Audio: Policymaking in the classroom

Professors of Political Science Ashley Burns and Kerry Ratigan

Next year, professors of political science Kerry Ratigan and Ashley Burns will offer students the chance to dig deep in public policy. Listen as they share stories of their own research and why they're excited to bring policy into the classroom.


After nearly a decade of researching health care policy in China, assistant professor of political science Kerry Ratigan is ready to ask students to tackle real policy questions in the classroom. "Because I'm interested in inequality and social policy, and these issues that have real implications for peoples’ everyday lives, I think it's important push students to think about how you would go about solving these problems," she says.

Listen as she shares some of her major findings in her social policy research in China and why she's excited to bring her research on Chinese policies to the classroom.

For Ashley Burns, assistant professor of political science, public policy is an opportunity to do "problem-driven work." Burns has spent years looking at public housing as a way to understand social stratification, particularly in the American south. "I’m trying constantly to weave together who we are and the things we’ve been through with what we are reading in class," she says. "Luckily, I think that teaching public policy makes it a lot easier to do that."

Listen as she talks about how she got her start researching public housing in the U.S. south and her hopes for her students today.

Policymaking in the classroom

Professors of Political Science Ashley Burns and Kerry Ratigan
June 2014—story and audio by Jenny Morgan, photo by Sandra Costello

The humanness of music

Pioneer Valley Soundscapes expands understanding of music in the community

October 2013William Cumpiano, a master luthier—one who repairs stringed instruments—poses in his workshop on the Northampton-Easthampton town line. Cumpiano was featured in
A Taste of Music in the Pioneer Valley's Puerto Rican Community, one of the many documentaries in the Pioneer Valley Soundscapes archive. Photo by Thomas Sibley '10, story by Jenny Morgan.

In recent years, Assistant Professor of Music Jeffers Engelhardt has been on somewhat of a mission: to get people in the Pioneer Valley thinking “more expansively about the human involvement in music.”

In 2009, Engelhardt made real a piece of this mission by creating the community-based learning course, Pioneer Valley Soundscapes, to enable students to practice fieldwork and document the musical landscape of the region. For Engelhardt, part of thinking expansively about music has also meant blurring the boundaries between the campus and the community—and this spring, he’s introducing new technologies that will enable community participation in Pioneer Valley Soundscapes in unprecedented ways.

The world premiere of a local story: Garden of Martyrs opens September 20

Garden of Martyrs Stage Performance
September 2013story by Jenny Morgan, photo courtesy of Julie Keresztes '12.

On Friday, September 20, Associate Professor of Music and composer Eric Sawyer will debut his second opera, The Garden of Martyrs, at the Academy of Music in Northampton, Mass. When the opera opens, it will be in the same city where, some two hundred years earlier, the events depicted in the opera actually happened. For Sawyer, the power of sharing this local story where it occurred has “continued to sink in.”

How about here? American Studies major foregrounds the local community

September 2013Sojourner Truth's home in Florence, Mass. Photo courtesy of the Sojourner Truth Statue Memorial Committee. Story by Jenny Morgan, CCE staff writer

Founded in 1939, the American Studies department at Amherst is the country’s oldest continuous American Studies department.

Since its creation, faculty and students in the interdisciplinary department have grappled with the questions and problems that have shaped the United States. The department has a long legacy of being at the forefront of many national conversations.

An Unwanted Legacy: Mercury in the Connecticut River Watershed


Mike and Nora
May 2012—story by Jenny Morgan, photo courtesy of Anna Martini

Nearly ten years ago, Associate Professor of Geology Anna Martini took a group of students to the Connecticut River for what Martini thought would be a typical classroom assignment. They set out to investigate the deposition of inorganic mercury from Mount Tom, the coal-fired power plant situated between Holyoke and Easthampton, Massachusetts. After collecting both lichan from trees and sediment from a small lake along the river, the class analyzed their samples and found strikingly high amounts of mercury in both— and what began as a simple classroom experiment quickly became Martini’s newest area of research. Almost a decade later, the project has transformed into a multifaceted, interdisciplinary endeavor that involves both scholars and community stakeholders.

‘Making history come alive’

Amherst and Holyoke Community Colleges team up to recreate Holyoke’s history



As one of the country’s first planned industrial cities, Holyoke, Massachusetts has seemingly always been one step ahead of national trends in changing landscapes and fortunes.

Examining history through a modern lens

Professor Eric Sawyer engages Northampton's past with opera, community

Daley and Halligan

You’d be hard pressed to find an artistic production as richly embedded in local community as Associate Professor of Music and composer Eric Sawyer’s opera, The Garden of Martyrs.

Bridging years of advocacy and scholarship with life at Amherst: Professor Paola Zamperini brings Tibet to the classroom and beyond

Paola Zamperini
September 2012—Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations Paola Zamperini has begun, by all measures, an exciting year — and she’ll be the first to tell you that this year has been twenty years in the making.