Public Policy Institute projects to tackle senior housing, endangered plants

Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute has created a new “affiliated faculty” program in which select faculty members will receive stipends of up to $2,500 to work with students on projects related to policy issues affecting Western North Carolina.

“This new program is part of the PPI’s mission to become an interdisciplinary and regionally recognized authority on policy issues in the region,” said Chris Cooper, associate professor of political science and public affairs at WCU and director of the PPI. “In addition to working on their projects, the affiliated faculty will work closely with the PPI to enhance our mission to the region.”

The first to be selected affiliate faculty of the PPI:

Mary Byrnes, assistant professor of sociology, who is conducting a needs assessment of Jackson County senior citizens to evaluate housing occupancy and conditions, community needs, service utilization and well-being of adults who are age 60 and older in the county.

Kathy Mathews, associate professor of biology and director of the WCU Herbarium, and Beverly Collins, associate professor of biology and director of the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity and Ecology Center, who will research rare and endangered plant communities found at high-elevation rock outcrops. Mathews and Collins will submit a report with policy recommendations on outcrops access and conservation based on their findings to organizations that manage these lands in WNC.

“These projects are very different, but both use cutting-edge methods to solve real-world policy problems,” Cooper said. “The sociology project should be useful both for academics and practitioners who are concerned with the quality of life of Jackson County seniors. The biology project will directly affect how we think about environmental protection in the mountains.”

The projects also will involve undergraduate students as part of WCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, a universitywide effort to improve the quality of undergraduate education by helping students link academic and co-curricular activities.

The Public Policy Institute studies issues of importance to WNC and beyond, and develops policy options to address those issues. For more information, visit the Web site