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Bonnie ewald


HOMETOWN: Mahtomedi, Minnesota

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE: Double major in Mathematics and Geography with Certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2011)


Project Coordinator with the Health and Aging Department of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL

What was the moment that made you realize you wanted to study public policy?

I’ve worked in public health and in healthcare program development for the last five or six years, since I finished undergrad. A lot of what I do is coordinate programs that are implemented by community-based health and social service providers. In order to do that well, you need to have strong administrative skills but you also need to have a good understanding of the local, state, and national policy and political conditions that impact a given program. I’ve learned a lot “on the job” – which has been really neat to do especially in a time with so much attention to health care reform – but I haven’t had any formal education or training that would give me a broad foundation to use in my work. Before landing on public policy, I also considered studying public health, public administration, health administration, and social work. I decided on public policy because I believe that gaining the strong quantitative skills that are part of public policy programs, as well as an understanding of the policy priorities of a variety of sectors and the political feasibility of such priorities, will be incredibly useful foundation for me to have in my continued work. I was also recently refueled to pursue graduate school when, from August 2015 – May 2017, I took a mini sabbatical. I left my previous full-time job at a health policy think tank, put my stuff in storage, and traveled around the US, eastern Asia, and South America for 10 months total. This time stepping outside of my career trajectory was wonderful for me in so many ways, including in allowing me to reflect on what I wanted to focus on when I returned to the “real world” – my graduate studies! It all naturally came together.


Were you still engaging with your background in health advocacy while you were traveling? Will you bring your abroad experiences with you during your time at Harris?

Yes I was, in a few ways. First, I was working part time with Rush Health and Aging while I traveled, which was a very lucky arrangement. I also did several informational interviews with leaders in the field while roadtripping around the US. One of the best learning experiences I had while traveling was that I shadowed a public health professor in Japan for a few days. I initially met her at an American Public Health Association conference a few years ago, and she graciously invited me to join her at her university for a few days. She helps build bridges between rural communities and the university, specifically to address issues people face as they age. I learned so much from that time – both about Japanese health- and long-term care policy, but also about how communities are going about supporting themselves and each other during global change. And then two months later, I found myself in Brazil during quite a suspenseful time – not only was the Zika virus growing, but Brazil was also the focus of international attention due to controversies surrounding the Olympics and the impending impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. For more on what I learned in Japan specifically, visit my guest blog post here, and dozens of other reflections from throughout my travels can be found here.

As always is the case when one travels, I promised myself I’d intentionally work to integrate all of my experiences and insights into my life once I got back to Chicago. Attending Harris, which has such a strong global presence and attracts students from around the world, will be a great opportunity to do continue to do that.

Your work in the healthcare program development has been very collaborative and expansive. How do you envision utilizing this experience within the classroom at Harris? Are there any courses or clinics in particular that you’re excited about?

The thing I like about public health work in general is how collaborative it needs to be; a great many things ultimately influence the health and wellbeing of individuals and families, so it follows that many different sectors and types of interventions need to be considered when trying to address an issue. I’ve learned how important it is to take into account not only what the ideal solution might be, but also what is politically and organizationally feasible within a certain timeframe. The Harris core curriculum really excites me because I think it will help me do that better. I looked through all the syllabi from the core courses of recent years, and I was excited about each and every one. In addition to getting to study political theories to predict feasibility of systems-change initiatives, and gaining the quantitative skills to better understand the impact of initiatives, I also look forward to taking some health-specific classes, such as health economics. The Harris School gives access to faculty who are great leaders in so many topics, so it will be an honor to be able to learn from and with them and the other Harris students.  

What big ideas motivate you daily?

In my work, I generally am trying to is push for stronger communities—stronger school systems, organic social networks, safety net services, connections with healthcare entities, and very importantly, stronger representation of community members in decision making processes that impact their health and wellbeing. I’m interested in how the systems and spaces that people live and workin allow them to be healthy or not. I’m fascinated by pregnancy and childbirth as important health and social events, and have been trained as a doula. On the other end of the life spectrum, in recent years, I’ve worked a lot on how to best support people as they age and perhaps lose functional ability – in a way that is sustainable for families and communities. I’ve done this both through my work on designing care models that aim to do this, but also through volunteer work at my church (2nd Unitarian). Both birth and death are such deeply importantand transformative events for people, and I’m interested with how the healthcare system can be as supportive as possible during such critical transitions.

You’ve been in Chicago for a few years. Do you have any insight for prospective or admitted students who are looking to make the move to the city? Any hidden gems or favorite places you like to go? I’m a big biker, so I love biking along the lake; the lakefront path is a huge asset of the city of Chicago. There are so many beautiful spots along the path, both on the north and on the south sides. When I’m needing a little escape from the city, I also love going to the conservatories in Lincoln Park and Garfield Park, to the many historic cemeteries on the north side of the city, and to explore the many forest preserves of Cook County.