Monthly Archives: April 2013

Batten Students Attend Education Symposium



Last Saturday, five Batten students attended Alpha Phi Alpha’s forum, “The State of Education in America: The Cause & The Solution.” Batten Council generously sponsored a table at the symposium, which supported the Lynchburg-based S.Y. Scholars Program — a mentorship and scholarship program for low-performing and at-risk young students. 

U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan gave the opening address following a live jazz performance and a brunch buffet (a Batten favorite). Sullivan spoke of the need to connect younger students with educational opportunities and motivate them to seek higher education later in life. As testament to Sullivan’s insistence that doing so is crucial to building a bright future for America, some of the Scholars themselves shared their stories and joined the audience during the panel. 

The panel itself was composed of local policymakers and educators who debated over topics as salient as the purpose of teaching and the need for high expectations in the classroom. Speakers included Charlottesville Public Schools superintendent Rosa Atkins, University History Professor Claudrena Harold, Charlottesville High School Principal Thomas Taylor, Charlottesville City Councilwoman Dede Smith, and Green County Public Schools Superintendent David Jeck. 

The SY Scholars Program hopes that its first annual symposium will promote education reform — beginning at the local level with participants and audience members. The discussion often centered around the ubiquitous debate over standardized testing, which many educators argued limits students’ motivation and engagement, but is cited by city administrators as a key factor in lowering dropout rates. 

Sheridan Fuller, an APA brother and a first-year accelerated MPP student, told Batten Council that he hoped the symposium would “motivate members of the community to undergird the local education system in an effort to remedy the plight of American education.” Regardless of the attendees’ specific policy interests, the energy of the panelists was certainly successful in establishing the pervasive relevance of education policy in the United States. 


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Obama’s Boldest Claim May Be His Most Accurate

On Tuesday, February 12, President Obama gave the first State of the Union of his second term. The only thing about the speech that both parties could agree on was that it was historic. Republicans called it a historic partisan embrace of liberalism, while Democrats praised the President for his bold vision. Yet little media attention has been given to President Obama’s boldest claim, his claim that we can create an AIDS-free generation in our lifetime. This would be an achievement on par with the eradication of small pox[1] and would save the 1.6 million people who die globally each year as a result of HIV/AIDS.

In order to achieve this goal, more domestic funding is necessary to identify those with the disease and to get them into treatment. We have the medical tools available to relegate HIV to the history books, if Washington takes action by increasing the funding for the Ryan White Care Act when it comes up for reauthorization later this year. The funding for Ryan White has remained almost constant at approximately $2 billion over the past decade, even though the number of infected Americans has increased by 500,000 over that same span.

When HIV was first documented in the 1980s it was viewed as a gay man’s disease, a supposed consequence of a decadent and wild lifestyle. Within a few years, injection drug users were added to the list of those at risk for HIV. This characterization as a disease that individuals caught due to perceived vices led to tremendous stigma that left those infected with little social or political support.

President Obama would not have been able to make his bold claim without the impressive scientific gains made following the discovery of HIV. In 1986, the FDA approved zidovudine (AZT) as the first medication to treat HIV. However, the harshness of the medication meant that for most patients the treatment was effectively a death sentence. AZT required patients to take a dozen pills under very strict conditions. In the context of HIV and AIDS medication, the ‘80s were a time of great despair.

In stark contrast the ‘90s saw advancements in the public perception and treatment of HIV that culminated in the President’s speech. The 90’s saw the advent of protease inhibitors and combination therapies[2] that controlled the spread of the virus and studies proved that HIV medication drastically reduced the likelihood of transmission of the disease from mother to child. The 2000s have seen continued advancements like FDA approval for human testing of an HIV vaccine, the sale of the first in-home HIV test, and the creation of one a day HIV medications.  The advancements of the ‘90s combined with the emergence of advocacy organizations like ACT UP and several high profile disclosures helped bring HIV into the public forum.

Two of the most important HIV disclosures in terms of combating stigma were those of Ryan White and Magic Johnson. Ryan White contracted HIV at the age of 13 after he received tainted blood as part of his hemophilia treatment. As a young, white, heterosexual boy from the Midwest, Ryan did not fit the generally accepted image of someone with HIV. His was certainly not a disease of vice. Ryan spent his final days educating people on HIV and its transmission. In November of 1991, a year after Ryan’s death, Magic Johnson disclosed his HIV status. Like Ryan, Magic Johnson’s diagnosis refuted the common HIV stereotype. Magic Johnson’s life has helped to show the world that HIV is not a death sentence and the path to creating an AIDS-free generation.

On June 4, 1992, Magic Johnson and his wife celebrated the birth of their son, Earvin Johnson III. Both mother and child were given a clean bill of health even though HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. This astounding outcome was achieved primarily because Magic adhered to his HIV treatment. Results from a study conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed that adherence to HIV medication led to a 96% reduction in the risk of transmitting HIV. This incredible statistic alone could be enough to create the AIDS-free generation, but it is not the only tool we have at our disposal.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 40-60 percent of HIV infected individuals do not know their HIV status. These individuals are responsible for the vast majority of new HIV infections. If we can get these individuals in treatment, we can save their lives and prevent the spread of HIV. With increased funding and a focus on identification and retention in treatment, we can drastically reduce the number of new infections, and over time eradicate HIV/AIDS. This increased funding would need to be accompanied by public education campaigns to not only spread the word but to combat the stigma surrounding HIV. The eradication of HIV would be a historic achievement that all Americans, regardless of their political views, could be proud of.

– Post by Solomon Banjo, MPP ‘13

[1] In 1967 15 million people were infected with smallpox, a decade later that number was 0.

[2] These therapies drastically reduced the number of pills taken and were a precursor to one a day treatments.

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10th Annual Unite for Site Global Health Innovations Conference

Seeing entrepreneurs, activists, and enthusiasts descend upon Yale’s distinguished campus would seem like just another day on campus, but this is a bit different. The 10th Annual Unite for Site Global Health Innovations Conference ran from Saturday to Sunday of this past weekend and of course Batten could not be left out! This conference is entirely about policy from EVERYWHERE. Speakers from Ghana, India, Uganda, South Africa, Peru, Kosovo, Congo and more joined the overflowing auditoriums of do-gooders.

The conference kicked off with a speech by New York Times journalist, Tina Rosenberg, on harnessing the power of peer pressure: a topic that has been covered extensively by Batten psychology faculty. After beginning with references to alcoholism and drinking, Rosenberg asked the audience “which parents in the audience have told their children peer pressure is good. One could have heard a pin drop save a chuckle from the upper balcony, but it is what leaders want — to motivate people to action. Rosenberg advised the auditorium of global public health, medical professionals, and students to “abandon their public health expertise,” but clarified quickly before the coup could ensue defending the professions of all in attendance. Abandoning the expertise learned in school is not about forgetting the knowledge; it is striving to remember what motivates a non-expert in strategy development.

Peers are more credible. While experts are motivated by dire circumstances, enormous problems, and information, the average person blocks their discomfort out. To break through negative behaviors, research shows that marginalizing the bad behavior does more to incentivize good behavior that any public health message about a wide-spread problem. People want to fit in, so to change behavior is to credibly change perceptions of a norm.

The rest of the day was a fascinating version of just that. Any skeptic in the room would have been a minority among passionate optimist will logically framed arguments and innovators making pitches for the next big health advance.  In the end, the most important advice to policy makers and public health program coordinators boiled down to the following:

  •         Collaborate with stakeholders, don’t “help” them.
  •         Always ask why, not just for numbers.
  •         Understand history and context before implementation.
  •         Involve local peers in project design and marketing.
  •         Don’t claim causality lightly.
  •         Service should drive research. Ethical arguments exist for completing research and for not conducting it.
  •          Never promise the moon.
  •          Programs are always imperfect, but improvable (if evaluated).

– Post by Kate Stanley, MPP ’13

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StartingBloc’s Institute for Social Innovation – LA’13

What happens when you get 100 social entrepreneurs in a room together? You get an overwhelming sense of optimism and idealism, and you get a glimpse into a world where the most innovative and creative ideas rise to the top to solve some of the world’s most pressing social problems. A Santa Monica beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean set the stage for this year’s StartingBloc Insititute for SocialInnovation, a five day-long fellowship program that seeks to empower individuals from various academic and professional backgrounds that are at different stages of developing and implementing their own projects. The Institute also featured a group case competition tackling this year’s theme: healthy neighborhoods. The best case solutions were presented to a panel of entrepreneur judges active in the Los Angeles area, including Robert Egger (founder and president of LA Kitchen and DC Central Kitchen).


I went to this year’s Institute equipped with two ideas:

1. A potential way to introduce more of a culture of innovation into federal, state, and local governments that are often too rigid and inflexible in devising programs to effectively address social problems in an inexpensive way, and

2. An ongoing project of mine (called Develop U) that aims at providing education, technology skills, and computer access to help people start their own businesses through sites like eBay. In my previous community development work, I found that many people within at-risk populations have problems developing and reinventing themselves to match trends and opportunities that are prevalent in this digital age. What many of us, including me, take for granted here at the University of Virginia are sometimes the simplest things. Lack of basic computer literacy prevents people from ever finding decent work. This isn’t only an international phenomenon, but a reality experienced everyday in some of America’s poorest neighborhoods in cities like Dallas, where I lived prior to coming to Virginia. The Institute allowed me yet another opportunity to pitch my ideas on community development and get feedback from passionate people that were more motivated than I ever was.


While the Institute programs and sessions were all great, I really do believe that the value of this program was embodied through the people that I met. This is glimpse of what I learned from them:

– You can do good and do well. Socially conscious work can be done while not being poor and hungry.

– Non-profits have an immense amount of political clout and influence that, when organized and tapped, can be a powerful force for driving social change.

– Always design products and services with the end user in mind. This concept is embedded in the human-centered design process. Check out for more on this.

– Use existing resources and frameworks to develop good work that provides a social benefit. From an economic development perspective for example, think about the difference between Norway and Nigeria, and how these two countries have utilized national natural resources to develop themselves (also termed the Norway-Nigeria moment).

– Crush fear and start something. Imagine. Innovate. Create. It isn’t always the best ideas that are the most effective. Rather, it’s the ideas that actually get converted into a plan, and subsequently into action, that have an impact and that are remembered.

For more information on StartingBloc and their programs, check out They are now accepting applications for Fellows to attend their next institute in Detroit.

– Post by Imran Khan, MPP’13

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Batten’s Visit from the Governor

Check out the Cav Daily’s article on Gov. McDonnell’s visit to Garrett Hall:

Marshall Bronfin / The Cavalier Daily

Marshall Bronfin / The Cavalier Daily

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IM Softball Opening Day 2013

After much hype was spread around during the IM softball pre-season, it was finally time for the Batten Ballers to show the league what they were made of.  On Opening Day 2013, the Ballers matched up against one of their division rivals, Naanstop.   While the Baller’s hearts were in the game, they ended up losing the season opener 9-5. Opening Day 2013

The Ballers started out the game strong, answering Naanstop’s two runs in the bottom of the first.  Although Naanstop had some formidable gloves, they won the game with smart base running and some help from a few errors on the Ballers’ part.

The winning pitcher had some nasty movement on some of his pitches, but that didn’t stop the Ballers from racking up the hits.  Matt, Elena, Nalin, Robert, Pat, Maddie, Max, Michael, Kelly, and Aaron knocked the ball around the park.  While Elena, Nalin, Robert, and Pat shared some RBI’s, the Ballers were unable to string together enough hits to match the nine runs Naanstop posted.   After Matt W, one of the Baller’s rising stars, was pulled after the first inning, a number of relievers – Max, Kelly, and Michael – warmed their arms with some solid performances.

Despite a disappoint loss, the Ballers hit the road full of spirit, ready to seize their first victory next week.

– Post by Aaron Chafetz

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