Graduate students from Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) have been working at more than 200 agencies and organizations in the Philadelphia region during the 2020 – 2021 academic year—directly impacting countless individuals and initiatives, and working toward social change, justice, and actionable research. And now, there’s a visual representation of the powerful reach they have.
With the support of SP2 Dean Sara S. Bachman, PhD, and SP2 professor Dennis Culhane, PhD, PhD student Meagan Cusack tapped into her enthusiasm for map making to engineer an interactive tool that reveals the remarkable scope and scale of SP2 students’ contributions to the region.
The map enables users to see where students have engaged and gained experience through field placements and internships. The students are from SP2’s three master’s degree programs: the Master of Social Work, the Master of Science in Social Policy, and Nonprofit Leadership.
At organizations like United Way, Restorative Practice in Action, the ACLU of PA, the Penn Child Research Center, Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, the Mazzoni Center, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, the Juvenile Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and the Attic Youth Center, SP2’s students have embraced diverse, real-world learning opportunities and the communities that they serve in areas including child welfare, health, policy analysis, immigration, and philanthropy.
Upon receiving the data sets on SP2 field placements and internships, including names, sites, and number of students at each site, even Cusack says she was surprised at the breadth of locations where the School’s students are addressing community needs.
“I believe maps are a powerful tool that can make complex ideas immanently more relatable, so I was elated when I had the opportunity to take Community Mapping with Amy Hillier, PhD, last spring,” Cusack said. “Since then, I have worked on several research projects that have incorporated mapping techniques using ArcGIS. This semester, I am assisting with the Community Mapping course and completing an independent study with Dr. Hillier to develop greater competency with this software.”
As a PhD student, Cusack’s interests have chiefly been at the intersection of policy, inequality, and the built environment.
“Much of my research experience is related to homelessness and housing instability,” Cusack said. “I have extended these concepts recently to understand how people use and move through built spaces and how places often reinforce inequalities, with an emphasis on active transportation through bicycling and walking.”
Cusack says she has also been fortunate to assist her advisor Amy Castro Baker, PhD, at her recently launched Center for Guaranteed Income Research, which examines the impact of unconditional cash transfers across a variety of innovative pilots. As well, Cusack works at the VA Center for Health Equity Research & Promotion, where she contributes to mixed methods studies aimed at promoting equitable opportunities and outcomes for vulnerable populations, such as veterans experiencing homelessness, housing instability, and intimate partner violence.
“I hope these maps will be useful for future and current students who are deciding how to best use their time at SP2 to make a meaningful impact on their communities and learn skills that to further their career goals,” she said.
The map of SP2 field placements and internships can be viewed here.