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Megan Kang.jpg

HOMETOWN: Oakland, CA

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE: B.A. in History and Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley

CURRENT EMPLOYER: S. Groner Associates (Oakland)

Why public policy?

I feel like I’ve always had a heart for social justice and community work. I think that started out in high school — I was really involved with different humanitarian clubs and continued to do so in college. I spent some time teaching in Detroit with Teach for America and had a lot of experience working in the community, working with issues of education and inequality, and then now working with environmental campaigns and working with local government. I was able to see how the change was made on the forefront, and how being a part of that—whether it be in the classroom or in the Bay Area working with local government—made me realize that [policy work] is definitely what I want to be doing.  So I had all those experiences over the past few years either studying these policies and the impact they had or implementing them on the ground, and I finally got to the point where I wanted to be working on shaping them. And I think going and getting an M.A. in public policy will help me to fill in that skill-set of qualitative analysis and data-based policy—that’s very much the future of where policy-making is going. I’m also really excited to get in-depth in a field and become more of an expert in urban policy, which I think UChicago is in particular known for—working on implementing policy in a community that needs that kind of work and urgency.

You spent a year in Detroit with Teach for America. What impact did that have on your career trajectory?

I think with the context of going into policy-making, I feel really lucky to have gotten the experience of seeing how public policy is enacted. For me, it was being in the classroom. I think it’s really important for people who are in positions of power and are going to be making policy to have an exposure to what it means to implement [that policy]. For me, it was very humbling to have come from Berkeley. I think Teach for America chooses people who are leaders and can take on challenges, but it is a totally different experience to be working in an impoverished, broken community like Detroit and to be responsible for kids. These issues no longer become abstract. I studied Political Science and History in college and studied inequality and redlining and racist policies in American history, and I think living out in Detroit—a population that is 87% black and 50% of the adult population is illiterate—you see these policies are not abstract. I had 100 seniors that I taught, and every single one of them had a family member that was incarcerated. These aren’t theoretical issues; they’re issues of life or death.

What was the moment that made you realize Harris was the place for you?

There were a lot of things that went into it. I was able to have a conversation with Professor Ludwig [Professor Jens Ludwig; Director of the Crime Lab] at Admitted Students Day. He said, “Some of our projects take place in these neighborhoods.” One of them was Englewood. I decided I needed to see this place. So after Admitted Students Day— which was a beautiful day to celebrate being admitted and being around all these very qualified potential peers—I decided I needed to go out and see what this place was actually about. I ended up driving around the South Side, and it really hit me then and there that this was where I needed to be. As a community, it speaks for itself. There’s an incredible amount of urgent opportunity to do high-impact work. These issues of inequality and urban poverty are not abstract. It’s people lives. I saw that and decided this is where I wanted to go.

What big ideas motivate you daily?

I have two big goals— my “purposes”, I call them. One is to live free and help others live freely. The other is to find a synthesis between theory and action, which is known as praxis. That idea comes from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is really helpful tool if you’re a teacher. And the concept of living freely and helping others live free is something I’ve learned time and time again from people throughout history and in my life. Those are the things that guide my life and my professional goals and purposes. I try to think about them a lot and be intentional about them.