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Public policy professors (from left) Nancy Shulock, Rob Wassmer, Mary Kirlin and Su Jin Jez. ticularly in community colleges. One report, issued in 2007, highlighted policy barriers that deter degree completion at community colleges and caused quite a stir when it was initially released, Shulock says. "But, it led to a sea change of thought" about the impor- tance of student success and a subsequent report was influential in shaping legislation—signed last year—to help improve the student transfer process from community colleges to universities. "You walk a tightrope between research and advocacy," Shulock observes, "but your work is only effective if it is respected as being accurate and rigorously researched." The Institute relies on partnerships with other organizations that advocate for specific policy solutions. Also focusing her research on accessibility issues for students is Su Jin Jez, assistant professor for public policy and administration and associate director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership program. Now in its fourth year, the program prepares the next generation of superintendents, administrators and college presidents at a time when large numbers of these experienced academics are set to retire. Jez' research focuses on the K-12 level and beyond. It exam- ines factors and policies that may impede student access to or readiness for college, as well as issues that may prevent them from graduating once they get there. "We also look at what institutions might be doing to improve graduation rates for students once they are enrolled in college," she says. "There's been a lot of focus on getting students ready for college, but perhaps not enough on making sure they are academically prepared to graduate. "Our research helps us, as faculty, stay ahead of current trends and introduces us to other policy researchers. It allows us to continually develop ourselves, professionally," Jez notes, "and that's a benefit for students." "Our research helps us, as faculty, stay ahead of current trends and introduces us to other policy researchers. It allows us to continually develop ourselves, professionally, and that's a benefit for students." Identifying future leaders While the call to public policy is strong for these faculty, how can the country get more people actively engaged in the programs and processes that ultimately lead them to create policies that benefit society as a whole? According to Mary Kirlin, associate professor and provost fellow for community and civic engagement, leaders "skilled in being able to work in a group to set fair rules and to negotiate for the good of the group," are frequently created during adolescence. Her analysis comes partly from a database she created to track thousands of junior high school students who participated in the YMCA's Youth and Government pro- gram. Her study produced what she calls "stunning evidence" that former participants went on to not only become well- versed in current events, but were regular voters, donated to political campaigns, attended public meetings and, "in the 'pinnacle of engagement,' went on to serve on some form of public or community board. They were five times more likely to be actively engaged as adults." What Kirlin learned on this research project may ultimately be translated into other areas, including right back to the classroom. "We can infuse our curriculum with the skill sets students need to work in a group," she says. "It's invaluable for them as they learn to become leaders in our communities." csus.edu / Spring 2011 19