Making a difference in society

How are public policies created and implemented? What are the costs and benefits of a particular policy? How do we know if a policy is working? When do we need to adopt a new policy to solve a problem, reform an existing policy, or terminate an old policy that is no longer needed?

As a policy studies major at Elon, you will address these questions and others that have a profound bearing on the shape of modern society. The courses in this program are designed to explore the complex interaction of ideas, individuals and institutions involved in the policy-making process. You will examine how governments are organized, what roles public officials play, how groups and governmental agencies formulate and implement policies, and how various influences and political forces affect those policies.

The policy studies major is inter-disciplinary, it is research-oriented, and it is concerned about solving problems. The curriculum addresses a broad range of policy issues that require exposure to a variety of courses from various fields of study (i.e., political science, economics, sociology, human service studies). The major emphasizes the importance of learning the skills necessary to conduct systematic, rigorous research and that the purpose of that research is to help answer the enduring problems in society.

The public policy major supplements my political science major nicely, furthering my understanding of how the policy-making process is used to make collective decisions for the public good. As someone who is pursuing a career in environmental policy, the policy studies major will facilitate my learning of the policy process underlying the creation of environmental policy and build my skill set in analyzing environmental policy.

Shannon Temlak ’15

An Inter-Disciplinary Major and Curriculum

Elon’s curriculum provides policy studies majors with a well-balanced foundation that allows you to explore your interests within the broad reach of the field, and also offers flexibility to pursue a second major or a minor. Because there are innumerable types of policy issues (i.e., economic, education, criminal justice, environmental, security) being addressed by various types of government agencies (local, state, regional, federal, international) the curriculum of the policy studies major is built around a wide variety of courses from different disciplines.

This diverse set of courses will help students learn the basic principles of the policy-making process, the relationships between the branches of government, public policy and policy analysis, program evaluation, and state and local government. Then you will build upon that foundation through a range of elective courses from a variety of disciplines, including economics, business, political science and others.

An Emphasis on Research

The policy studies major emphasizes empirical research, which means that our understanding of the policy process and the cost and benefits of any particular policy requires going out into the world and systematically observing how things work. Policy studies majors enhance their classroom education by pursuing original research projects, both individually and with other students and faculty. Students conduct and publish research on the effectiveness of public policies and programs and citizen satisfaction surveys with local government. In the capstone senior seminar, students prepare and present a work of original scholarship focused on a policy problem.

Policy studies students apply the latest technological resources in gathering and analyzing research data, including SPSS and STATA software to conduct statistical analysis on quantitative data, geographical information systems (GIS) software to analyze public policy and planning issues, and sophisticated public opinion polling software as part of the Elon University Poll. Majors regularly present their research findings at Elon’s annual Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF), and they gain valuable experience and make important contacts presenting papers at professional conferences.

Problem-Solving: Experiential learning and internships

The primary purpose of studying public policy is to solve the enduring problems facing our communities. The best way to learn how to solve problems is by working with people who are in the process of solving some of these problems. Policy students participate in a variety of applied learning settings on and off campus. Most policy studies majors balance their coursework with real-world experience through service learning opportunities and internships, where they work with professionals in the field. Elon students complete internships with a variety of nonprofit, business, governmental and legal organizations, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the White House and Amnesty International.

Many courses in the curriculum are designed to enhance a student’s problem-solving skills. On-campus simulations allow the study of how local governments function and then apply that understanding during role-playing activities in which students assume the roles of city council members, planning commissioners, business leaders, citizens groups and the media. Every January, The Washington Center Seminar gives students the opportunity to participate in an intensive study of the American presidency and the national media in Washington, D.C. Also, during presidential election years, students attend seminars sponsored by The Washington Center at either the Republican or Democratic National Convention.

Students in our Policy Studies program gain a breadth of knowledge in policy processes and topical areas. They are able to gain depth into the specific policy areas they are interested in through coursework, research, and/or internships. Graduates have the analytical tools necessary to understand and solve complex socio-political problems.

Aaron C. Sparks, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Political Science and Policy Studies

Study abroad and special opportunities

Many policy studies majors participate in Elon’s extensive network of study abroad programs. Departmental faculty have taught winter term courses in Costa Rica and London, and students have also completed semester study abroad experiences in Ireland, Australia, Ecuador, Spain, France, Lithuania, Russia, England and Ghana.

Majors also can join several student organizations related to their field. Elon’s representatives to the North Carolina Student Legislature are advised through the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies and earned the organization’s Best Small University Delegation award for 2009. Other groups include the Department’s chapter of Model United Nations; Pi Sigma Alpha, the departmental honor society; and the National Campaign for Student Political and Civic Engagement, which explores ways to stimulate civic engagement among college and high school students.

After graduation

Elon’s policy studies curriculum and experiential learning opportunities prepare students to continue their studies in graduate school or to move on to successful careers in a range of fields. Many students move directly into government, law, education, policy advocacy, business and nonprofit organizations. Other students frequently enter graduate programs in various disciplines, including political science, public affairs, public policy and public administration. Others pursue graduate study in law, health administration, emergency management, environmental policy and GIS and other disciplines.