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Student Reflections on the 2010-2011 CHANCE course

Since 2007 the CHANCE capstone course, PA 5990: Engaging the Public in Policy and Planning, has been offered to Humphrey students. The following are reflections from two students who took the yearlong course in 2010-2011.

Justin Elston's group project project focused on a Memorandum of Understanding for the Riverside Plaza renovation project. The following is his reflection on the course:

In the two years of my time here at the Humphrey School, I can easily say that the most rewarding and enriching course I've taken was my CHANCE capstone class. In the span of an academic year, the class melds together three distinct areas of study into one cohesive pedagogy:


  1. A thorough exploration of the nearby Cedar Riverside neighborhood, including its history, people, and policy issues

  2. A rich, hands-on experience with different community-based research methodologies

  3. Doing both of the above in a variety of different team-based research groups. A year later, I can honestly say that I have learned as much, if not more, in this class as I have in any other I have taken in my MPP program.

Our team's capstone project focused on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the Riverside Plaza renovation project that began work in February of 2011--a document that aims to set out clear benefits to the community that accompany a community development project.

"The process has been both challenging and extremely interesting, as both the project itself, as well as its accompanying MOU, are situated amidst a much larger context of tensions within the community. In order to navigate these issues, we have taken great pains to reach out broadly to individuals and organizations within the Cedar Riverside community that represent a true range of opinions and perspectives." -Justin Elston

The process has been both challenging and extremely interesting, as both the project itself, as well as its accompanying MOU, are situated amidst a much larger context of tensions within the community. In order to navigate these issues, we have taken great pains to reach out broadly to individuals and organizations within the Cedar Riverside community that represent a true range of opinions and perspectives. It is our hope that the work we have been able to do on this topic, including our final project document, provide a clear, balanced and impartial look into one of the most complex and controversial projects the neighborhood has been a part of in recent years.

Andy Grewell's group project focused on establishing the groundwork for a special service district in Cedar Riverside in conjunction with the Cedar Riverside Partnership:

Capstone projects are meant to bring together the public affairs skills and experience of students to help make a positive impact for a client in need. As CHANCE students, we had an advantage--our process started as we identified the Cedar Riverside neighborhood's most urgent needs through community-based research and observation.

Our assumptions and proposed solutions for these issues were validated when community members voted and identified the top five projects that we would undertake. Weeks before starting actual project research and analysis, we had already utilized the power of democratic process, stakeholder communication, engaged listening, and decision-making under time and resource constraints--all skills that are continuously instilled in us at the Humphrey School. It was also a perfect indication of the type of work to come.

"Weeks before starting actual project research and analysis, we had already utilized the power of democratic process, stakeholder communication, engaged listening, and decision-making under time and resource constraints--all skills that are continuously instilled in us at the Humphrey School. It was also a perfect indication of the type of work to come." -Andy Grewell


Our group worked with the Cedar Riverside Partnership to establish the groundwork for a Special Service District in Cedar Riverside. This objective was shaped by the good intentions of a committed group of community leaders, the distinctive demands of stakeholders, and the time constraint imposed by other neighborhood infrastructure projects.

We interacted daily with college presidents, neighborhood business associations, a hospital CEO, the owner of a large affordable housing project, and the city's council staff, among others. This project required us to make quick decisions about the research and analysis necessary to come to a shared understanding of a proposed district.

We listened to feedback, revised our maps and budgets, presented new information, and documented our work through an iterative process. Our district maps, service scenarios, budgets, and assessment calculations led to five separate district scenarios which, by the end of our project, garnered immense gratitude for CHANCE from our clients.

Our work will not be stored away as many professional papers and projects are, but rather referenced and tweaked as the district's ordinance petition is brought forth later this summer. Perhaps more importantly, our talents as students of public affairs were refined and displayed as we were able to creatively and democratically affect a pressing community need. It was a pleasure to be involved and I can only hope to have similar opportunities in the future.

Merrie Benasutti teaches the CHANCE course and wrote about student feedback on the course last year. You can find CHANCE reports from previous years here. This year's reports will be posted here over the next couple of weeks.

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