In the world of policy research, there is often a gap between academic research and state government. State governments implement programs. Researchers study the impacts of those programs. But often, those activities don’t happen at the same time. State governments implement programs and policies, but may not have the time or resources to use research and data to improve public services in real-time. Academic researchers study the impacts of programs and policies, but may not have access to the right teams within state government to implement data- and research-informed recommendations.

What if there were a way to bridge that gap, and bring government and research together to better meet the needs of the people who use state programs and services? The Youth Policy Lab launched the Michigan Data & Policy Fellowship program in 2019 to provide the State of Michigan technical assistance and strategic support to achieve specific and measurable improvements in social policies and programs operated by the state. YPL Data & Policy Fellows are active in conducting research and data analysis as they support a number of different state led programs, gaining experience and exposure in the field as they assist our state partners in strengthening their programs, policies, and processes.

The Michigan Data & Policy Fellowship is designed to provide dedicated support to the State of Michigan through the placement of early-career, master’s-level, policy professionals in administrative agencies. Fellows in this program:

  • are recruited and hired by YPL to serve two-year, fixed term appointments
  • are placed full-time in a state agency’s office
  • report directly to the state agency project lead
  • have direct access to and support from UM faculty with substantive and methodological expertise
  • receive mentorship and topical expertise from YPL Faculty Director
  • receive additional supervision from YPL Executive Director and other YPL staff

YPL’s inaugural class of fellows are were placed with the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Opportunity (MDLEO) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Our fellows bring UM’s vast research and data infrastructure to their roles within state government, helping the state implement research- and data-informed policies and program improvements so that Michigan families and workers can access high-quality public services.

Improving the Reach of Workforce Development Services for Michigan’s Workers

Ava Attari, our 2019-2021 MDLEO fellow, supported the state’s efforts to improve workforce development policies and programs, with a specific focus on navigating work requirements and reducing barriers to work for individuals accessing Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF benefits. In her first year, Ava was instrumental in the development of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Futures for Frontliners program, which launched September 2020. Futures for Frontliners is a first-of-its-kind scholarship program for Michigan residents who were frontline workers in essential industries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program covers community college tuition costs for frontline workers to earn an associate degree or an industry-recognized certificate, as well as tuition-free high school completion courses and skills training for frontline workers. In its first week alone, Futures for Frontliners received over 40,000 applications from frontline workers seeking to advance their educational attainment. In her second year, Ava managed implementation of the Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect programs and advised the state on program evaluation strategies to measure the impact of Futures for Frontliners on educational attainment and community college retention.

Advancing Quality Measurement in Maternal-Infant Home Visiting

Sarah Ostyn, our 2019-2021MDHHS fellow, supported MDHHS’ efforts to improve maternal and infant health in Michigan. Within the Maternal Infant Health Unit at MDHHS, Sarah focused on developing and implementing quality measurement strategies for the Maternal-Infant Health Program, Michigan’s largest evidence-based home visiting program for Medicaid-eligible pregnant individuals and their infants. In her first year, Sarah worked collaboratively with the department staff to streamline program documents and create a more equitable process for reviewing provider compliance with requirements of the home visiting model and Medicaid policies. In her second year, Sarah developed, piloted, and analyzed a quality measurement strategy for MIHP that is aligned with national best practices and quality strategies in use by other home visiting programs in the state of Michigan.

Team members


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