University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Policy Research Network

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Policy Research Network was recently created to help undergraduates conduct research and prepare reports for civic leaders.  The goal is to provide students with valuable real world experience and strengthen ties with civic leaders. A list of current topics is provided below.  

There are several ways for students and mentors to be involved in the network:

  • As a student's independent research project with a mentor.

  • As course-embedded research in which students work on a project as a class assignment.

  • As an interdisciplinary project in which multiple students and mentors from different departments collaborate.

Mentors:  if you want to assign some topics to your students in a course, please e-mail the Undergraduate Research & Creativity office,, or Scott Cooper,, and identify the topics you will work on.  We will add your name to the list of mentors on the table below.  This will allow other mentors to see who is working on a project in case they want to collaborate.  We would like any final drafts of the reports available for review three weeks before the end of the semester your course is taught to allow time for review by the committee.

Students: if you are interested in working on a policy-related topic as an independent research project, please e-mail the Undergraduate Research & Creativity office,, and a Google document of the Policy Report Template will be shared with you.  Instructions on writing the report are in the template.  Once you are done working on the report a committee will review it and give you feedback.  When the report is finalized it will be shared with the civic leader who requested the report.  We will also put the name of your mentor on the list of projects below.  If multiple mentors want to supervise students working on the same project we encourage collaborating and submitting a common report.

Final Product: we would like to provide a professional and consistent final report to our clients.  We have prepared a Policy Report Template for this purpose, with the instructions in the template.  Before the report is submitted to the client, it will be reviewed by the Policy Research Network Committee (members are listed below) and feedback given to the students.  The committee does reserve the right to not submit poor quality or incomplete reports to our clients, as this could damage the reputation of our program and UW-L.  Final products are due three weeks before the end of the semester for review.

Additional Resources:  Several other groups and organizations on campus have offered their services.  These include:


Additional Background

Mission Statement:  In the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, the UW-L Policy Research Network will help students and faculty research and prepare unbiased reports for regional civic leaders to aid them in making the best policy decisions for their constituents.

Policy Research Network Committee:

·         Chair, Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research & Creativity - Scott Cooper

·         Economics specialist – TJ Brooks

·         Environmental Science specialist – Rob Tyser

·         Political Science specialist –Jeremy Arney 

·         Public Health specialist –Gary Gilmore

·         Sociology specialist  - Carol Miller


1.      To solicit policy research projects from civic leaders.

2.      To distribute these projects to faculty mentors and students.

3.      To review drafts of the policy reports and provide constructive feedback.

4.      To return vetted professional and unbiased policy reports to the civic leaders.

5.      To help students publicize their findings through formal reports and undergraduate research presentations.

Policy Topic Issues to research. Issues chosen Mentor Instructor/Course Client
Renting policies Housing policies in La Crosse County for renters       Doug Mormann, Public Health Dir.
Parking ordinances around County and Tech buildings (2 hour parking rule)-- Enforcement of 2 hour parking is more lenient during the summer months when students are gone, but as soon as students come back for the fall semester, ticketing goes back up.  At first glance, it appears students are being targeted for tickets; students       Doug Mormann, Public Health Dir.
New/innovative ways to fund government  New/innovative ways to fund government       Doug Mormann, Public Health Dir.
Non-tax revenue options for local units of government Given the lack of desire for any type of tax increase, local units of government are increasingly looking at ways to generate revenue from non-tax sources.  What are some of the sources that are being utilized in other states, and what changes to state law would need to occur to allow sources to be utilized by local units of government in Wisconsin?       Senator Shilling
Speed Limit The state is considering raising the speed limit to 70 mph.  Should the law apply only to interstate highways?  Should it be considered for other local roads in the state?  Should the limit be raised higher?  What are the consequences for crash safety and gas mileage?     Jeremy Arney POL 313 Representataive Doyle
Mediation and child custody evaluations across Wisconsin Mediation and Family Court Services could really use the results of a comparison of every county in Wisconsin about processes and procedures (from each county’s Director of Mediation and/or Family Court Services and/or Family Court Commissioner) for how each of those counties handles mediations and child custody evaluations.       Erin N. Balsiger, Director/Mediator/Child Custody Evaluator
Agricultural visas. Who needs them, prevalence in Wisconsin, are they working, what would make the process better, are there US workers available for those jobs, does it recruit illegal workers.     Adam Hoffer, ECO 321 Congressman Kind
Health Insurance by small businesses Health Insurance:  are small businesses getting into the exchange (he used the example of Pappas Donut in Richland center)?   Mary Hamman Jeremy Arney POL 313 Congressman Kind
Health Insurance by former Badgercare recipeints Part two:  Those kicked out of Badgercare, are they finding health insurance on the exchange?   Mary Hamman Jeremy Arney POL 313 Congressman Kind
Fluoridation of public water supplies Holmen will be having a referendum to eliminate their current fluoridation.       Doug Mormann, Public Health Dir.
Health officer requirements Analysis of changing state statutes for health officer requirements for level 1 and level 2 health departments       Doug Mormann, Public Health Dir.
Local Impact of the Affordable Care Act  Part 1: Study will determine the impact, in La Crosse County, of Wisconsin not accepting the federal Medicaid Expansion funds. To include, how many that lost Badger Care made it through the Marketplace, did they find and purchase affordable insurance, and what was the transition like.   Possibility of doing a cross-tab analysis with the medical facility health plans to compare what it is like to have insurance from the Marketplace versus Badger Care.  Possibility of direct interviews and sharing the stories of individuals who were in the position of needing to make the transition.  Ultimately, did those transitioning from Badger Care find affordable insurance in the Marketplace as was intended under Governor Walker’s plan?    Mary Hamman   Mary Meehan-Strub, Department Chair
Local Impact of the Affordable Care Act  Part 2:  Determine how effective La Crosse County’s Medicaid, Badger Care Plus, and Marketplace  enrollment efforts were, what were the costs to provide enrollment assistance, did it work and was it effective?  Potential comparison with enrollment strategies and effectiveness of enrollment efforts in other areas of the state.   Mary Hamman   Mary Meehan-Strub, Department Chair
Local Impact of the Affordable Care Act  Part 3:  What was the impact of the Affordable Care Act on local businesses--- small, large, to include the health care industry – the dominant economic force in La Crosse County?  What impact has the ACA had on charity care and uncompensated care costs at the medical institutions in La Crosse County?   Mary Hamman   Mary Meehan-Strub, Department Chair
Flood control by wetlands Wetlands:  do they make a difference with flood control (of note would be the marsh as they are talking once again about a new road); a parallel thought would be do they improve quality of life.       Congressman Kind
Do Farm Bill programs reduce nutrient run-off Farm practices:  have farmers improved nutrient run-off; are our Farm Bill programs making a difference in reducing run-off (EQUIP comes to mind).       Congressman Kind
Run-off Wastewater runoff is a serious problem for area lakes and rivers.  What should be done on a local and state level to reduce runoff from farming, winter salt use, and other types of chemical, sediment and storm water discharge?       Representataive Doyle
Frac Sand Mining Impact on economy/jobs.  Politics: regulation differences between frac sand states (WI and MN).   Local government regulation: how counties/municipalities have regulated frac sand in WI.   Local government regulation: how counties/municipalities have regulated frac sand in WI.  Health impacts.  Environmental impacts.     Adam Hoffer, ECO 321 Senator Shilling
Energy Planning Public Service Commission regulation/approval of projects.  Focus on Energy projects – winners and losers.  Wind/Solar in Wisconsin.  High Voltage Transmission Lines – the politics and need for.  Anaerobic digesters.       Senator Shilling
Higher Education The decline of UW state funding and corresponding tuition increases.  Student loan debt.     Jeremy Arney POL 313 Senator Shilling
K12 Performance of charter and voucher school students compared to public school peers.  Statewide school report card systems.     Jeremy Arney POL 313 Senator Shilling
Ecomomic impact of small businesses Small businesses:  What is the economic impact to a community?     Adam Hoffer, ECO 321 Congressman Kind
Economic Development Organizations   Analyze the structure and interaction of various ED organizations throughout WI.  How are ED organizations structured in other states? And what are best practices from other states?  How can ED organizations in WI improve coordination to more effectively serve current and potential businesses?       Senator Shilling
Drunk Driving Many citizens of Wisconsin have asked for more drunk driving laws with more serious consequences than our current laws.  However, the costs for these types of laws are high.  What are the costs for society for not having more criminal penalties in the statutes compared to costs for taxpayers and local governments to enforce more stringent laws?       Jeremy Arney POL 313 Representataive Doyle
17 year old criminals A coalition of legislators, children’s and civil rights groups is trying to change how 17 year olds are treated in the Wisconsin’s criminal justice system.  Current law waives 17 yr. olds into adult court.  What is the cost to counties if the law is changed to keep 17 yr. olds in Juvenile detention paid for by the local governments instead of state prisons?     Jeremy Arney POL 313 Representataive Doyle
Parental Drug Use as Child Abuse  Parental Drug Use as Child Abuse - Children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children from non-abusing families.  What should government do to protect the children?   Emily Whitney   Representataive Doyle
Justice The increase in alternative treatment courts (drug, OWI, and veteran courts in La Crosse).  Concealed carry impact on public safety.   Emily Whitney   Senator Shilling
Social media  With the increased use of social media, lawmakers need to understand how to keep state laws current with emerging social media platforms. Some issues that could be analyzed are: the ability of employers to restrict or have access to an employee’s social media information; what happens to social media accounts after a person is deceased; etc.   Hua Dai Jeremy Arney POL 313 Senator Shilling
N4a Grant (National Area Agencies on Aging) – “Making La Crosse A Good Place to Grow Up and Grow Old”:  This grant provides technical assistance to help La Crosse build a plan to become implement Universal Design & Planning principles.  A number of focus groups will be organized around topics such as:  transportation, housing, walkability, bikability, accessibility to shopping, banks, recreation, exercise, etc.  A Summit will take place, hopefully in conjunction with the Health Science Consortium to utilize information from focus groups to create a plan with incremental steps so La Crosse can become a good place to grow up and grow old.  A student could provide research on focus groups area/s, help facilitate focus groups, summarize ideas and present them to the Summit which will take place in 2014.       Noreen Holmes, Aging Unit Director
Elder Tree  This grant provides Ipads, notebooks or computers to people over 65 receiving care at home.   It is in conjunction with research and a pilot program UW Madison has implemented.   A student could assist with outreach to seniors and with training them on using the programs to increase connections with family, healthcare providers, other seniors, games to keep their mind active, etc.  It would involve some feedback from the seniors to evaluate and improve the program.  A summary of findings would be required with the hope the program could be duplicated.       Noreen Holmes, Aging Unit Director
Hmong Elders  This involves research to determine how many Hmong elders are 60 and older and would qualify for programs but are not enrolled.  It would require research utilizing 2010 Census figures and information from the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association.  The Aging Unit has a Hmong Elders Meal Site twice a week in 2013 but reduced to once a week in 2014 which results in reduced ability to reach out to this community.  A student could make recommendations regarding Aging Unit services based on this research.     Jeremy Arney POL 313 Noreen Holmes, Aging Unit Director
The Benefits of the Arts for Family Caregivers Research the benefits for caregivers, what has been done in other states and the level of financial support needed for a successful program.       Noreen Holmes, Aging Unit Director
Rates of recycling by citizens of La Crosse and Onalaska To what extent has the level of recycling improved in the cities of La Crosse and Onalaska since adopted a single stream recycling collection program in February (2014)?   This has issue is closely connected to sustainability, saving airspace at the landfill, and decreasing energy production at XCEL (Waste to Energy).  It also reduces costs to the cities.       Hank Koch, Director of the County's waste management department
The Inability of Seniors to provide enough healthy food for themselves has been effected by the Economic Downturn  “Increasing numbers of seniors in our country are going without enough food due to economic constraints. This poses a significant public health challenge, which in the absence of additional resources to feed seniors, will lead to worsening health and higher spending on medical care."  A student could research the extent of this problem in La Crosse County and suggest solutions to combat the problem.        Noreen Holmes, Aging Unit Director