Student-driven project hopes to build the next generation of public policy leaders

Students from nine NC universities will drive a year-long project to understand key issues facing the state and come up with policy solutions to address them. The program, led by the Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at NC State, is meant to inspire young people to a lifelong interest in public policy and build the next generation of public policy leaders. 

The North Carolina Policy Innovation Leaders of Tomorrow 2021 (PILOT 21) initiative will be student-led and student-driven. Students will work on teams within their campus and across the nine campuses to explore policy issues that they believe will greatly impact North Carolina.

“IEI’s role is to support the students and help them develop their policy ideas,” said IEI Director Leslie Boney. “Faculty members are not going to come up with the topics—they’re not going to tell the students what their ideas should be. Neither are we. Our job is to make sure the students are connected with good information that they can move forward.”

PILOT21 virtual meeting
On March 19, about 30 students and faculty from the nine universities gathered virtually for their first meeting.

On March 19, about 30 students and faculty from the nine universities gathered virtually for their first meeting, where Carolina Demography presented data on higher education, broadband, affordable housing, mental health and food security to help the students choose their topic for the year. The students came to a consensus to focus on food security after a discussion about how all the topics intertwine.

Over the course of a year, the students will come up with policy recommendations, meet with local policymakers, and develop a network of people they can lean on as they move into the public policy sphere. The experience will leave the students with a wealth of skills and, hopefully, a passion for public policy. 

PILOT 21 students will learn how to analyze and use data to support policies, thanks to training from Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center (CPC). They will be trained in negotiating across difference and engaging in civil dialogue. They will also learn how to organize effective arguments in moving a policy recommendation forward.

“PILOT 21 is a great way for students interested in public policy to transform that interest into action. Students will work together to come to consensus on a topic they want to influence and go through the process of moving their ideas forward,” said Sarah Langer Hall, IEI’s Senior Policy and Program Manager.

The project is supported by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation on behalf of retiring board of trustees member, Jane Patterson, who participated in a similar project in the 1960’s when she was an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill. Being part of the effort launched her into a career of public service. The hope is that PILOT 21 will launch the next generation of North Carolina public policy leaders.