Q&A with student Emily Webber (MSCAPP '17)
Webber, a second-year in the Master's in Computational Analysis & Public Policy (MSCAPP) program, recently spoke to Harris Public Policy about her interest in technology and data, the importance of hands-on experience, and her recent internship at IssueVoter, a website that helps you engage on civic issues.
I came to Harris because I was inspired by the vision here, which is to use technology to improve policy decisions. I came in with my own drive and passion, but it is really Harris that strengthened that drive, and clarified it. It gave me new tools such that I could really put my vision into action.
I wanted to use technology to help people. Part of that is data, part of that is general developmental skills, but a lot of that is actually understanding the policy. I was thinking, “OK, I see a lot of policy problems in the world and there are a lot of ways the world is being run that I don't agree with. But what if I put myself in their shoes? If I were a policy leader, what would be the biggest problem that I would have?”
In reality, it's very difficult to know what everyone thinks and feels. If you are running a city, how can you possibly know what all of your millions of constituents think and feel on every given issue? You can't. So you use data to try and filter that out.
I decided to learn how to code so that I could help build systems that would act as intermediaries between public officials and the citizens they serve, both asking and answering questions relevant to making choices that have a lot of impact on peoples’ lives. And so I came to the CAPP program.
Why were you drawn to your summer internship at IssueVoter?
IssueVoter is a start-up, a group of people in New York City who have an idea about how they want to fix the world, and they want to use technology to do it. Their passion is really, really similar to mine.
The company created a website that uses technology to help you learn about what bills are coming up in Congress. You can use it to communicate with your representative without needing to be public about your opinion, since you can either support or oppose the bill anonymously on IssueVoter. IssueVoter then shares the voting results with your representative in Congress.
The people who use IssueVoter can also see whether their representative is voting according to their opinion. I learned that my representative in Illinois is a guy named Bobby Rush, and Bobby Rush is a Democrat who almost never votes according to my opinion. And I would not have known this if it were not for IssueVoter.
How has your experience at IssueVoter complimented your Harris education?
My first year at Harris was really about learning fundamentals in the Core classes, which was totally crucial. IssueVoter gave me exposure to a real product affecting real people, which is also critical.
For example, I did a product demo at Microsoft. We went to Time Square for something called a “tech breakfast,” where this enthusiastic person named Ron brings in all of his tech friends and everyone shows the new products they just built to a room of about 50 people who are all either engineers, start-up founders, or investors. And everyone is just brilliant and excited to help you make your tool better.
Now, in my second year of classes, I can be a little bit more targeted with my school coursework and also invest more time in my professional experiences, including my current internship at the Federal Reserve.
-- Stephen Moreland and Sarah Galer