It took creativity, tenacity, and a lot of Zoom time, but 21 college students have successfully concluded their six-week Junior Summer Institute (JSI) program, hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. In previous years, the participants would have lived and worked on the University of Minnesota campus during the program. But this year the JSI was held online because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The JSI is an intensive training experience designed to prepare rising senior undergraduate students—mostly from underrepresented communities—to thrive in master’s degree programs and launch careers in public service.
The students took courses on policy analysis and statistics, received help preparing to apply to graduate school, and met with policy leaders from diverse backgrounds. They also conducted research projects focused on public policy issues that inspire them most—all of it online. But the change didn’t seem to hinder the success of the program, according to Humphrey School Admissions Director Sherlonda Clarke.
“This was our fourth, and definitely most interesting, Junior Summer Institute. The pandemic changed everything,” Clarke said. “We look for the best and the brightest students to participate in this program each year, and we have been so honored to work with this group for the past six weeks. They are awesome.”
This year’s students are from Minnesota and nine other states, including Arizona, California, Florida, New York, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia; one student is from China. Some are immigrants, while others are the first generation in their families to attend college.
They showed off the culmination of their training session last Friday, by presenting their final projects in their policy analysis course in a live video event.
The students split up into seven teams to research and make recommendations on various public policy issues facing Minnesota, including racial disparities in K-12 education, police reform, immigration, and the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project. Dean Laura Bloomberg told the students she is impressed by their work.
“Each group built a cohesive team of thought partners, and overcame some of the challenges of working remotely this summer,” said Bloomberg. “You built a research team. You conveyed your evidence as a team, explained complex problems to the audience, and your critical analysis really showed. You are impressive indeed.”
The University of Minnesota is one of five universities across the country to host a JSI, which is part of the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Fellowship. It provides full funding for participants and often leads to generous financial aid packages at participating schools. The others are Carnegie Mellon University, Princeton University, the University of Michigan, and the University of California, Berkeley.