The Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT) and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) at the University of Pittsburgh came together last fall to make regional recommendations through the CONNECT Capstone class. Each fall semester, CONNECT members decide on policy or project areas that are high priority and work to partner with students on further research.

Four policy projects were established for the capstone course taught by Dr. George Dougherty, Assistant Professor at GSPIA, and Lydia Morin, Executive Director of CONNECT. “The State of and Opportunities for Councils of Government in Pennsylvania,” “Volunteer Fire: Developing Collaborative Capacity,” “CONNECT Strategies for Regional Climate Action,” and “Hard to Recycle Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities in our Region,” projects were presented virtually on November 30, 2020 with a live Q&A. GSPIA’s Dean Dr. Carissa Slotterback spoke to the value of the capstone course: "CONNECTcontinues to exemplify a true model of research to action.  The opportunity for students to work with communities contributes so much to their professional development, and just as importantly they are producing work that is relevant and readily usable by those communities."

The class may have ended, but interns are continuing their projects through CONNECT’s working groups and discussions with members. “CONNECT’s capstone gave me the opportunity to engage with my community leaders and look at the issues that really matter in our region,” says Brett Stewart, GSPIA student turned CONNECT intern. Stewart is building on his team’s capstone project by exploring how to improve fire service delivery by strengthening relationships between key stakeholders, especially fire chiefs and elected officials. “I’m grateful for the support CONNECT provided to allow me to find new solutions to today’s local government problems.”

GSPIA student and CONNECT intern Zhexuan Yu is continuing her team’s project on Councils of Government and exploring with CONNECT members ways to increase the impact of government communications and technology. Yu said, “Through the introduction and connection of CONNECT, the COG team achieved an efficient dialogue with directors of COGs as well as municipal representatives, and ultimately ensured the effectiveness of the program results.”
 
CONNECT Chair and Forest Hills Council Vice President Patricia DeMarco says of the CONNECT Capstone, “CONNECT brings the resources of Pitt's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs to the service of our communities as a source of innovation, creativity, and practical problem solutions.  We benefit from the expert teams of GSPIA Capstone graduate students to develop cutting edge solutions to problems like recycling and climate action and communication.”
 
Going forward, the reports have inspired direct work in CONNECT’s Infrastructure & Utilities, Economic & Environmental Development, and Communications and Technology working groups. New working group subcommittees on Regional Climate Action Planning and the Future of Fire will continue to explore challenges and recommendations posed by student projects.

Watch the presentation recordings.
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