HOMETOWN: Sacramento, CA
UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE: Urban and Environmental Policy at Occidental College; Masters of Science in Teaching from Fordham University
CURRENT EMPLOYER: 4th grade teacher at the Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem
You were a Teach for America Corps member and are currently teaching 4th grade. How has that experience influenced your decision to go into public policy?
Before I even did Teach for America, I was a Capitol Fellow in Sacramento right after undergrad, where I worked for a state senator— I worked on policies for him in environmental quality and education. And so while I was there working on education, I just had incredible experiences with all these different stakeholders I got to talk to all these stakeholders that were so involved with education reform and had big voices and big personalities and were fantastic, but I was missing the fact that they weren’t teachers. Or they had been so far removed from the classroom that they had kind of lost some of that everyday realness of what it means to be a practitioner of the policies. And so I was like, “If I’m going to care about education and education policy, I know what it’s like to be a student; I need to know what it’s like to be a teacher.” So I applied to Teach for America, I got in, I got placed in New York City. In New York, you’re required to get a master’s as a part of your Teach for America experience. Here I am, a first-year teacher working towards my master’s and throwing myself into becoming a teacher. It’s so exciting, but so incredibly hard. I was learning so much about myself and about community — it’s not just about teaching kids, it’s not just about having a great curriculum. It’s also about having community and mental health services and poverty. I just stayed because I loved it so much. Applying to Harris was a difficult decision, but, I got to the point where the election happened. It was the toughest day of my professional career, it really was. The day before we had marched in the streets, and I was so confident that the outcome was going to be a different outcome for my kids. And for the first time in my professional career, I cried with students. It was a moment of incredible fear and loss, and a moment of: ‘something else has to happen.’ So it was a difficult decision, but ultimately the right one.
What was the moment that made you realize Harris was the place for you?
I actually wasn’t completely drawn to the Midwest — I had always lived from coast to coast. I was reading the Teach for America website and looking at all the schools that they give fee waivers to, and I came across the University of Chicago. My assistant had actually spent a semester at the University of Chicago some time ago, so I clicked on the link and thought it was an interesting program. I looked a little deeper into it; for me, going back to school and why I chose to do an MPP was because I wanted the qualitative stuff. That’s my biggest deficit; I don’t have any background there. They had started sending me meet-and-greet stuff, so I went and met Ranjan and all the other prospective students. I was in awe; I was blown away by the type of people that Harris had drawn to its program. I know it’s going to be a challenging program, but I also wanted a space that would be supportive and that I could do well at but also be significantly challenged in my worldview. Just talking to alumni from ten years ago to thirty years ago was very empowering and an experience that was unlike any other school. It was an honest reflection and a very meaningful one.
What big ideas motivate and challenge you every day?
I think for me, it’s the unwavering belief that problems can be solved. I think that with boundless creativity, thinking outside the box, or giving time to walk away, the problems that we encounter personally, societally, interpersonally, can be solved. That’s something I really believe in, it’s something that has been proven to me time and time again. Problems can be solved and they’re not necessarily permanent.
Now that you have completed the graduate school process, do you have any insight for those prospective students just starting the search?
For me, [it was] really knowing what was important to me in a sense of what I cared about personally as well as academically. And just making sure that those needs were always at the forefront. I think that required a lot of evaluation and required a lot of talking to other people, and a little bit of being vulnerable. But that’s how important it was to me.