theory and things that don't really apply to the real world, the PRS helps develop practical research, writing and presentation skills that are extremely invaluable in the real world. In addition, the chance to work directly with state and local governments in the area, and help in the creation of policy is a truly outstanding experience that not many other undergrads have the opportunity to be a part of.

What has been your experience working for the PRS? What are some highlights and difficulties you have encountered on the job?
Working for the PRS has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had at Dartmouth. Getting a chance to work directly with government professionals on a variety of different topics has given me the chance to learn  not only a lot about the policymaking process in general, but about specific policy issues, from healthcare, to homelessness, and to the environment. The best part of the job is the chance to give presentations on our findings at the end of each project. After a few weeks devoted to understanding an issue, the chance to present findings and engage in discussions with officials that may substantially affect policy in New Hampshire and Vermont is extremely rewarding. The biggest challenge on the job is getting the reports done within the timeframe. Many of the issues we tackle are very complex, and often the desire to do more research and delve into topics for better understanding trends makes it tricky to stay on focus and on time.
Are there any particular skills you have used as researcher that you have utilized in other organizations/clubs on campus or in an internship?
Most of the things I have done in the PRS were extremely helpful with my internship this past summer. From using Excel to do data analysis to writing professional reports, to putting presentations together on Powerpoint, all of the work done in the PRS is extremely applicable outside of the program. In addition to the technical skills learned working on the job, the interviews and presentations help provide valuable public speaking experience.

Has it been difficult to juggle an on-campus job with your academic and social commitments?
One of the best things about the PRS is that the hours are flexible. The projects are long-term, and the check-ins are usually every two weeks. If I ever have a busy week because of midterms or other commitments, I am able to work a little less during that time and make up for it earlier or later in the term. In my opinion, the PRS is an ideal campus job, and is why I have stuck with it for over two years.

What advice would you give students who may want to get involved with the PRS?
Anyone who is interested in Public Policy, or government in general should definitely try to get involved with the PRS. The experience is truly unique and one of the best programs offered at Dartmouth. Not only is the chance to have hands-on experience working on real policy analysis personally rewarding, but the skills learned on the job are unbelievably valuable.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences