The United States government influences people’s lives around the world daily.

Decisions made through governmental programs and legislation impact aspects of life including:

— Healthcare options
— Educational opportunities
— Environmental regulations
— Changes to the legal system
— Domestic and foreign economies
— Immigration standards
— Social welfare
— Protection of civil rights
— International relations
— Energy consumption and more

Almost every aspect of life is or can be affected by decisions made by politicians, legislators, government employees or independent parties working with the government.

But how?

“Systemic change that makes a difference in people’s lives often begins at the policy level,” according to an article on Forbes Advisor. “Policies dictate all manner of public life, from the healthcare we receive to environmental protection regulations.”

Policies are laws, guidelines or other actions that implement rules established by an organization to help achieve a specific result.

Policies used by the government for improving the lives of its citizens are called public policies.

This aspect of governance has many elements that work together to implement these guidelines. Policy-making and policy administration are two fundamental tenets that go into creating and maintaining policies.

According to the Forbes article, public policy makers craft policies and influence public affairs through researching “how a government … engages and responds to different social issues” while “public administrators implement policies.”

The department of Political Science and Public Policy and Administration is located in the Thomas E. Ricks Building.

The Department of History, Geography and Political Science is located in the Thomas E. Ricks Building. Photo credit: Abbygail Hadlock

Universities across the United States offer public policy and/or public administration degrees to teach students the skills necessary to build a career within this field.

Many universities only offer the degree at a graduate level, requiring them to progress in master’s programs.

However, BYU-Idaho is one of the few schools that offer a degree in public policy and administration as an undergraduate major.

Chad Newswander, a BYU-I professor in the Department of History, Geography and Political Science who teaches classes in public policy and administration, said that providing the degree at a baccalaureate level offers unique opportunities for BYU-I students that they may not receive elsewhere.

“Almost every institution in America has this as a graduate degree, but a few places like BYU-I have shifted this down to an undergraduate level,” Newswander said. “It’s a degree that enables you to get an entry-level job upon graduation. The idea is you don’t have to go to graduate school with this degree — you can immediately work for the federal, state or local government.”

BYU-I added the degree to the Department of History, Geography and Political Science approximately seven years ago, which Newswander said was the reason he became interested in working for the school.

“[The school was] creating a new major in policy administration, and I thought how cool would it be to take what I have learned and teach BYU-I students,” Newswander said. “So I’ve been here around seven years, and it’s been great.”

Before his time at BYU-I, Newswander received his bachelor’s degree in communications at Brigham Young University, and his Master of Public Administration, Master of Communication and Ph.D. in Public Administration/Public Affairs from Virginia Tech.

He went on to work at the University of South Dakota for eight years before moving to Rexburg.

As he was graduating with his bachelor’s degree, Newswander was told by an employer that he should look into a degree in public policy and administration because of his love for politics.

A banner in the Thomas E. Ricks building summarizes each of the degrees offered in the Department of History, Geography and Political Science.

A banner in the Thomas E. Ricks building summarizes each of the degrees offered in the Department of History, Geography and Political Science. Photo credit: Abbygail Hadlock

“I didn’t even know what public administration was,” Newswander said. “I was always attracted to politics — loved politics, loved seeing how the country works and why it worked in a particular way. But one thing that always kind of frustrated me was there was never a real explanation of how things worked.”

His employer explained what the degree entailed, and Newswander knew the degree was the missing piece; the answer to his frustrations.

“I thought, that’s the perfect piece that I was working for that I could actually study something that was political, but also understand and do something that was very practical,” Newswander said.

Students in this major learn policy-making processes, bureaucracy, budgeting and planning and evaluating and implementing public programs. They can pick an emphasis on public policy or administration to study.

This major can lead to careers in civil services, education, administration, executive positions, foreign service offices, etc,according to BYU-I’s website on the degree.

Alison Porter, a senior studying public policy and administration, chose this degree because it aligned best with her career aspirations.

“I wanted a way to help people — something like social work or healthcare — but I didn’t want to do either of those things, because I knew I would get burnt out really fast,” Porter said. “Then Brother Newswander came in and did a presentation for the major and I was just like, ‘oh, that’s what it is.'”

Porter is planning to become a policy analyst after graduating — a career she feels well-equipped to pursue.

“Anyone who wants to study in this field has no barricades on necessary skills,” Newswander said. “We will teach you the skills that you need to do well, such as statistical thinking, focus on program evaluation, policy analysis and communication — the core skill sets that we want students to leave here with and to make them attractive to employers.”

To learn more about the major, click here to watch an episode of BYU-I’s program, “Major Discovery,” that features Newswander.

“The major provides purpose and direction,” Newswander said. “As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we know how important purpose is; we know how critical it is to help others. We aim to help students strengthen their communities, their localities and their country — something that I think provides a great deal of meaning in one’s life.”