Margaret Decker (MPP ’19)
HOMETOWN: Ann Arbor, MI
UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE: Biomedical Engineering B.S.E. from the University of Michigan
CURRENT EMPLOYER: Goldman Sachs (New York)
Why public policy?
Even though my major was Engineering, my minor was in Community Action and Social Change. There I learned a lot about social justice and different inequalities in the world, and it was something I was really interested in working on to resolve. There’s so many issues based on economic inequality, racial inequality, gender inequality — I was learning all of this and it really interested me, so I was thinking about how best to apply that and where I wanted to go with it. I think because I have an analytical background and took a problem-solving approach to things, I think policy is the best way to get there.
You’re currently working in the private sector. What was the moment that made you realize you wanted to go back to graduate school?
I think it was more gradual. When I started working, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I just wanted good experience and build up my resume. I’m not necessarily passionate about finance or the private sector at all, so I was working and learning a lot, but I was missing the social aspect and community involvement of where my passions are. I had been there for about a year, and I realized I needed to look into steps for what I wanted to do long-term, and that’s when I started thinking about school. Especially because I had my minor, but I hadn’t had formal classes or education in economics or anything like that, so I thought that school would be a good place to start there. I want to work on urban and social policy — there’s a lot of areas of interest I have within that category. But right now, something I’m really interested in is using policy to uplift grassroots efforts that are working to improve communities. I think people who are already part of communities that are working on issues that they face, they have the best perspective on how issues can be resolved. So someone with influence in the policy sector would be best equipped to assist them and work alongside them, rather than to just come in and implement new policies.
Was there a moment in your program search that made you choose Harris?
There were a couple things. First, the quantitative side of things was something I really liked about it, because I think a lot of the more qualitative aspects you can learn on the job, but quantitatively I wanted to get a really strong statistics and economic background. And then just throughout the whole application process, I felt that Harris had the strongest community feel. It seemed like Ranjan would be sending out emails that would say, “Hi, we really want you to come!”, and I went to an event in New York for Harris and everyone was really great there. It was awesome to talk to the alumni and other prospective students, and then when I went to the Admitted Students Day, I felt that community aspect with all the current students that we talked to— they seemed like they were really close-knit and all worked together really well and were really encouraging of each other. And that was something I really liked, because I really want that kind of experience, and not something that’s competitive with your peers. That was the most important thing for me.
Is there any advice you would give to a prospective student who is just starting the graduate school application process?
I think just talking to a lot of people — when I was applying for undergrad and even in my job search, I really focused on something that would be a good fit for me. I identified what I was looking for, what I wanted to see in a school, what I wanted to get out of my education. Then I tried to find that through talking to admissions people and asking questions, or talking to current students or alumni — just speaking with them was really helpful in deciding where to apply and where to go.
What big ideas motivate you daily?
I’m thinking about the power of communities to make change. Right now, it’s definitely a very tense political environment, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s up in the air about human rights and civil rights for communities of color. That’s something I really want to work on. It seems like a really daunting idea, I think, but there’s been so much in the past, whether it’s the civil rights movement or LGBT rights that have gained focus from their passion and drive to change the world. That’s something that really motivates me.