The Rockefeller Institute’s Center for Law and Policy Solutions (CLPS) partners undergraduate research interns from the University at Albany with policy experts at the Institute to investigate a single issue pressing state or national importance each semester. We sat down with three former interns to discuss what it was like to be thrown into the deep end of policy research—and how they learned to swim.


Katie Zuber, Executive Director, Center for Law and Policy Solutions

Florencia Feleder, former CLPS Intern

Giliean Pemble-Flood, former CLPS Intern

Katie Gowing, former CLPS Intern

Learn More:

Center for Law and Policy Solutions


  • Transcript

    Transcript was generated using AI software and may contain errors. 

    Kyle Adams 00:00

    Earlier this year, five undergraduate students from the University at Albany sat in front of a roomful of policymakers, academics, and members of the press to present their findings from a semester spent studying access to reproductive health services in New York. As they did this, the fate of Roe v. Wade, the federal court case that protects a woman’s right to abortion, was very much in question as the balance of the Supreme Court shifted. In New York, in light of this, state lawmakers were considering expanding protections for reproductive healthcare beyond what’s in Roe. Which is to say that these undergraduate interns were not just researching for the sake of researching, they were digging into a topic that had real pressing consequences for New Yorkers, answering questions that a lot of people were asking. One of those people, in fact, was a member of the local media. He sat in the front row. When his time came, he asked question after question of these interns. If he didn’t think they’d fully answered his question, he pressed again. He wasn’t rude, but he wasn’t treating them like kids either.

    Florencia Feleder 01:03

    Wow, yeah, he really went for it, which I think was also really good for us in terms of learning how to deal with pushback and also how to deal with that as a team.

    Kyle Adams 01:13

    That was Florencia Feleder, one of the interns on the panel. She and her team did hold up well under that pressure. If you ask them now, they’ll say they learned a lot from the experience. This is Policy Outsider from the Rockefeller Institute of Government. I’m Kyle Adams, communications director at the Rockefeller Institute. Today we’ll be talking more with Florencia, as well as two of her fellow interns in the Rockefeller Institute’s Center for Law and Policy Solutions about their experience being thrown into the deep end of policy research and learning to swim. Start by introducing yourself.

    Katie Zuber 02:06

    My name is Katie Zuber. I’m the executive director for the Center of Law and Policy Solutions and the assistant director for policy and research at the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

    Kyle Adams 02:16

    Thank you and thanks for being back with us on Policy Outsider for your second episode.

    Katie Zuber 02:21

    Thanks for having me.

    Kyle Adams 02:23

    Tell us about the Center for Law and Policy Solutions, how it came about and how you decided to make the internship this kind of central piece of it.

    Katie Zuber 02:32

    It was this idea that we could really harness the resources of some of the educational institutions in the area to expand our mission of rigorous, relevant, and objective research to inform public policy but also to give students an opportunity to do some of the kinds of hands-on research that we do here at the Rockefeller Institute. We launched the Center in the spring of 2018. Every semester, we bring in a new cohort of five undergraduate students, who in consultation with some of our expert researchers here at the Rockefeller Institute, dive into a pressing public policy issue with a particular focus on what’s happening here in New York State.

    Giliean Pemble-Flood 03:15

    My name is Giliean Pemble-Flood.

    Florencia Feleder 03:16

    Florentia Felder.

    Katie Gowing 03:18

    Katie Gowing.

    Giliean Pemble-Flood 03:19

    During my time at the Institute, I worked on a report on drug courts in the context of the ongoing opioid epidemic.

    Florencia Feleder 03:28

    I interned with the Institute, December 2018, when we researched reproductive health.

    Katie Gowing 03:35

    I was part of the fall 2018 cohort at Rockefeller Institute. We studied reproductive health in New York State.

    Katie Zuber 03:42

    Our initial cohort in the spring of 2018, did an examination of drug treatment courts, particularly with a focus on how those courts operate as an alternative to incarceration in the context of the opioid epidemic.

    Giliean Pemble-Flood 03:57

    We found out that in terms of the opiate epidemic and the drug diversion court system, the cards are absolutely stacked against us. Essentially, drug diversion courts were created in 1995 in New York State as a response to the normal court system being overburdened and underfunded. They wanted to create a diversion court system to alleviate the problem. But then in the following decades, the drug diversion court system itself became overburdened and underfunded and understaffed. That was a huge issue that we consistently came across no matter who we spoke to was understaffing. So over time, things have deteriorated to this point where we have this, not just in New York State, but a national problem with the opiate epidemic and that the court system in a lot of ways doesn’t have sufficient resources to tackle the problem at the severity that it’s at right now. But essentially, any expansions to the court system we found need to be matched by expansions in funding because if you create new initiatives and new programs but don’t fund them, you’re dooming them to fail. Then also you’re dooming the people in the program to possibly have more contacts with the criminal justice system, if they can’t get sober, can’t get access to housing, or things like that. Our findings were just that the court system needs to be changed fundamentally in a lot of ways and programs need to be sufficiently backed in order for there to be large-scale efficacy at the state level.

    Katie Zuber 05:29

    Then in the spring, they looked at access to reproductive healthcare in light of all of the uncertainty that’s ongoing at the federal level. The question for them was, what happens here in New York State if Roe v. Wade gets overturned?

    Florencia Feleder 05:43

    Our research began with the premise that Roe v. Wade is at risk right now with the current administration, the shifts on the Supreme Court. However, New York being a liberal state, Roe v. Wade, abortion is going to be safe. So we looked at other indicators to see that even though abortion may be legal, what is the state of reproductive and sexual health in New York State? We looked at maternal mortality rates, STD rates, and other factors like sex education to see that there actually are existing gaps and existing failures in our women’s healthcare apparatus. Even if abortion is legal, there’s other important issues at stake.

    Katie Gowing 06:22

    We identified a few key barriers that we found that women were facing in New York State. First of all, we looked at insurance and lack of insurance for women who are uninsured or who are on state or federal funding of insurance, like Medicaid. That was the first barriers that we identified. We also looked at sexual education at schools across New York State. There was also an issue between immigrant communities and there was a language barrier to be looked at. Also the fear in immigrant communities of seeking treatment because of either status as an undocumented immigrant, or even a documented immigrant, we found fear in seeking resources just from stigma. We looked at also misinformation. That was something that I focused on a lot, and how women and people across the board are just given the wrong information about reproductive health. People don’t know what contraception is used for. How to use it properly. They don’t know what an abortion is, what it entails. These are things that people need to know if they’re seeking these services. Or they also need to know if they’re not seeking these services, because they need to know what the options are.

    Katie Zuber 07:57

    I think there’s a couple of things that really set this internship experience apart from some of the others that might be available to undergraduate students. One is that it’s a paid-for-credit experience. That ultimately means that students who want to gain this kinds of experience don’t have to pick and choose between, okay, do I go out and look for paid employment or do I get this really rigorous, challenging educational experience? Because the internship is paid and for credits, students can ultimately check off both of those boxes, which is really important. The other thing is the internship is open to students who are very early on in their academic career. While many opportunities on campus may be reserved for juniors and seniors, I think, our first cohort was three or four sophomores. These are students who typically aren’t eligible for other experiences on campus. We make it a point to look for not just necessarily the A+ student, but people who would really benefit from this academic, educational, and paid experience.

    Kyle Adams 08:59

    They get thrown right into real world research.

    Katie Zuber 09:03

    It’s really an exciting experience for them. It’s exciting for me to watch as the internship supervisor. I’ve had multiple students say to me, “I’m so glad this just wasn’t an internship where I’m stuffing envelopes.” Or even another student who worked in the Assembly, she said, “You know, I was always wishing that I could ask questions and explore topics after meetings instead of just going in there and taking notes.” We really expect these interns, even though they are early on in their academic careers, to do the hard work and to do the research themselves. They are doing the relevant background research. They are identifying key stakeholders that they want to interview. They are writing and asking the questions. They are typing up the results, analyzing the data, and then synthesizing it into one comprehensive report. It’s a unique experience for a lot of students like you said, they come in having done very little of this work and then come out being able to distill their findings in a way that’s relevant for the general public, policymakers, and other researchers.

    Giliean Pemble-Flood 10:06

    Immediately, what sticks out for challenges and something that stuck with me in general, as an experience from the internship was coming up against the Office of Court Administration. There was a point where we tried to request what we felt were vital statistics relating to the racial and gender makeup of the drug diversion court system. Basically, the Office of Court Administration denied us access to these statistics. Institutionally, we came up against some barriers. But because of that, we had to end up relying on whatever was public information and anyone involved within the court system, or law enforcement, or charities, or anything like that, who would talk to us. Fortunately, there were a lot of people who were willing to speak to us.

    Katie Gowing 10:54

    I think one of the things I enjoyed most was that challenge. Being able to do something that I guess that we felt mattered. Florencia and I worked really closely over the course of the semester, we went to three interviews together, we interviewed people at Planned Parenthood, we interviewed people at another center that dealt with visiting families, especially with young children, and pregnant women. We also visited a crisis pregnancy center. That was probably my most cherished experience, weirdly to say, just because you got to jump in and just go all-in on finding out these answers and any way you could try to get to it. Katie, absolutely, supported us in pretty much whatever avenue we wanted to go down. She really tried to help us get there. It was super challenging talking with all these different people from different points of view and different places. But it was probably the best part of it for me.

    Florencia Feleder 12:09

    I would say it was very challenging in the terms of that its human research. Unlike academic research, you’re really putting a face to everything that you’re doing. You have to acquire a new sense of sensitivity when you’re going about and doing this research. It’s no longer something abstract, you’re dealing with controversial issues, you’re asking intimate questions about abortion, about contraceptives, how do you navigate those topics, right? As challenging as that is, I think that it’s also equally rewarding when we would figure out how to do those things and how to do them successfully.

    Katie Zuber 12:43

    I think one of the interesting things to watch is they are both frustrated by but very much enjoy the experience. They talk about how difficult it was to set up interviews and yet how exciting it was to really go talk to people on the ground in their communities to really get a sense of okay, well, here’s what abortion looks like at the national level. Here’s what the discussion is surrounding Roe v. Wade, but what’s happening here in Albany, New York. They encounter all of these typical challenges of doing research, identifying the right people to talk to you and getting them to the table to talk to you. But then they’re always excited by the information that those interviews yield and how it changes their perspective and their understanding of the problem. The other thing that I think is really rewarding is to watch these students come away with this idea that research is a really collaborative process. A lot of times, undergraduate students are responsible for writing their own research paper, taking their own exams, and I always tell students at the beginning that research is a really collaborative process that your ideas and your overall analysis will really benefit from working with each other and bouncing ideas off of each other and helping each other. Students sometimes can really struggle with working in a group of people. That can be another frustrating aspect of the internship, I think, for students. But again, the way that they come together as a team, the way they work together, they really look out for each other and help each other and I think that’s another thing that they come away from. I know that several of our interns have stayed in touch with each other. They’ve come back to the Institute as part of the Rockefeller family, as Jim likes to say, and they really have a space here to continue to participate. Actually, one of our students is getting ready to present some of their research findings at the undergraduate research conference that’s being held at SUNY Oneonta this week. They’ve had some of their research featured in Crain’s New York. Our contingent that wrote the piece on reproductive health was also invited to the Governor’s Office to be at the bill signing for the Reproductive Health Act. A lot of really interesting, exciting experiences result from the research that they’re doing.

    Kyle Adams 14:54

    Yes, that’s an aspect that we haven’t touched on yet really is that at the end of this semester, they’re putting out a real research project that as you mentioned, the most recent one was cited in Crain’s New York. It wasn’t cited as a student project, it was just cited as new research. They sit up in front of a room full of fellow policy experts and the press and the public and activists and present their findings. At the last one, we had a member here from the local press, who was asking some pretty tough questions of the students not really treating them with kid gloves. What were your thoughts as you were hearing them get pressed like that?

    Katie Zuber 15:35

    I was really impressed by the caliber of their presentation. Again, it’s not common for undergraduate students to present their research outside of a classroom setting. Even if you are presenting the term paper you wrote on your own, it’s usually to your fellow peers and classmates. Here, they’re looking down on an audience that includes representatives from the New York State government office, from the New York State Department of Health, from the Empire State Pride Agenda, huge stakeholders in the area. That is quite a challenge for these undergraduate students who have never had these kinds of opportunities to present publicly before. I was just really impressed by the caliber of their answers. They didn’t cave under pressure. They answered the questions that they could. They just did a really, really excellent job of being on the spot.

    Giliean Pemble-Flood 16:26

    After this internship, specifically, I noticed that I had way less fear talking to people in really any given context. Because once you’re at a nice dinner and thrown to the wolves and people say go talk to all these politicians, speaking at other events after that just gets a lot easier. It’s not as intimidating.

    Kyle Adams 16:47

    Yes, you were thrown right into a mixer with state lawmakers.

    Giliean Pemble-Flood 16:50

    Right. Exactly. We had no choice but to engage. That was really great. It was like a trial by fire. But I think that was the most useful way to have done it at the time. It was just a great experience.

    Florencia Feleder 17:04

    One of the biggest takeaways for me was teamwork. To be honest, most of your academic career is individual. I think taking on such a tremendous project that also is important. It’s not for a grade. It has consequences and learning how to deal with different personalities and different people’s interests. I think that was very valuable.

    Katie Gowing 17:28

    I think even more than just taking away that fear, we really boosted that confidence. Like, wait, I can do this. I produced a quality report. I put on a really good presentation. We produced real work that really mattered. And having the confidence to say, this is what I did, and I did this well, it was hard. This is what I did.

    Katie Gowing 17:35

    I was published as an undergrad. You can get to say that.

    Florencia Feleder 17:56

    What I saw specifically to our research was when Cuomo released his women’s justice agenda in 2019, he set aside a lot of goals that really paralleled suggestions we had for the state legislature. Not to say that we directly influenced Cuomo, but obviously, that we’re one of the tiny puzzle pieces that all came together and say, this is what we think should happen. It’s really fascinating and really empowering to see those things actually happening.

    Giliean Pemble-Flood 18:26

    I think in the long term, I’m comfortable with the field of policy research. Where exactly I’d be doing that I think is too early to say but as a field, I think it’s something I’m really interested in. After doing the internship, I felt comfortable pretty much researching anything, whether that was for a class or for something outside. It just set me up in a lot of ways. Just professionally, but also in terms of holding myself to deadlines and being able to face challenges when they come up or change a method of research or realize that maybe a source wasn’t as solid as I thought it was. There’s just a lot of really useful skills that I can take with me.

    Florencia Feleder 19:08

    I feel like I took away a lot of qualitative research skills. I really enjoyed doing the interviews and that’s something I would definitely be interested in doing more in the future. I also gained a really profound passion for sexual and reproductive health through our research and realizing the disparities that exist in those fields. So I really would love to pursue working more to advocate for women’s health.

    Giliean Pemble-Flood 19:35

    Aside from all the professional experience and research experience afterward, just by staying in contact with Dr. Zuber and with the Institute, I was able to end up presenting our research elsewhere at the SUNY Applied Learning Conference and I’ll be presenting it again at the Oneonta political science conference this spring. I’m really looking forward to it. Just by showing up really, those opportunities can come down the pipe and that was really great.

    Katie Zuber 20:04

    Right now we actually have another cohort of students who are working on postsecondary correctional education. What they are basically trying to do is look at how successful college-in-prison programs operate, particularly in New York State. They are laying out a landscape of what programs are available, what the SUNY system in particular can be able to do to improve and expand the scope of college-in-prison education in New York State, and what are the implementation challenges. Not just how do we expand and build these programs to scale but how do we improve programs? Because we know based on the research that college-in-prison can reduce recidivism and increase employment opportunities outside of prison. The question for these students is less about what is the impact of these programs and more about how do we build effective programs?

    Kyle Adams 20:57

    When their findings are ready, do you think they’ll come out and talk to me?

    Katie Zuber 21:01

    Absolutely, 100 percent. They don’t have much of a choice.

    Kyle Adams 21:06

    Thank you very much for joining us again.

    Katie Zuber 21:08

    Thanks Kyle.

    Kyle Adams 21:23

    You can learn more about the Center for Law and Policy Solutions at, where you’ll also find their full research findings as well as videos from their research presentations. I’m Kyle Adams, thanks for listening. Policy Outsider is presented by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts cutting edge nonpartisan public policy research and analysis to inform lasting solutions to the challenges facing New York State and the nation. Learn more at or by following at RockefellerInst on social media. Have a question, comment, or idea? Email us at [email protected].

Policy Outsider

Policy Outsider” from the Rockefeller Institute of Government takes you outside the halls of power to understand how decisions of law and policy shape our everyday lives.

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