The policy studies major offers a multidisciplinary course of study enabling graduates to provide leadership in a dynamic domestic and global environment.

A message from the Policy Studies program chair

In his 2019 book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein provides a powerful thesis related to the benefits of a multidisciplinary course of study like the Policy Studies program. In brief, many of the world’s most challenging problems involve ill-defined or incomplete rules and non-repetitive patterns. These so-called “wicked” learning environments contrast to “kind” learning environments that have defined rules, boundaries, and patterns that repeat. Generalists, or persons exposed to a broad range of experiences and fields, have an advantage over specialists in solving wicked problems. Epstein goes further to argue that the advantage of generalists over specialists will grow because rule-based, repetitive environments are exactly the types of problems most readily solved by machine learning and AI algorithms. In essence, generalists who develop their capacity to solve wicked problems are not easily replaced by robots.

The Policy Studies program encourages students to explore a wide range of disciplines and fields and seek opportunities to transfer knowledge from one discipline that may prove useful in problem solving in novel contexts. The activities and events summarized in our 2019-20 Annual Report provide examples, including a deep exploration of the ethical, moral, and spiritual challenges tied to the proliferation of artificial intelligence, and a partnership for the economic and cultural redevelopment of West Baltimore.

A signature feature of the Policy Studies program is our partnership with Lehigh Valley Public Media to produce Lafayette Lens on PBS39, a half hour news magazine on topics at the intersection of policy, business, and technology. Policy Studies students produced two editions in the 2019-20 academic year. In addition, students in the Policy Studies Leadership course produced video essays that were aired during PBS39 coverage of the Pennsylvania primary elections. PBS39 reaches 12 million potential viewers.

The impact of the Policy Studies program remains strong. Roughly 250 students and faculty from various majors and departments participated in curricular and co-curricular activities sponsored by Policy Studies in 2019-20. The number of Policy Studies majors and pre-majors stands at about 50, and graduates in Class of 2020 bring the total number of Policy Studies alumni to 137.

Our colleague, David Veshosky, associate professor of engineering studies and long-serving Policy Studies faculty affiliate, passed on July 5, 2020. When the Policy Studies major was under development, Prof. Veshosky championed the idea of making an engineering course a core requirement, a curricular innovation key to the program’s success. In the 2017-18 academic year, he stepped up to serve as our acting program chair. David Veshosky was industrious, smart, nice, realistic, and forever hopeful. May you rest in peace, my dear friend.

I am grateful to alumnus George Jenkins for a generous gift to support our program and to our talented faculty affiliates who bring range, enthusiasm, and meaning to our academic enterprise.

W. Mark Crain Signature

W. Mark Crain
William E. Simon Professor of Political Economy


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