Q&A with student Gregory Smith
HOMETOWN: Maraval, Trinidad and Tobago
UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE: BSC in Mechanical Engineering and MBA in Supply Chain Management, Howard University
CURRENT: MPP ’17 Candidate at the Harris School
How did your undergraduate experience shape your decision to go into public policy, and, specifically, to come to Harris?
I had always wanted to be involved in this idea that I had of both Caribbean unity and economic advancement. While in undergrad, and getting my MBA, I thought the process of achieving that was by doing business and finance. It was over time while working in strategic management after graduation, that I realized that just having a business degree is not going to be enough to achieve these social goals or social missions. I knew everything there was to know about business and finance, but not about policy. That shaped my decision to go back to school. I worked in Chicago originally after leaving my MBA program. While I was in Chicago, I was thinking about coming back to school and to go into policy, and I came to a recruitment session at the Harris school— that caused me to be more interested based on their description of the programs. The approach here is very analytical and rigorous, compared to other schools— I thought I would benefit from that specific approach.
How has Harris shaped your interest in economic policy?
When I first came to Harris I was almost completely interested in economic development in the Caribbean. My interest has since bloomed to not just economic development or the Caribbean, but social impact as a whole. I got very interested in social impact bonds and financing, and that whole field. Being at Harris and the University of Chicago has expanded my interests. I believe the Caribbean as a region has an opportunity to expand only through cooperation, or through an economic bloc. We don’t have the scale to be truly competitive in the global market—but with a community we have more of an impact. I’ve built a quantitative skill set to understand how these global relationships work, and how I can apply that to my interest in the Caribbean region. Taking classes at Harris, like poverty and economic development, have helped me understand what works to alleviate poverty, and the research that has been done to show the impact of interventions to aid poverty. In general, my economic and micro-statistics courses have helped me to understand how to measure this impact. It’s one thing to want to do good stuff, but it’s very difficult to measure the impact social change has— I think the Harris School does a great job of showing students how to actually measure this.
Can you talk about your involvement with Team Harris and how that has been a part of your Harris experience?
There’s a lot of things I like about the Harris school, but of course there are improvements too. One of the things we can improve on is representation of minorities. Obviously I’m international, but I went to a historically black college, and lived in the United States for a long time. I definitely identify with the challenges and the cultures of those who identify as minorities in the United States. I feel a strong connection to issues affecting these communities. I realized there were not that many people from this background at the Harris School. If you don’t have people from these backgrounds represented in the policymaking, how can they help the communities with similar backgrounds? I joined Team Harris specifically to help recruit more people of color to the Harris School, which has been the biggest benefit to me. It’s also just fun to talk to other people who are passionate about recruiting new people to Harris, being brand ambassadors, that sort of thing.
You’re heading into the consulting field at Deloitte Consulting. How will you apply what you’ve learned at Harris outside of the educational setting?
My role at Deloitte will be as a strategy consultant, specifically deployed to state and local governments. I’ll be working on projects at that level. I worked with the state of IL to implement a state-wide resource planning system. My role was to be the go-between for the technical consultants typing into computers and the state representatives with real day-to-day concerns. My Harris degree helps me to speak to people at a state and local level to speak to their concerns and also translate what we’re doing into something that’s beneficial for them. I chose Deloitte because they have a really strong global footprint, especially in the Caribbean. My vision for my role in Deloitte is to parlay my experience from the state and local levels in the US back to my ultimate goal of being a part of the Caribbean growth and expansion.
As you near the end of your time as an MPP candidate, what are some words of wisdom you might pass along to incoming candidates at Harris?
Two things: Go to math camp, prep classes, and make sure you come to participate; because it was definitely helpful to get back into the educational setting after working for a few years. Take advantage of extracurriculars, guest lectures, etc. That has helped shaped my experience holistically. If you never participate outside of class, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Also, I’m a co-chair of the Community Action Bureau. We work with non-profit organizations on the South Side and match students with these organizations to help advance or achieve the organization’s mission. Often these non-profits are so mission-driven that they don’t have time to do the stuff that the Harris School is good at, like organizational management or impact measurement. So we bring Harris students in to help them develop these tools. That’s something I’m really passionate about, and I hope we can get interest from prospective students to be involved. It helps apply what you’re learning on a practical level.