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The Wharton School is taking a major step forward into the realm of public policy.

Last week, Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson officially announced the launch of the new Wharton Public Policy Initiative.

Funded largely by donations from Wharton alumni Marc Rowan, Marc Spilker and Diane Spilker, the $11 million initiative will aim to give greater visibility to Wharton’s policy-related research.

“We are trying to make a systematic effort to get the research of Wharton and Penn faculty more onto the radar screen of key decision makers in Washington, D.C., state capitals and to some level, places around the world,” Business Economics and Public Policy Chair Mark Duggan said.

Duggan, who also serves as faculty director of the initiative, added that the program’s timeliness given this year’s presidential election will be especially beneficial to policy makers.

“There are some huge issues facing our country and things we are going to be making big decisions on, such as tax policy, energy policy and financial reform,” he said. “We want to try to help policy makers benefit from the expertise here because in D.C. there’s often not a lot of expertise on the frontlines because they have to juggle a million issues at once.”

In addition to impacting policy makers and their decisions, the initiative is intended to influence the interplay between government and business.

“The initiative will enable [Wharton] to further expand its reach as it pertains to the intersection of business and public policy,” Robertson said in a statement. “It will represent the pinnacle of public policy teaching, learning and research and will allow Wharton to create knowledge that has impact upon business and government.”

Similarly, Wharton MBA student Ajay Bangale, who is pursuing a joint degree at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, predicts that business and public policy will continue to grow closer together in the immediate future.

“You have all these stakeholders involved and I think governments and big business in the next five to 10 years will be more integrated,” he said. “Because of that, there will be more interest in dual degree and interdisciplinary programs in the future.”

According to Duggan, Penn students will have an opportunity to get involved with the initiative as well.

“One thing I am energized about is that we are really going to try to get undergraduate and graduate students more informed about policy and create opportunities for them,” he said, adding that the initiative will subsidize research and internship opportunities.

For Wharton sophomore Rachel Fleszar, the initiative will definitely have an impact in the arena of public policy, but to an uncertain extent.

“Although there’s value to it in that it can contribute to a more informed policy-making process, at the same time I question whether policy makers will be receptive,” she said.

Duggan acknowledged that future expansion of the initiative will be gradual, but significant.

“My hope is that this initiative could become a go-to resource for people in the media, policy makers and people who are just trying to find some information,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to help it reach its absolute potential.”

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