"Think globally, act locally" is the concept that drives the University of California at Riverside's new School of Public Policy and its founding dean, Anil B. Deolalikar, who started his new role in February.
Mr. Deolalikar, 57, is an economics professor known for his global research on poverty, malnutrition, and illiteracy.
"Public policy—and evaluating good and bad public policies—is part of an economist's job," he says. "It's built into my DNA, so to speak."
After he began teaching at Riverside, in 2003, he recognized that the surrounding area's problems mirrored those in some developing countries. Poverty in the region, he says, isn't much different from that in Mexico, Brazil, or China.
Rapid population growth in Riverside County has caused environmental strains, such as water scarcity and air pollution. The large county, in inland Southern California, also has inadequate education and health services, and—with many residents making the 60-plus-mile commute to Los Angeles—heavy traffic congestion.
"There are a lot of faculty who are working precisely on these issues," he says. "Yet there's little connection between the university and the policy makers who are trying to solve the major challenges the region faces."
The school, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014, will try to make that connection. The inaugural class is expected to have 30 to 40 students, with enrollment increasing to about 120 students in the first three years.
Initially, the school will offer a master's degree in public policy. Its curriculum will focus on four main tracks: environmental policy, health policy, higher-education policy, and social policy. It will also foster multidisciplinary research in those areas.
The school is proposing to add a global-health-policy program and a joint M.D./M.P.P. program with the university's medical school. A Ph.D. and a fast-track executive master's degree in public policy should follow, he says.
Twelve current Riverside professors will have joint appointments with the school and with their original campus units, which include engineering, social sciences, and natural and agricultural sciences. Six full-time faculty members will be recruited later to fill in the knowledge gaps, he says.
Mr. Deolalikar hopes the new school will distinguish itself from the 20 or so other public-policy schools in California, with its focus on the "global-local connection." Students will examine policies around the nation and the world, and see if similar policies could benefit Southern California. Inversely, he says, students will also craft policies for local governments that could succeed on a global scale.