Category Archives: Batten Council

Storytime at the Batten School

Blog post by Luke Handley, MPP 2014 and Batten Council Treasurer 

Batten Week concluded on Tuesday with Batten’s Best Stories.  The council thought we could strengthen the community by bringing together students and faculty in a no-pressure, no-lecture, relaxed setting.  Instead of gathering for a guest speaker to talk directly about leadership or policy, we sought faculty and administrators to deliver a lesson by telling a story.  The results were far greater than anything we expected.

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Professor Ruhm kicked off the afternoon by talking about his time on the Council of Economic Advisors during Clinton Administration.  One of his articles on medicare reimbursement rates picked up far more attention than he ever expected.
Dean Harding spoke of his day briefing President George HW Bush at Camp David — driving up to the White House; taking a ride on Marine One from the Pentagon; walking passed well-armed Secret Service; standing in front of a “who’s who” in national security.  It is a shame Dan Quayle never became president.
Professor Gibbs story began with her doctoral work when she wrote a paper on HeadStart, which received little (if any) attention.  Fast forward to 2013 when a Daily Show producer calls inquiring about the paper.  A few weeks later her work is referenced by Jon Stewart on air, and is again mentioned in a speech by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Dean Perry told of her research in Morocco.  For years she had been asked to teach a course in French for UVA’s study abroad program, but declined because it was outside the scope of her position.  Eventually she relented and made the trip.  She’s been back several times, is working on a research project on the Tuaregs, and even picked up a little of a local language.
Dean Hoege’s story seemed to just be about how he likes to coach baseball, but the whole audience quickly choked up when little Timothy in right field closed his eyes and caught the fly ball.  In the middle of the inning his teammates swamped him with hugs and high fives.  Watching a bunch of 8 year old ballplayers, including his son, rally around a struggling teammate gave Howard a unique lesson in leadership.
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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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Several Batten MPP students volunteered to play Bingo with residents at The Cedars Golden Living Center on Friday afternoon of March 22nd. We brought t-shirts to give out as prizes to the winners of Bingo games, which were a huge hit when we volunteered there during Batten Builds in the fall. The residents of the assisted living center were really excited when they saw the prizes we brought with us!


As the Batten students spread out and sat at different tables, everyone listened eagerly to the numbers skillfully called out by Solomon and Kaitlin. The rest of the Batten crew, Kaycie, Patrick, Gina, Matt W., Kelly D., and Katy, listened carefully and helped out the skillful Bingo-players at their tables when needed. The residents thanked us for coming to play with them, but I think that we got the better end of the deal, getting to play Bingo with such wonderful people!


– Post by Katy Lai, MPP’13

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Batten Council Elections

The University Board of Elections announced the winners of the election yesterday afternoon. Batten had the highest voter turn out of any other school at the University with 73 percent. Thanks to everyone who ran and voted!
Here is your 2013-14 Batten Council:
President – Alex Dumitriu
Secretary – Carmen Diaz
Treasurer – Luke Handley
Special Events Chair – Natasha Reese
Community Engagement Chair – Elena Weissmann
UJC Rep – Shivshankar Srikanth
Honor Reps – Madison Busch and Ryan Singel
StudCo – Sheridan Fuller

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Up to Us: Our Nation’s Rising National Debt

Up To Us is a student-led campaign to engage the University of Virginia and Charlottesville community about our nation’s rising national debt and its effects on our generation now and in the future.

Led by five fourth-year students (including three Batten students), the Up to Us campaign, began on January 22 and runs through March 2. It is part of a nation-wide campus competition among 10 colleges to develop outreach regarding the nation’s fiscal status and future. The campaign has included over 20 events, ranging from academic (such as Flash Seminars) to social (ex: a national-debt themed trivia night at Mellow Mushroom). Such events aim to increase students’ awareness and knowledge about the national debt.

An event held on January 25th, titled “HOOs Talking about the National Debt”, featured three distinguished professors from various schools: Tom Massaro, Harrison Foundation Professor of Medicine and Law Emeritus, professor of pediatrics emeritus, and an expert on national health care systems; Craig Volden, professor of public policy and an expert on American political processes; and Herman Schwartz, professor of politics and expert on debt and political economy. Each professor shared their viewpoints on the United States budget deficit and its relevant consequences with, despite the snowy weather, over 60 students.  With lunch kindly provided by the Batten Council, the students were extremely engaged, asking thought-provoking and introspective questions throughout the discussions.

One of the centerpieces of the campaign was a speech by Virginia Senator Mark on February 11. Introduced by University President Teresa Sullivan, Senator Warner spoke to an audience of about 500 members of University of Virginia community regarding our nation’s debt crisis. Senator Warner has played a crucial role in addressing our nation’s fiscal challenges. Last year, Senator Warner helped organize a bipartisan coalition consisting of 45 Senators and 100 members of the House of Representatives to urge action on the debt. The former Virginia governor has been active on the issue of fiscal responsibility. A video of his talk is available online.

Throughout the campaign, Up to Us has received generous support from Batten’s community of faculty and students, with numerous sponsorships of events and aid in planning. The Up to Us team is extremely grateful to attend a school where all are so supportive and engaged in such an important issue as the national debt.

Upcoming events include:

Feb 28: How Students Can Save and Build Their Own Financial Future

Professor Karin Bonding

6:30 PM

Robertson 120

March 1: TEDTalk of “Final Thoughts”

Professor Mary Margaret Frank (Darden), Stuart Wolf (Engineering), and a Board of Visitors member will drive home the main take-away points of our national debt issue, why it’s important for students to get involved, and how UVA will be affected.

1:00 PM

Garrett Hall

March 2: Closing Reception

Location TBD

Reception for all the attendees, professors, deans, community members, etc. who were involved in our campaign or who have attended any event

Serves as a closing opportunity for networking to continue work around the national debt

Please visit for more information.

– Post by Ryan Singel, MPP ‘14

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UVA Investing Conference

The Batten Council generously sponsored my attendance at the 5th annual University of Virginia Investing Conference at the Darden School of Business on November 15th and 16th. The theme of this year’s conference was “After the Election: Realities, Opportunities, and Challenges for Investors.” Specific topics included the fiscal and monetary policies, the U.S. “fiscal cliff,” the state of the global economy, emerging markets, energy, and healthcare.

Speakers at the conference came from all sectors of the economy: investors in the private, educators and researchers from academia and non-profit think tanks, and policymakers and regulators. The conference provided a nonjudgmental platform for the diverse selection of speakers to express their opinions candidly on the current state, trends, and future outlook of both the domestic and global economy. Some speakers focused their opinions of the U.S. regulatory environment, while others offered their forecasts of the trends of the global economy. This ultimately benefited the attendees, including professors, investors, and students, at the conference because they were exposed to a wide variety of perspectives on the economic and policy arenas.

As a public policy student with a business background as well, it was a very interesting and enlightening experience to attend the conference. There is clearly a discernible tension between governmental regulations and financial investors in the free market. With this observation, I would like to share a few key takeaways from the conference:

1) Regulation is not necessarily a bad thing: as long as it is easily accessible to the target sectors, stakeholders may not be as opposed to it

2) Natural resources prices will continue to rise as they become scarcer due to population pressures; this will require more investment in exploration and lead to more global conflicts

3) Uncertainty in public policy will always be a risk for investors

– Blog Post by Katy Lai, MPP ‘13

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