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Local Challenges in a Global Pandemic: Durham’s Response to COVID-19

Sanford alumni Ryan Smith MPP’14 and Mariel Beasley MPP’41 as well as current MPP candidate Mary Grace Stoneking join Dean Judith Kelley to talk about Durham, NC's response to the pandemic. All three of our guests worked on the Durham Recovery & Renewal Task Force, consulting with the mayor and the county commissioner on local policy decisions that affected the lives of all Durham residents.

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Man with glasses smiling in front of the Sanford building
Ryan Smith

As a result of the pandemic, Ryan Smith says, "the mayor all of a sudden had incredibly unusual powers for North Carolina."

Mayor Steve Schewel wanted to be careful with how he used those powers, so he established the Recovery & Renewal task force to make sure he was making evidence-based decisions.

That's where Smith came in. His job is to lead the 15-person task force as they gather the evidence needed to make important policy decisions. In order to carry out the research, he enlisted the help of many Sanford students and recent graduates.

One of those students was Mary Grace Stoneking, an intern at the Durham City Manager's office. She helped Smith manage the team of volunteer researchers.

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Woman smiling
Mary Grace Stoneking

She says the city is extremely receptive to feedback from its residents right now: "[City officials] don't just want to survive this pandemic, but even look towards making a better Durham after the pandemic." She stresses that residents should use their voices to make the city aware of their experience during these challenging times.

Smith is an Innovation Project Manager for the City of Durham. He graduated with his Master of Public Policy from the Sanford School of Public Policy in 2014.

Mariel Beasley is Principal at the Center for Advanced Hindsight and the Co-Director at the Duke CommonCents Lab. She joined Smith to work on the “Back on the Bull” campaign which worked to normalize the act of wearing face masks in Durham. Mariel also graduated from Sanford with her Master of Public Policy in 2013.

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Woman smiling
Mariel Beasley

Stoneking is starting her second year as a Master of Public Policy candidate at Sanford. She interned with the Durham City Manager’s office and helped Ryan manage the student researchers working on the task force. 

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