October 31, 2019

Boot Camps Offer Students Environmental Policy Basics—and Pizza

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Boot Camps Offer Students Environmental Policy Basics—and Pizza

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions is giving Duke University students a workout—for their environmental policy knowledge.

More than 40 students crammed into the fifth-floor boardroom of Grainger Hall on a Friday afternoon to get answers to their questions about the inner workings of Congress. The session was the first in a series of Policy Boot Camps that will feature Nicholas Institute professionals sharing their expertise engaging directly with decision-making institutions. 

“The time with the students was a blast,” said Tim Profeta, the Nicholas Institute’s director, who led the opening session. “The free-flowing conversation made it so much easier to share insights, and to ensure I was responding to the questions that were really on their mind. I hope they got as much out of it as I did.”

For the conversation, Profeta drew on his two decades of experience working with Congress—first as a staffer to former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and now as a bridge to Duke’s world-class research to help inform policy making. 

Profeta started with a brief overview of the differences in makeup and function of the House of Representatives and the Senate. That soon gave way to an open discussion with the students about the formal and informal mechanisms by which environmental policy gets made in Congress. Topics included:

  • What kind of climate legislation could be passed in the Senate through the budget reconciliation process?
  • How does research make its way to legislators and their staffs?
  • What role do lobbyists play in developing environmental bills?

Conor Mulderrig, a master of environmental management (MEM) student in the Nicholas School of the Environment, said he appreciated the relaxed atmosphere. 

“It was much more approachable from a student’s perspective,” Mulderrig said. “In formal settings, it’s a little bit harder to articulate what you want to ask. When you’re surrounded by your peers that are all on an equal footing, it makes it a lot easier.”

A “political junkie” who is studying climate change policy, Mulderrig came to the boot camp eager to learn more about the behind-the-scenes logistics and negotiations involved with enacting policy changes in Congress.

For both him and fellow MEM student Gray Li, the boot camp also presented a networking opportunity. They were among the students who asked Profeta about pathways to a career on Capitol Hill and how they can get involved in the Nicholas Institute’s work.

Li is focused on the economics of carbon pricing and how it could be used to address climate change. The discussion with Profeta brought a new element to what she has been studying.

“I’m not very familiar with the political side of how things work, so this kind of opens things up for me a little bit,” Li said.

The Nicholas Institute will hold three more boot camps in the coming weeks. Speakers and topics covered are:

  • Nov. 1: Robert Bonnie, Nicholas Institute executive in residence, will discuss how federal departments and agencies operate.
  • Nov. 15: John Virdin, director of the Nicholas Institute's Ocean and Coastal Policy Program, will introduce participants to international institutions.
  • Nov. 22: Martin Doyle, director of the Nicholas Institute's Water Policy Program, will cover how federal agencies are organized and why it matters.

Students are encouraged to attend in person, but a live stream and video replay will be available on Panopto, which can be accessed with a Duke NetID. Video links for the upcoming sessions and more information can be found at bit.ly/NIBootCamps.