The Policy Academies was founded in 2016 to address the lack of diversity and inclusion of researchers of color in mainstream think tanks -- and the policy discourse in general. As policy institutions grapple with complex issues that affect people of color and the communities in which they live, very few researchers of color are on the teams that do this work – and even fewer are in leadership positions. This picture is even starker when considering representation by those who are first-generation college graduates from marginalized neighborhoods themselves.  

One of the key stages at which the public policy field loses out on minority talent is at the entry level. Many students of color, especially those from underserved communities, lack the exposure, research experience, technical skills, and professional networks required for selection to positions at influential institutions and prestigious graduate schools. The Policy Academies is specifically designed to address this serious pipeline problem. Our mission is to recruit, train, connect, and cultivate the early careers of a pipeline of public policy scholars of color who will help define, investigate, and propose solutions to the social equity challenges of our time. This new effort is being funded by a generous planning grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

The Policy Academies is a relaunch and expansion of an earlier model that was implemented with the support of leading think tanks across Washington, DC. Between 2007 and 2012, Dr. Lynette Rawlings conceived, designed, and led the Academy for Public Policy Analysis and Research at the Urban Institute. This successful pilot program serves as the underpinnings of The Policy Academies. Over its tenure, this program supported 4 cohorts (a total of 41) rising college seniors of color in a year-long research training and leadership development program. That Academy began with an intensive summer-long training program on-site at the Urban Institute with continued research and career mentoring during the fellows’ senior years at university.

Each, year, the pilot Academy program drew on the research and policy expertise of over 75 leading scholars, practitioners, and policy officials across prominent institutions in DC and beyond. These influential experts served as research mentors, trainers, teachers, and connectors. Once they completed the program, the pilot then followed the students as they moved through the early stages of their careers in public policy.  Generously funded by the Ford and MacArthur Foundations, the pilot has yielded incredible results. Now 5 to 8 years out of college, the alumni are making impressive strides in their early policy careers. The program alumni have since entered or completed competitive graduate programs and/or been employed by leading policy research and advocacy institutions. 

These remarkable outcomes have propelled the program’s creator to work toward a relaunch and expansion of this powerful investment in infusing equity in our nation’s public policy discourse.