Students gain intellectual, professional, and personal opportunities from senior projects

May 2, 2014

Each fall, Bloustein School professor Frank Popper leads a senior seminar class for planning and public policy (PPP) majors at the Bloustein School.

“The main goal of the course,” said Dr. Popper “Is for a student to engage his or her imagination to produce original work. Another is for the students to teach each other to do good work. The course offers students serious intellectual, professional, and personal opportunities.”

Students produce a thesis on any topic of planning and public policy of their interest; the course also requires a class presentation of their proposal as well as a final public presentation of their paper. Student review existing literature and offer original analytic contributions to their chose topic in the form of case studies, a fieldwork investigation, a policy suggestion, an assessment of an ongoing program, a test of a new idea, or a creative mix of these and other approaches.

kretchRyan Kretch ’14, a double major in Planning and Public Policy and Chinese with a minor in economics), discussed his project as well as his future plans.

“Predicting the Uyghur-Han Conflict Outcomes in Xinjiang”

Abstract: This project looks at possible resolutions to the Uyghur-Han ethnic and territorial conflict in Xinjiang Province, China. The goal is to show the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each option by examining background information, comparing case studies involving China and other border and ethnic conflicts, and studying expert views. Sources show that easing repressive policies and giving more religious freedom and autonomy to the Uyghurs would be the best option for the region. However, due to China’s omnipresence and solid hold on Xinjiang, continued development and Han migration to the region is the expected outcome. This status quo will contribute to rising tensions between the two groups and a further eradication of the Uyghur culture and identity.

EJB: How did you choose the topic for your paper?

RK: I spent my junior year in China, and came across Xinjiang province and the Uyghur ethnic minority during my travels. I remember being in Kashgar and being in awe of the Uyghur food, ‘old city’, language, and culture—all of which were rapidly disappearing. While talking with the locals, I began to understand there was a conflict between the Han and Uyghurs. Being at the source of the conflict of two extremely different cultures with opposing desires was exciting and had me wanting to learn more.

EJB: How did the senior seminar experience shape your paper?

RK: Having full autonomy of one’s project from start to finish was both daunting and rewarding. At first, I chose a topic that I was not very passionate about; and then realized that the thought of forming a whole paper around that topic was mind-numbing. It was not until the beginning of November that I had the idea to write about Xinjiang. My paper suddenly began taking shape and I felt myself begin to willingly focus more of my attention on research.

The weekly seminar sessions were beneficial, from the discussions, to the presentations, to the collective peer editing. It helped shape the paper in every way. Most of all, I found the students to be a group of genuine and passionate seniors with incredible recommendations for worldwide planning and policy issues. The result was a project I was proud, of and reassurance as to why I chose to study in the Bloustein School in the first place.

I also liked Dr. Popper’s approach to the course. He gave us complete freedom to go in whichever direction we wanted with the projects, but would always be there to provide guidance or materials if we needed them. Dr. Popper made it mandatory to meet individually a few times during the semester to go over our progress with the papers. He provided constructive criticism and constant encouragement.

EJB: What are some of your interests outside of your classes?

RK: While in college I participated in many random experiences, from managing an Engineers Without Borders water project in Kenya to working on branding a poverty alleviating social enterprise in the UK to teaching English in Beijing. I have an interest in photography, sustainable international development, education, languages, social enterprise, and anything creative and innovative.

EJB: What are your plans for the future?

RK: I recently moved to Shanghai to work for an innovation consultancy firm, pursue some of my own small projects—including an in-house burrito delivery service—and travel. I hope to continue to use what I learned at the Bloustein School in every aspect of my future plans.

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