Hannah Roth smiles for the camera with a wall, a river, and trees in the background

What They Learned: Hannah Roth ‘22

The political science major and economics minor studied the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia from a public policy perspective.

Hannah Roth, a political science major with an economics minor, conducted thesis research in the Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia to understand the complexity of the decision-making and community interest representation when it comes to the opioid crisis. 

Roth’s thesis, “An Investigation into Philadelphia’s Opioid Crisis,” sheds light on the unique circumstances surrounding the grassroots representation of the communities affected by the opioid crisis within Kensington, in their city officials, nonprofits, and residents. “I uncovered a major problem in which ‘grassroots” is a relative term. Leaders of organizations view themselves as grassroots, in-touch leaders, but they are not perceived to represent the entire community,” said Roth.

Her findings about the relationship between Kensington residents, nonprofit leaders, elected officials, and the police revealed serious problems in the city’s handling of the crisis.

“My greatest takeaway is the striking prevalence of a cycle of blame and claims that those with much individual power and decision-making autonomy are out of touch. The significance of this is hard to quantify, and it is tempting to say that all of these groups need to ‘grow up,’ communicate, compromise, and unite,” she said. “In fact, many interviewees echoed these sentiments. Tensions over grassroots representation and the tendency to say that ‘these other people don’t represent me’ is important to sit with and eventually address because no real solution will come about with vague notions of unity.”

In her thesis, Roth proposes a number of policy solutions that could result in more successful management of the crisis, including those concerning multiple opioid treatment options and providers, research and development, education, community engagement, and peer support.

How did your thesis advisor help you develop your thesis topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?

My thesis advisor, Professor Steve McGovern, supported me throughout this process. First of all, he encouraged me to write about the crisis and to focus on Philadelphia, where opioid addiction plagues various neighborhoods, specifically Kensington. Professor McGovern also guided me through the interview process, in terms of who to reach out to and key questions to consider asking. He also connected me with a former advisee of his, who answered my initial questions and agreed to show me around Kensington. I conducted 16 interviews, resulting in a lot of information. Initially, it was overwhelming to sort through and make sense of the data. Upon turning in my rough draft, Professor McGovern helped me think through a more effective way to organize my research and highlight the important points and themes.

What are your plans for the future and does your thesis have anything to do helping to guide your future career path?

I will be an educator with Teach for America for the next two years in the Chicago area. My thesis sparked my interest in public policy because it is frustrating to witness the gap between what leaders say they want to achieve and the changes that are actually made. This is certainly true of the opioid crisis, but is equally damaging in other areas, like education policy. Everyone wants children to succeed academically and thrive in all realms of their lives, but we haven’t seen acceptable improvement in terms of test scores or other markers of student well-being and positive outcomes for those in underserved communities.