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by Michael Grady

1197 In 2003, Education Department faculty and senior staff at AISR collaborated on a yearlong design process that resulted in Brown’s Urban Education Policy (UEP) master’s program. Combining the department’s strong tradition of scholarship in the economics of education, human development, and political science with Annenberg’s field-based expertise in urban education policy and practice, the mission of the UEP program is to prepare future change agents for the field. The program pairs an intensive twelve-month academic curriculum with a nine-month internship, providing graduates with an equity-based understanding of the issues facing urban schools from the field as well as the classroom.

On May 28, Brown will welcome UEP alumni, faculty, national funders, and education leaders to campus to celebrate the program’s tenth anniversary. At Commencement the following day, 19 UEP students will receive diplomas, joining the ranks of over 200 fellow UEP alumni committed to providing more and better learning opportunities for students in urban communities who face the greatest challenges.

Graduates of the UEP program are currently working in urban education setting across the nation, but an important part of the UEP story is the program’s targeted impact on education policy in Providence and the surrounding region. Rhode Island suffers from a well-publicized “brain drain” of young graduates from our state’s many outstanding institutions of higher education: according to a 2013 New England Public Policy Center brief, Rhode Island ranked 45th in its retention of college graduates. No sooner do students from Rhode Island colleges and universities cross the stage to receive their degrees then many leave the region to launch careers in other parts of the country.

A strong counterpoint to this brain drain narrative is the ten-year impact of the UEP program on our local civic capacity to do sound education policy planning, innovation, and research. Over one-third of our 200-plus graduates live and work within a 50-mile radius of Providence, and a majority of those are working to improve schools within the Providence city limits. Several bear mentioning. Dana Borrelli-Murray, a member of the first UEP cohort who received her degree in 2007, serves as executive director of the Highlander Institute, where she leads local and national research and development projects. Last fall, Elsa Dure from the UEP class of 2010 was named executive director of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) following a two-year stint as RIMA’s director of research. Recently, Drew Allsopp (UEP class of 2009) was named director of policy for the Rhode Island Office of Lieutenant Governor, whose “Advance RI” initiative targets public education as one of three main policy priorities. These alumni, among many others, are having a positive collective impact on the state’s capacity for smart educational planning and policy analysis.

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The impact of UEP alumni extends to contributions students make while in residence at Brown. Through their Annenberg summer research projects and year-long internships, UEP students have helped strengthen the performance of over 50 education nonprofits in our city and state. Young Voices, the Rhode Island After School-plus Alliance, the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet, various Annenberg initiatives, and many others have engaged UEP students on a range of research and policy initiatives aimed at stronger outcomes for the children and youth of Rhode Island.

Next month, the UEP program will welcome to Brown 23 new students committed to increasing school, system, and community capacity to support underserved youth in closing gaps in achievement and opportunity and moving toward productive adulthoods. While in residence at Brown, these UEP students will make important contributions to the performance of public education systems and nonprofit organizations across the region. And if past is prologue, once they graduate many of these same students will join the ranks of UEP alumni to lend their formidable talents to support the successful development of children and youth throughout our city and state.

Michael Grady is the deputy director of AISR and and an assistant professor of practice in the UEP program.