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CIPA Launches New Infrastructure Fellows Program with Practicum

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By Lisa Jervey Lennox
Assistant Director for External Relations

This past fall, CIPA launched a new Infrastructure Project Management and Finance (IPMF) Fellows Program for CIPA students.  Spearheaded by CIPA Core Faculty member Rick Geddes, a professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management, and by CIPA Visiting Lecturer John Foote, the program is modeled after CIPA's existing Environmental Finance and Impact Investment (EFII) Fellows Program.  

Following several years of teaching popular courses on infrastructure management, regulation and finance, Foote and Geddes proposed a more structured, applied experience for CIPA students who wanted to focus their MPA intensively on current and emerging infrastructure and transportation issues. 

The resulting IPMF program requires several foundation courses on management, finance, and stakeholder engagement, in addition to elective coursework on accounting, project management, risk analysis, and public systems modeling.  An important element of the program is a practicum that connects IPMF Fellows with policymakers, business leaders, and academics working across sectors to execute a complex infrastructure project. 

Developed and taught by Foote, the first practicum for IPMF was launched over winter break. It focused on the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), a proposed $2.5 billion streetcar line in New York City that would operate on a north-south route along the East River between the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.  Eleven students spent a week in NYC in early January, learning more about the project. Their schedule included a mix of presentations by speakers across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, as well as field visits to several key sites that are part of the BQX project.  Guest presenters included NY City elected officials and department officials, and executives from several prominent infrastructure/engineering and real estate firms, including Two Trees, BJH Advisors, Fitch Ratings, HR&A Advisors, and Sam Schwartz Engineering.

"It was a great opportunity for our students to see up close a complex project that is still in the planning stage and to think about the challenges associated with and strategies needed to implement the project," said Foote.  Students enrolled in the practicum will now spend spring semester looking back on the field stuCIPA student during the winter session in NYCdy experience, critically analyzing the inputs involved in the planning and implementation the BQX, and developing a report that offers recommendations for the project moving forward.

"This type of engaged learning experience exemplifies where I believe CIPA and the College of Human Ecology are headed, in terms of connecting students to real projects that improve people's lives," says CIPA Executive Director Tom O'Toole.  "The older pedagogical model of having students wait until they've entered the work force to solve real problems is increasingly falling by the wayside.  Practicums like this one taught by John provide students with the opportunity to leverage each other's strengths, as well as the strengths of CIPA and the College, to positively impact their communities."

Carolina Araya Chavez, a CIPA student sponsored by the Costa Rican Ministry of Science, Technology, and Telecommunications (MICITT) agrees with O'Toole.  "From my perspective, completing the winter  practicum focused on a real infrastructure project was the best way to understand how different stakeholders—elected officials, community representatives, consultants, and media—interact, and how their positions and perspectives on the different dimensions of the project—technical, social, economic, and political—are so important to a project's success.   In addition, I learned how an infrastructure project's execution can impact the social and economic development of surrounding areas," said Ayaya Chavez.

About John Foote
Foote formerly served as the executive director of Cornell's Program on Infrastructure Policy (CPIP), and is one of several new instructors hired by CIPA to bring the perspective of an experienced practitioner into the classroom.  Prior to CIPA, Foote co-founded a transportation engineering firm specializing in intelligent transportation systems, and worked as a public finance banker for twelve years in the United States and Asia.  In addition to his undergraduate degree from Cornell (Engr. '74), he has an MPA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  Apart from his work at CIPA, Foote is a Senior Fellow at the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard.