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Using Policy Expertise as a Voice for Urban Social Change

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Samantha Mack

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Morgan Smith has seen the truth firsthand: Local policy making is the best way to enact social change.

Growing up in Colorado Springs, Smith first became politically engaged through participation in his high school’s speech and debate team. At the University of Denver, he eventually found his home within two departments: economics and public policy. Drawn to the analytical rigor of economics and the practical applications of public policy, he chose to double major in these two subjects, which have continued to shape his overarching interest in and approach to urban policy.

Morgan Smith

Since coming to DU, Smith has adopted several leadership roles, including co-founding a student-run chapter of the nationally networked policy think tank, Roosevelt @ DU, and next year — his senior year — he will serve as student body president. He also conducted policy research abroad, interviewing ministry employees and representatives from labor unions and businesses in order to understand Denmark’s social enterprise system, which supports the development of small, local businesses and innovative research. Smith turned his findings into a policy brief for Colorado policy makers seeking to spur the development of local businesses. Eventually, he hopes to study local economic and urban development in graduate school.

Although Smith has held internships reflecting the breadth and depth of local policy influencers — including city council, the state legislature, a national think tank and local businesses — only now does he have the opportunity to work for a community advocacy organization after a chance encounter with the executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, the Rev. Amanda Henderson.

“During my first year, I interned at the state legislature for state Rep. Pete Lee. One day I sat in a session in a House education committee hearing for a ‘religious freedom’ bill. During the proceedings, I had the good fortune to sit next to Rev. Henderson,” Smith says. “Over the course of the three-hour hearing, Rev. Henderson and I had a quiet and extensive discussion about the role of religion in public life. Since I grew up in a spiritual, but areligious, household, I was fascinated to learn more about an ordained minister’s perspective on the role and purpose of religion. The internship is, in many ways, an extension of that conversation.”

The novelty excited him, as well as the prospect of developing a holistic understanding of the varied stakeholders in local policy decisions.

“The Interfaith Alliance sees faith groups as important local actors that can provide voice and clarity for social change by addressing the intersectionality of economic, social and political issues through a faith-based perspective,” Smith says.

Smith received an AHSS Summer Internship Grant that provides living and transportation costs throughout the course of his unpaid internship. It will allow him to tour different faith communities across the state.

His personal goals for the Interfaith Alliance internship are threefold: to better understand the role of faith communities in a local setting, to learn how faith communities and government interact, and to consider how, as an aspiring policy maker, he might address the issue of separation of church and state while acknowledging the richness of America’s religious life.

Through the internship, Smith will explore the intricacies of how cities work and collaborate with local thought leaders to solve pressing urban inequalities.

While some might be overwhelmed by the scope of his commitments and the magnitude of change he seeks to create, Smith harbors incredible energy for his work — which he channels into broadening his skills and perspective so that he can continue to help others. In this way, he truly embodies the University’s vision of turning passion into purpose.

“I want to be involved in local city-based policy making with a special focus on urban inequality,” Smith says. “The city is a vibrant garden of human activity, and I want to be on the team of gardeners, tending to education equity and local economic development, among other issues.”