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Past Projects


IPG Director Max Stephenson and Non-Resident Research Associate Lyusyena Kirakosyan launched the online essay series “RE: Reflections and Explorations” for Virginia Tech graduate students to share articles concerning their evolving research, interests, and experiences on topics relevant to the VTIPG mission. These essays analyze the critical issue of democratic agency and its challenges, the difficulties of self-governance in inter-governmental cooperation and in racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, and challenges resulting from rapid widespread economic, social, and technological shifts.

Volume 1 of the RE: collected essays was published in 2015, Volume 2 in 2017, and Volume 3 in 2023.

IPG Director Max Stephenson offers unique insight into the state of politics and policymaking in the United States with this volume of timely essays. Covering the period 2010-2018, his essays chronicle a growing crisis in American governance with many of the nation’s values and principles under siege—including the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the ability of a share of its citizens otherwise eligible to vote to exercise their right to do so. This volume was published in 2019.


Led by Mary Beth Dunkenberger, Nancy White, and Bryce Hoflund, VTIPG assessed the current environment of human resource capacities and per diem rates of state facilities to guide the efficient and effective distribution of resources among the 15 state mental health facilities. Informed by the current context and national best practices, the Department evaluated staffing levels, patient acuity and external workforce dynamics and other factors impacting per diem rates at state facilities, to determine a range of staffing ratios and other cost assumptions for serving the Department’s constituency populations. While administrative data is available on state facilities, the accuracy of this information was verified, with each facility’s context and needs taken into account. 

To assist DMHMRSAS as it addressed policy implementation and management decisions, VTIPG’s role was to identify national best practices and perform comparative research to identify key quality indicators used by other states that relate to efficient and effective staffing levels; to conduct analysis and verification of existing administrative data based on clinical level of care and the population being served; and identify factors that affect per diem rate sensitivity.  Finally, VTIPG developed recommendations for next steps to model and establish efficient and effective staffing levels for the Department’s facilities.

Using a federated data approach to multi-agency data integration, the central aim of Project Child HANDS (Child Care Subsidy, Health and Early Education: Helping Analyze Needed Data Securely) is to build an integrated, web-based data system for Virginia childhood initiatives aimed at low-income families, to guide program evaluation and policy decisions at the state and local levels. Data from agencies at local levels will provide the main source of information for use in local planning, as well as state evaluation of large-scale programs.

Partners in the grant include the Virginia Department of Social Services and the Virginia Department of Education, with input from the Virginia Department of Health. Initial questions will focus on child care quality in relation to the child care subsidy program, family demographics, parental choice, and how these factors relate to children’s outcomes in kindergarten. Later questions will expand into other areas of child welfare and health. This project was led by Aaron Schroeder.

Additional information about Project Child HANDS may be found at:

VTIPG and the Virginia Tech Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE) conducted an assessment of several options for HOPE, Inc. (HOPE) to co-locate health care services along with other HOPE service providers. The evaluation appraised the appropriateness and viability of two distinct care providers – The Brock Hughes Free Clinic (BHFC) and the Bland County Medical Clinic to co-locate health services with HOPE to serve low income individuals and families. This assessment built on previous health needs assessments conducted in the Wythe-Bland region but specifically focused on the viable options for the use of the HOPE, Inc. office space. Mary Beth Dunkenberger was the Principal Investigator.

VTIPG faculty collaborated with the Virginia Tech Child Development Center for Learning & Research to conduct a process evaluation of the Virginia Star Quality Initiative (VSQI) pilot project. The pilot initiative established a child care quality rating, mentoring and improvement system for the Commonwealth’s home based child care providers.  Researchers at Virginia Tech were selected to conduct an evaluation of the draft home-based provider Standards, a process evaluation of the pilot program, and to suggest future directions for ensuring the long-term feasibility, quality and sustainability of extending VSQI to family child care providers.  Mary Beth Dunkenberger was a Co-Principal Investigator, with Isabel Bradburn as PI.

VTIPG faculty and graduate students collaborated with the Virginia Tech Center for Survey Research and the Virginia Tech Center for Geospatial Information Technology to conduct a comprehensive study of veteran’s needs, experiences and service gaps in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The study was commissioned by the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, which has been charged with coordinating and facilitating the services that are needed by Virginia’s veterans who have served in the United States military, particularly those who have served in the Gulf War conflicts.  The research has been utilized to inform policy and program development for the Virginia Department of Veteran Services and the VWWP. Mary Beth Dunkenberger was the Principal Investigator with the help of Nancy White.


The purpose of the case reviews was to assess Loudoun County’s foster care caseload for identifying funding alternatives for children in foster care.  These funding streams included Title IV-E, Supplemental Security Income (Title XVI), Social Security (Title II) Benefits and Child Support (Title IV-D) and assess the efficacy of the efforts by Loudoun County staff to maximize revenues.

 The foster care case reviews will assess the efficacy of the current efforts by Loudoun County staff to maximize revenues for children in foster care.

To support and inform considerations for restructuring Loudoun County’s nonprofit grant program, the VTIPG research team began an assessment process in late 2016 that was completed in 2017. The assessment process was coordinated with  and overseen by a project management team representing the Loudoun County Department of Management and Budget and by a steering committee representing county human services offices and the nonprofit community. The VTIPG project team included PI Mary Beth Dunkenberger,  Co-PI Liz Allen, Nancy White and graduate student assistant support.    

Mary Beth DunkenbergerLiz Allen and Laura Nelson completed an assessment of Montgomery County (Virginia) Children’s Service Act process and structure on behalf of the Montgomery County Department of Social Services. The Children's Services Act (CSA) is now the name for a law enacted in 1993, then known as the Comprehensive Services Act, that establishes a single state pool of funds to support services for eligible youth and their families. State funds, combined with local community funds, are managed by local interagency teams who plan and oversee services to youth. Montgomery County child services leadership requested the assessment to better understand how the county’s CSA process and structure operates in comparison to other peer localities.

Guided by Mary Beth Dunkenberger, David Moore, and Holly Lesko, VTIPG and five Local Departments of Social Services (LDSS) in the New River Valley, collectively known as the Partners for Self-Sufficiency (PSS), provided wrap around services to address Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) clients’ employment barriers and service needs in an individualized manner. The existing partnership expanded and engaged the existing community networks of both employers and human service providers with an emphasis on intensive vocational case management through referral to Vocational Specialists in each of the five New River Valley jurisdictions.

The overarching goal of our regional employment placement, retention, and advancement model was to expedite preparation of Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW) participants for entry-level positions with employers who offer benefit packages, greater job security, and some potential for upgrading skills and to provide a strong focus on job retention. In addition to employment-based services, the PSS program focused on other barriers clients face in life that influences job readiness and retention.  Specific research and programmatic efforts were directed to assess needs and services in areas such as domestic violence, mental illness, disability assessments, and multi-generational poverty prevention efforts.

The services provided were 1) the integration of our intensive job readiness program, job development activities, and concentrated vocational case management activities; 2) continued development and refinement of community resources that facilitate employment of TANF recipients; 3) an SSI/SSDI application support service that helps local agencies better evaluate disabled TANF recipients and helps provide access to additional resources to assist them; and 4) focused job retention efforts coordinated with employers. The PSS program has been operating in the region for over ten years and has served over 5,000 clients across the region during that tenure.

Mary Beth Dunkenberger and Nancy White led the SSI Advocacy for Employment Options (SAFE) initiative to develop and deliver a training and technical assistance model for disability assessment and SSI advocacy for the TANF and VIEW programs.  The training and technical assistance was delivered to local departments of social services (LDSS) staff throughout the Commonwealth by Hazel B. Smith, program expert, and Nancy White.

This program focused on the identification and assessment of disabilities in persons participating in the TANF program with an emphasis on the Social Security Administration (SSA) definition of disability as related to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Building this capacity will enable LDSS staff in the assessment process to determine if persons with disabilities may be served with accommodations in moving toward employment or if the disability appears so severe that a referral to the SSI program would be more appropriate. 

The determination of a disability by LDSS staff as early in the assessment process as possible allows for a more efficient use of time sensitive recourses and will enable LDSS staff to inform TANF participants of the procedures, policies, and timeframes related to SSA determination of disability.  Local agencies will be able to structure a disability program that best meets the unique needs of the locality and participant population. The ultimate goal is that after the initial collaborative period, LDSS will have the capacity and organizational knowledge to assess TANF participant disabilities and provide ongoing SSI Advocacy services to TANF and VIEW participants as appropriate under policy and to meet the needs of the participant.

VTIPG provided assessment and mapping services to United Way of Southwest Virginia through Smart Beginnings Southwest. Led by Liz Allen and Mary Beth Dunkenberger, and supported by Laura Nelson and Lara Nagle, the assessment and mapping of early child development risk and protective factors was concluded with a final report and a presentation on July 18th to the United Way and Smart Beginnings leadership. Smart Beginnings Southwest Virginia includes the localities of Bland, Bristol, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Galax, Grayson, Lee, Norton, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Washington, Wise, Wythe and Tazewell.  The research will be used to further strategic planning and programming for early child initiatives in these localities.

VTIPG, StreamLines, LLC, and collaborative partners conducted research at the request of the Virginia Community College System - Workforce Development Services (VCCS-WDS), as part of the Virginia Veterans Demonstration Project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. The Demonstration Project had four components intended to improve educational and employment opportunities for Virginia’s Transitioning Service Members (TSMs) and veterans: 1) a mentoring program for those seeking degrees and certifications at five pilot community colleges ; 2) a credit for prior learning initiative at five pilot community colleges; 3) the Bridge to Employment initiative providing support to TSMs to connect to employers in three target industry sectors; and 4) an asset mapping and gap analysis study of services available to TSMs and veterans. The asset mapping, best practices research and gap analysis were the key components of a formative evaluation study that provided research findings to support program and policy action recommendations for the Virginia Board of Workforce Development.

The VTIPG project team included PI Mary Beth Dunkenberger,  Co-PI Liz Allen, and graduate student assistant support.    

VTIPG assisted the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in assessing the strengths, weaknesses and gaps in utilization of the Women, Infants and Children’s Special Supplemental Nutrition (WIC) Program among foster care parents of eligible children and young women. This project also developed outreach strategies to expand the utilization of the WIC program among foster care families and children. Mary Beth Dunkenberger was the Principal Investigator, with the support of research faculty George Still.

VTIPG collaborated with the Virginia Rural Health Association’s (VRHA) to develop issue briefs on the status and needs related to veterans’ health.  The issue brief and supplements are available at



Dr. David Moore has expanded his responsibilities as Project Director for the Total Action for Progress (TAP) Swift Start program by helping TAP expand the project and deepen the impact. The SwiftStart Program assists unemployed and underemployed parents with child care responsibilities to access training for higher-paying middle-skilled careers in health care, information technology or advanced manufacturing. It does this by bundling tuition assistance and child care with other supports and intensive mentoring to help ensure parents are successful in improving their employment and thus their family income. Dr. Moore has expanded his time on the project significantly to oversee additional efforts to improve how the workforce system in the Roanoke Valley performs for families in poverty, to expand educational opportunities that better meet the needs of low-income families, and to build pathways to sustainability for all these efforts. Since its inception, SwiftStart has served 168 participants, assisted 99 to begin training, helped 43 obtain credentials and seen over 30 participants enter improved employment in their chosen career.

Virginia Tech’s Institute for Policy and Governance received seed funding through the  Vibrant Virginia Initiative for two projects. A major goal of Vibrant Virginia is to connect and grow a network of researchers and practitioners interested in addressing concerns throughout Virginia’s urban and rural communities.

The first project was titled: "Building Healthy Families and Communities through Collaborative Strategies to Reduce Opioid Use Disorder." Mary Beth Dunkenberger and Laura Nelson of IPG collaborated with Kathy Hosig and Sophie Wenzel from Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Health Practice and Research to help strengthen Virginia Tech’s approach to multidisciplinary networks surrounding opioid use disorder research. Specifically, this project aimed to connect public health expertise with policy and organizational assessment capabilities to provide a foundation on which to build upon a continuum of care that can assist in the prevention and treatment of opioid use disorders. The opioid epidemic continues to impact Virginia residents with a current focus at the individual level. This research has broadened the knowledge of opioid use in Virginia by focusing on family, community, and institutional systems. 

IPG also received funding for a Vibrant Virginia grant focused in Southside and Southwest Virginia to conduct strategic visioning and engagement focused on community development planning, led by Max Stephenson, Lara Nagle, and Neda Moayerian. The communities involved are described in more detail here.

Both of these projects are featured in the Vibrant Virginia edited volume Vibrant Virginia: Engaging the Commonwealth to Expand Economic Vitality.

IPG Director Max Stephenson Jr. and Virginia Tech Graduate School Director of Communications Cathy Grimes co-edited two volumes comprising the Conservations series.

Conversations in Community Change feature interviews hosted by IPG Senior Fellow, Andy Morikawa, and conducted by graduate student members of Community Voices, since renamed the Community Change Collaborative (CCC). They interview leaders who have worked in many different contexts across the public, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors to instigate meaningful change (democratic social, political and economic) in their communities. The animating idea behind these interviews is that those in search of peaceful democratic social change, especially amidst ongoing economic and social dislocation, have much to learn from one another within the United States and internationally, and at all levels of governance.

Volume 1 was published in 2021 and Volume 2 was published in 2023.