Project proposal

Politics and policy have always been major interests of mine. I am fascinated by the factors and circumstances surrounding why a certain policy is formed and the impact those outcomes have. Intellectual curiosity aside, I am also drawn to this sort of work because I find it important to solve issues—especially ones that result in social, economic and political inequality.

With that in mind, I’d like to do a project that involves exploring a particular policy issue, the historical context in which it was formed, and (potential) ways to make effective change about the issue. This was the basic framework for my gateway project, where I used Prezi to explore the issues within our campaign finance system.

I’d like to take a similar approach for my Capstone project. I have a few topic ideas already, so I’ll just share all of them and see if the class has any advice on which one makes the most sense to purse:

  • One would be to 1) assess the evolution of marijuana legalization, 2) evaluate the policy of mandatory minimum jail sentences, and finally, 3) explore the history and current status of the private prison industry, all while conveying how the three are interconnected and how the progress of each may affect one another in the future. Each one of these could be a project on its own, but I like the idea of demonstrating how they are interconnected.
  • Since my gateway project covered the problems with our campaign finance/lobbying system, and since I did a project for a course last semester on the issues in U.S. industrial agriculture, I could sort of marry the two ideas and try to explore how lobbying and campaign finance has affected the type and quality of food Americans eat every day.
  • A third idea would be to investigate why professional sports teams always seek out and receive public funding to build new stadiums, when it seems they can afford to build them privately.

Any advice is appreciated!

10 thoughts to “Project proposal”

  1. Ben, it sounds like you are off to a great start with your project ideas. A lot of them have potential. The first option sounds like there is a lot of information there and more to learn. It is difficult for me to understand how the three are connected, which is why you should be doing the project not me:). I see the mandatory minimum jail sentencing coming into play with private prisons, maybe looking at those through the lens of marijuana? Also, I’m wondering where this will go by combining these three. Each idea on their own seems like a research paper, evaluating the system or telling the history of something. But what will happen when they are combined? What type of medium could this come out as?

  2. Hi Ben!

    There are definitely a lot of angles you could use to approach the policies mentioned. I think that the first two ideas sound most compelling because they are tying together concepts to reach a conclusion most of us wouldn’t think to consider. In that sense, I think your project would be educational than exploratory.

    As for which to choose, I think you should stick with what you’re most interested in. It seems as though you’re very knowledgable about campaign finance, given all of the work you’ve done on it. Do you feel as though there is more to learn about it? Or would you rather explore an entirely new subject? One fun multimedia aspect you could include if you choose the second option is political campaign advertisements. In a class called Media and Public Opinion, taught by Valentino, we analyzed campaign ads in relation to funding, etc. They’re always pretty amusing. I’m looking forward to seeing what you choose!

  3. Hey Ben, it seems like are three of these ideas have a lot of promise and are definitely full of debate. I’m not as familiar with the second two, but I think the first is particularly relevant today in terms of current racial politics in the US. Are you thinking of doing a research analysis type piece on whichever topic you choose? It could be interesting to apply these issues in the context of a certain region, court case, etc. I’ll be interested to see what you decide to pursue!

  4. I think these are all wonderful foundations for projects that could branch out into some great observations and conclusions. I’m also very interested in policy and it has guided most of my work, and so I’ve recently gotten more interested in the judicial process and its effect on public policy, rather than just the legislative side of things. I think that no matter which topic you choose (and I think they’re all phenomenal) I would push you to look at the courts and how they are influencing the phenomena that you are examining.

  5. Hi Ben,

    I agree with the comments above in that all of these are incredibly smart and relevant problems that you’re looking to solve. Personally I’m most drawn to the marijuana history and effects because it feels the most immediately relevant, and I agree with Joe in that with the history there is the opportunity to delve deeper into the racial politics of marijuana and possibly of America. I don’t know much about it myself, but I’ve heard alcohol described as “the white man’s drug” and because of that it’s legal while other drugs, specifically marijuana, are made illegal even though they may not affect our body in any worse of a way. I cannot say for sure if that’s true or not, but the question that stems from that for me is what is the criteria for legalization? How rigidly is that followed – and when or in what circumstances is it bent? Another question might be what population of people use marijuana right now – and has that shifted it’s historical population? And I’d also be interested in learning if it’s illegal around the world to? Or if this is an American thing, or a Western thing.

    Another thing I’m thinking about is the medium in which you choose to disseminate this information. All of your potential topics appear to be research-paper-type projects on the surface, but I believe what your doing has a lot of social relevance and the masses often don’t read research papers. I think finding a way to make this knowledge attainable to a general – sometimes particularly uninterested audience will be key to your project’s success. The immediate form that comes to mind is long form investigative journalism, which feels like simply a tonal shift rather than a 180 from what it would seem to be. But I’m sure there are tons of other forms I’m not thinking of.

  6. I too have always been fascinated by how policies are created and what kind of behind the scenes work goes on. I think on whatever issue you decide to work, it would be interesting to explore the monetary effects. Who would gain from certain policies and how do they throw money around to gain political clout? Are those truly affected by certain policies able to have their voices heard without paying for it? Also looking at the effects of the McCain-Feingold Act and the Citizens United case might be interesting as well. The deep connection between money and politics would make for a great project.

  7. Hi Ben,

    I am going to go in a different direction than everyone else and say choose the third one! It seems like this one might be the least you have explored and based on your interests I think you could find a lot about this you enjoy. I took a class that talked about this idea of public interest in sports teams for a particular city. What many studies have shown is that citizens believe that these stadiums are going to help their economy but in actuality, private investors end up gaining the benefits. I think this would pair nicely with your interest in how policy effects people and how it is instilled. You could choose a few cities to examine and their sports teams and see how the expectations vs. the current reality compared. One city you could look at is Cleveland and how the Browns were seen as a way to increase the economy in the city. Baltimore is another good city to look at.

    Good luck with whatever you choose!

  8. Ben,
    Okay so I just left a comment but the internet got weird and it didn’t post. So I’m going to do my best to summarize what I commented in this second draft here.
    Basically, the content is sharp. It is smart and relevant and you know what you’re talking about. But what I think would take this project up a notch is the format. You know the info. Obviously some research will have to be done to get the facts and figures necessary to make your case presentable, but you’ve done it before and you’ll do it again.
    So the focus becomes: how are you gonna push yourself? My suggestion is to get creative with your format. You’ve already got the audience because the relevance and weight of your topic, now how are you going to make them remember? You could write a short story where you do research or go on some Magic School Bus adventure to learn about the problems with campaign financing and lobbying. You could write an epic poem. Basically, you are going on a journey to find these facts and discover what you want to know, so why not weave that into the project? Either way, I’m already looking forward to it so keep it up!

    -Sam

  9. Hi, Ben

    I think that your first idea seems to be the most well-thought out. The private prison industry is super important to be talked about, and the way you want to tie in your other subjects seems very specific and smart. I know this isn’t a long comment, but I think your post calls for direct and simple advice on which route to choose.

  10. Hi Ben,

    You’ve already received a ton of great feedback from our peers, so I’ll do my best to not be repetitive. One think you might consider as you narrow the focus of this project might be what resources would be available to you in researching each one, and which would make for the richest, best project. For example, if you decide to pursue your first idea about marijuana legalization and minimum jail sentences, you might be able to interview a police officer in Ann Arbor, a dispensary employee, or maybe even try and find a way to speak with someone who served time for possession. If you were to pursue your second option, maybe you could look into what sort of food students are served on UM’s meal plan, where their suppliers get their food from, and what sort of agricultural practices they follow. I think that with the internet and our school’s fabulous library, there’s no doubt that you’d be able to find solid data and information for any of these projects, but I think it might be interesting to think about how you might be able to include actual people’s experiences to support your stance.

    I hope this is helpful!

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