First group of Public and International Affairs undergrads end semester with presentation to PA Department of Environmental Protection

January 29, 2024

The undergraduate students in Professor Jeremy Weber’s class "Skills for Policy Research and Analysis" put their coursework into practice with a presentation to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in December.  

The course, which is part of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ initiative to introduce undergraduate students to issues in local and global public policy, provides hands-on training through a blend of lecture-based instruction and experiential learning. Undergrads from schools across the university are now able to enhance their primary area of study with individual courses taught by experienced public affairs faculty, by pursuing a minor in Public Policy or certificate in Nonprofit Management, or as part of the Policy and Social Impact Fellows Program.

This first cohort of students in the class ranged from sophomores to seniors and represented departments including philosophy, mathematics, and public service.  

This class was a good introduction to the background and structure of policy analysis for people who don’t have much experience with the topic,” explained junior environmental studies student, Emma Lardear. Her senior classmate, religious studies major Sarah Barnes, echoed the endorsement, explaining the course gave “real insight into a possible career in public policy and equipped me with basic skills for any post-grad plan that few other Pitt classes have.”

Weber’s class partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as it sought to assess the equitable distribution of its Growing Greener grant program.  With grants to nonprofits and local governments totaling tens of millions of dollars annually, the program aims to protect watersheds through investments such as fencing to protect streams from livestock and infrastructure to manage stormwater. The semester began by engaging the client to better understand the program and research needs and culminated with students presenting their findings to management at the DEP. The staff were very impressed with the students’ insights and even expressed interest in collaborating on future research into how to better serve areas that have had few grant applications and awards. 

“A highlight was presenting our work to staff of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and seeing them light up and be genuinely excited about our findings,” said Larder when discussing the meeting. “I would recommend this class to anyone, regardless of major, as you do learn many skills for understanding and improving policy.” 

For more information about this course and other opportunities available to undergrads within the School of Public and International Affairs, visit the Undergraduate Programs website, or contact