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Student Voices: Takeaways from Online Master's Projects Presentations

May 14, 2020

By Narissa Petchumrus MPP-MEM ’22

Before Sanford sent off its esteemed class of 2020 MPPs to become the bright and innovative policy makers we know they will be, we were able to hear the culmination of their hard work at the virtual Master’s Project Symposium on May 6th. 

The symposium was conducted like a well-oiled machine with second year MPP Andrew Trexler both moderating and presenting at the symposium. Thirteen MPPs presented their master’s projects.

Each presenter was allotted five minutes to present their project and a couple minutes more for a brief Q&A. I can only imagine the difficulty of summarizing and presenting a year-long project in only five minutes both verbally and graphically with PowerPoint and data visualizations.

Yet each candidate persevered and produced high quality and diverse work. Some of the candidates had opted to do a project for a client while others engaged in their own independent research. The breadth of topics covered was impressive; ranging from housing, anti-racist education, refugee and immigrant youth, disability voting access to flood mitigation strategies, and more.

The complete list of presenters and their topics can be found at the right.

I left the symposium with policy questions and recommendations that I had not known existed.

One notable takeaway was from Maria Ramirez’s MPP ’20 presentation Refugee and Immigrant Youth in Durham, North Carolina: A needs Assessment for World Relief Durham’s Refugee and Immigrant Youth Services In-School and After-School Programming.

I learned about the triple trauma paradigm that serves as a barrier to the personal well-being and academic success of refugee and immigrant youth.

The axes of this paradigm include trauma from:

1) home countries due to economic stability and war,

2) from their migration journey experience, for example, migrating from Central America through coyotes, and

3) from being marginalized and feeling unwanted in their new communities.

By building a higher wall or a longer fence without reconciling with a lengthy history of intervention and destabilization, we end up punishing those suffering from collateral damage to these policies. There are certainly spillover effects to the children of these immigrants and refugees as Ramirez’s masters project (MP) focused on. These people are members of communities like Durham, but their experiences are confined to the shadows.

Ramirez’s triple trauma paradigm gave me a new insight into these multiple forms of violence suffered by refugees and immigrants and how this violence is an inevitable byproduct of a broader system of immigration and foreign policy.

When we think of violence, we tend to think of the corporal kind. However, marginalized groups face intangible, emotional violence that can have complex ramifications. Hearing Ramirez’s presentation made me optimistic that the next generation of policy makers will have a more nuanced understanding of violence and create more empathetic policy.    

I was also impressed at the flexibility of the students in being able to convey such complex information over an online format. Adaptability is a policymaker trait not to be overlooked as we are living through the current difficulties and can expect more uncertainties in the future.

Policy needs to be nimble, adaptive, and responsive to communities across the globe.

One thing that is certain though, based on the topics covered by our second year MPPs, we have a graduating class that is well-equipped to grapple with the policy challenges of our time.

I have no doubt that they are well poised due to Sanford’s rigorous and excellent education.

Congratulations to the MPP Class of 2020!


Narissa Jimenez-Petchumrus received their BA in political science with a minor in global studies from UCLA. They were a community organizer prior coming to Duke University and some of their work includes creating and chairing their city’s first LGBTQ+ Pride Festival and advocating for environmental justice through engaging in a civil disobedience. They are currently pursuing a dual-degree with the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Nicholas School of the Environment, specializing in energy and environment. They are also a Stanback Fellow with the North Carolina Sierra Club and part of a Bass Connections Student Research Awards team doing research on the distribution of urban greenspace and impacts on health outcomes. Their interests include analyzing how social impact enterprises and cooperatives can be used to build relationships with natural assets, bring about an equitable energy transition, generate community wealth, and build resilience.