Last November, Gabby Nelson, Assistant Director of Urban Engaged Learning and a student in Trinity’s graduate programs in Public Policy and Urban Planning, presented her original research on the impact of Community Development Corporations (“CDCs”) in Connecticut neighborhoods at Tipping Point 2020, a national conference on affordable housing hosted by the Partnership for Strong Communities. Gabby’s groundbreaking analysis of the impact of CDC investments in Hartford and New Haven on metrics ranging from property values to street-level aesthetics has caught the attention of urban redevelopment experts nationwide, and is already helping local CDCs such as the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance to target their community investments for maximum impact.

Gabby’s research began as a project in PBPL/URST 874—the Public Policy Practicum—taught by Prof. Sean Fitzpatrick. Each spring, teams of students in Trinity’s Master of Arts program in Public Policy (“MAPP”) complete their course of study by performing a semester-long consulting project for a real client, typically a public agency or not-for-profit organization. The Practicum is designed to give graduate students both an opportunity to apply their knowledge and technical skills to an actual policy question and a chance to develop their ability to work effectively as a team to tackle emerging public challenges in real time. Since the inception of the program in 2019, Practicum teams have worked with a broad range of public sector clients, from the City of Hartford’s Office of Sustainability to the Partnership for Strong Communities, a local think tank and advocacy organization in the areas of homelessness and affordable housing. Practicum placements are chosen with Trinity’s larger mission as a liberal arts institution in an urban setting very much in mind, focusing on issues faced by Connecticut’s cities in meeting community needs including affordable housing, access to education, economic development, and preservation of public health. Given its urban focus, the Public Policy Practicum is also a part of the curriculum for Trinity’s new Graduate Certificate in Urban Planning.

In the Spring of 2020, Gabby and MAPP colleagues Joe Garabedian, Kevin Mill, and Libby Morrison performed a Practicum study of CDC investment outcomes in a number of New England cities on behalf of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. In the process, Gabby began to develop a unique methodology for assessing such investments, mixing quantitative and qualitative elements, which she refined last summer in undertaking a “deep dive” analysis of CDCs in Hartford and New Haven. This spring, Gabby is serving as a Project Mentor in the Practicum, assisting MAPP candidates Yasmin Affey, Anthony Davis, Dan Feldman, and Dave Schultz in bringing these tools to bear on the efforts of Bridgeport’s CDC, Building Neighborhoods Together. The success of this research series, spanning multiple semesters and student cohorts, holds exciting promise for the Practicum program’s ability to provide sustained research support to our community in range of important policy areas.