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A Capitol Experience

Rockefeller Center's Policy Research Shop sends students to Concord, Montpelier

For students who excel in the public policy seminar, Introduction to Public Policy Research, the chance to put what they learned in the classroom into practice may come sooner rather than later. Dartmouth's Policy Research Shop (PRS), run by the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences, is a working, on-campus, nonpartisan think tank staffed by undergraduate students chosen from among those who have taken the seminar. The shop's mission is to provide quality, objective research to the New Hampshire and Vermont state legislatures.

From left: William O'Neal, graduate student in chemistry, Scott Abramson '06, and Chongwon Char '06 present findings from their report on renewable energy portfolios to the New Hampshire House Committee on Science, Technology, and Energy on April 5. (Photo by Ben McLeod)

On April 5, three students from the PRS who worked on the report, "Renewable Portfolio Standards in Energy Policy: A Policy Analysis for the State of New Hampshire," traveled to the state capitol in Concord, where they gave testimony on their findings before the House Committee on Science, Technology, and Energy. The committee is considering a bill that would establish standards requiring electricity providers in the state of New Hampshire to include a certain percentage of renewable energy sources in their portfolios. The report served to provide committee members with information on the advantages and drawbacks of renewable portfolio standards and to provide a synopsis of other states' experiences with similar legislation.

Scott Abramson '06, who prepared the report with Chongwon Char '06 and graduate student in chemistry William O'Neal, says he believes their testimony was effective in conveying useful information to the legislators crafting the bill. As a learning experience, he adds, "The process of creating the brief itself was enjoyable; having the opportunity to apply the knowledge added a unique element to the process."

O'Neal notes that, "The legislators really seemed pleased that our group was available to provide information on the topic in a fact-based manner, without advocating or opposing the legislation." According to O'Neal, many House members were enthusiastic about the existence of the PRS and its possible involvement in future projects. Representative Lynne Ober (R) applauded "the academic leadership" that made the PRS presentation possible, and added, addressing the interns, "My compliments to the whole program, from the inception through the work you've done and the way you've presented yourselves."

The PRS interns' work is overseen by Ron Shaiko, associate director for curricular programs, and Scott Carrell, director of the PRS, as well as Rockefeller Center Director and Professor of Economics Andrew Samwick. Carrell, who worked closely with Abramson, Char, and O'Neal on their research and presentation, credits the students' seminar experience during the fall term with preparing them to write for a legislative audience. He says, "They did an outstanding job of researching renewable portfolio standards legislation throughout the country and were able to effectively communicate their findings to the committee."

The presentation before the New Hampshire House committee was not the first foray into legislative testimony for the PRS. On March 15, PRS interns traveled to Montpelier, Vt., with Carrell and Samwick to provide testimony on their report, "Career and Technical Education Participation in Vermont," to a joint hearing with the Vermont House Education and Institution Committees.

That report focused on the effect of commuting time on high school student participation rates in technical education. The report concluded that the effect is significant and that an extra 10 minutes of commuting time from a student's high school to a technical education center leads to a 13 to 15 percent reduction in a school's technical education participation rate. The study, requested by members of the Vermont legislature, contributed to an ongoing debate about how to prioritize technical education construction funding.

Representative George C. Cross (D), chair of the Vermont House Education Committee, praised the students' performance, saying they were "clear in their presentations. They offered insightful commentary about the data collection, analysis, and findings." He said that he and the House Education Committee "hope that the Rockefeller Center continues to participate with the Vermont legislature on similar studies in the future."

Future projects planned by the PRS include survey research on the curriculum effects of the No Child Left Behind Act in New Hampshire and Vermont. Preliminary results from that research were presented to a Vermont legislature subcommittee last October. Also in the works is the report, "First Responder Communications and Interoperability in New Hampshire and Vermont," which will be prepared by Kevin Hudak '07 and Maxwell Young '06.

Funding for the PRS is provided through grants from the Surdna Foundation, Bay and Paul Foundations, Institute for Security Technology Studies, and the Lintilhac Foundation. More information regarding the PRS can be found at


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Last Updated: 12/17/08