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Nicole Lawrence MPP’ 00

GREW UP IN:  Crystal Lake, IL (Chicago Suburb)


CURRENT POSITION: Director ABS at B Asset Manager


BA in political science and English from the University of Notre Dame


How did you decide on the Harris School of Public Policy?

I looked at all the big policy schools like UChicago Harris, Harvard, and George Washington with the knowledge that I wanted to enter into the public finance sector.

What I liked most about Harris was the fluidity to take classes across different school’s programs in your particular area of study. For example, I took accounting and a rates classes in the business school. I found Harris to have more to offer on the finance side and a much more quantitative approach than other public programs at that time.

How does your career make an impact?

I ended up in the private sector. I originally applied to Moody’s to work in their public finance group, but was hired to work in structured finance, otherwise known as their asset-backed securities (ABS) group that was growing at that time. I like structured finance because, in many cases, it is a primary lending source for companies that provide financing for individuals’ financing needs such as auto, credit card, and mortgage loans.

I left Moody’s to go work for an insurance company investing in asset-backed securities where I could transfer my skills of rating credits to purchasing credits. A portion of that is liabilities that companies hold, which are peoples’ insurance policies and annuities. So, when you think about it, we are investing peoples’ money—teachers, firefighters, and so on—so that they can retire.

How does Harris permeate your everyday work?

 Having knowledge about finance and being able to understand markets is the kind of learning I apply daily. Also, understanding policy and how it influences markets is another way Harris permeates into my everyday work.  A good example is the current election, which had a quick and significant impact on rates, which in turn, affected our investments. Also, trying to be on the forefront of what can be securitized has us constantly monitoring policy decisions as to how changing regulations may change what we are already invested in or may create new opportunities that have been restricted in the past.

Was there any one class at Harris that had a significant impact on you?

Statistics class had an impact. We look a lot at statistical market and rates data when we are making investments. A big lesson I learned at Harris was to examine the data, how it’s gathered, how it’s being used to understand what the data trend means. We are always trying to interrupt trends and make investment decisions based upon our view of certain outcomes.

What is a unique value proposition that Harris offers?

 Harris is an exceptional two-year program that offers value to move your career in several directions. Many times, people go into graduate school thinking they will obtain a certain position coming out such as work in the mayor’s office or the public sector. However, the Harris public policy degree has a lot of uses and opens up other opportunities. There is a lot of fluidity with a Harris public policy degree that prepares you to work in either the public or private sector, which is incredibly valuable.

How did the presidential election change your Wednesday morning?

The election is a good lesson for all of us on relying on predictable outcomes.  The market was so confident in the pundits and polls about how the election would turn out that it didn’t really price in the risk of an alternative outcome. The results moved the market greatly causing dislocation, which can present good buying opportunities. However, it also has an impact on our existing portfolios. So, our Wednesday morning was spent refocusing our portfolios and determining what new policies a Trump administration might look to undertake. This will impact how we look to invest going forward in the short and long-term.

Do you consider this a good time to get into public policy careers?

 I believe that the surprise of the election, and the unknowns that it raises, highlights that there is always a need for policy experts. It is an important background for those going into the private sector as well. Policy graduates can bring a different perspective and understanding to a group that may not be as focused on what changing government policies can mean to their investments and business.

 What advice would you give individuals thinking about public policy?

 My advice would be to select a course of field you want to study and think about the career options that course offers to you coming out of policy school. Graduate school is a considerable monetary and personal investment. It needs to offer you something better than everyone else for what you want to do with it. Harris offers you an amazing fundamental base, but it also allows you to pursue individual interests beyond the core curriculum. There is more fluidity and investment in the program than a lot of other policy programs.