May 9, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Sean Poole graduated last Saturday with a degree in public policy. One day before that and three days prior to joining the work force, the former Georgia Tech punter kicked his Georgia Tech swan song deep.
He and three classmates on Friday addressed a group of about 40 officials from the Centers for Disease Control, and gave a presentation about the health effects of recreational marijuana. Their summary included a recommendation on how the CDC ought to structure public policy statement in the near future.
Poole, Kayla McKenzie, Roma Amin and Graham Goldberg spent two semesters studying the topic before delivering their findings at the CDC’s Chamblee facility. It was carried via webcast to other CDC facilities as well.
Having been one of the ACC’s top punters last season, the Tallahassee, Fla., native gushed about his final experience in an arena as a Tech student.
“It went very well, and we were very happy with how far we had come in a year,” Poole said. “[Senior Task Force] was definitely an exciting class, definitely the class at Georgia Tech that I feel helped me grow the most in terms of getting into the real world.”
Poole, who averaged 42.3 yards last season on 45 punts with just three touchbacks and 15 balls inside the 20-yard line, said his teacher, Associate Professor of Public Policy Kimberly Isett, and her class were the next best things to being in the real world.
He should know.
Last summer, he interned in Washington, D.C., with a lobbying group, and in 2012 he interned for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal as a health policy analyst.
Standing before the CDC’s Office of Smoking & Health was a different deal.
“We gave a PowerPoint presentation. It was about 20 minutes. To give you an idea of how well our professors prepared us, we didn’t use any note cards. They had confidence in us, and we had confidence in ourselves,” he said.
“It also helped me with my problem-solving skills, how I go about attacking a project, and making sure I cover all my bases. I’m truly seeing how much Georgia Tech prepares you for the real world.”
Poole and his group narrowed their focus to marijuana use among young people, or those whose brains are not fully formed, because that appeared to them to be the group that uses the drug most frequently and the group that is likely most adversely effected by it.
Marijuana has recently been legalized in the states of Colorado and Washington, yet debate rages on state and federal levels about the prudence of not only the decisions by those states but pending discussions in others.
“We decided to focus on the youth population, and how to keep it out of the hands of kids,” Poole explained. “When we first started diving into the information, we found that 76 million Americans admit to having used marijuana at least once in their lifetimes. That was staggering to us.
“Breaking down numbers, it’s really popular among youth. Marijuana can actually damage certain parts of the brain, and particularly the hippocampus — that’s what is primarily responsible for short-term memory as well as learning new information.”
The Poole group reviewed between 150-200 scholarly articles and empirical studies on marijuana usage. He said that since he knew little about the drug, it came as a shock to learn that it may affect people differently.
“I went into this completely blind to this subject; I just knew it was an illegal drug . . . it was really eye-opening for me,” he said. “[Multiple studies have suggested] marijuana use can lead to anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A high population of [adults] who have these symptoms used it as adolescents.
“It can be very harmful on an undeveloped brain and that’s really where we honed in on our recommendation. We found studies where it stunts the growth of the brain, and causes permanent damage and lowers IQ score. When you use marijuana with an undeveloped brain, you can’t get these effects back.”
Poole was hesitant to talk about his group’s recommendation as it is under consideration by the CDC for what may become a public policy statement.
He didn’t hesitate going to work after graduating, starting this past Monday in the Alpharetta office of Connors & Co. Investment Services.
“I kind of took a turn here. I have always enjoyed politics, the game of it, and diving into different policy levels. I had a few job offers [in public policy], but had a gentleman approach me from a finance company to be an account manager. That’s the route that I chose,” he said.
“We work with public and private entity funds . . . it came naturally because of how much policy I’ve been in depth with and exposed to.”
Poole is proud to be a public policy graduate, and could not have scripted a more exhilarating farewell to his college experience. He feels like he out-kicked the coverage on his final boot — much like his 66-yarder at Duke last fall.
“It’s a very small major, being in the [Ivan Allen] College of Liberal Arts, but it’s fantastic,” he said. “The people at the CDC expressed their happiness with our report. It was nice to know that we gave the client what they wanted. It was a great way to go out and finish at Georgia Tech.”
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