BA in sociology with a minor in public policy, Hunter College
Mitsue Iwata is not afraid to make bold choices. Shortly after high school, she moved to Tokyo, Japan where she spent three years studying fashion design. Today, she works in the NYC Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA), where she builds citywide data-sharing programs to help ensure that, in the event of an emergency like Hurricane Sandy of 2012, historically siloed departments and agencies can more easily collaborate with the data they need to help people efficiently and effectively.
The path to Mayor de Blasio’s Office was not linear. Iwata (like many eventual Harris School students) didn’t always know she wanted to work in public policy. After returning from Japan, she spent two more years in the design world in New York City before choosing to return to academia to study sociology at Hunter College.
“I was fascinated by sociology—understanding norms, how larger cultures conduct themselves, why criminal justice and education exist as they are. But with sociology you start with a question and continue with that question – you conduct an ethnography. I wanted something with more action.”
Sparked by a need to do, Iwata minored in public policy at Hunter because in contrast to sociology, with public policy you put forth recommendations. Her desire to act propelled her towards a graduate degree in public policy.
Iwata’s need for an active role was coupled with the firm belief that “anecdotal experiences, gut feelings, and emotions should not be the primary drivers behind policy decisions.” She required a deeper understanding of statistics and data analysis to make more objective policy decisions.
The Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago was the right fit for several reasons, the first being its reputation as having a more quantitative focus and statistics-driven curriculum than other policy schools. The second came as a surprise. It was a new degree program launched in 2014: the master’s of science in computational analysis and public policy (MSCAPP).
The MSCAPP program fuses in-depth policy analysis and computer science to train specialists in both. Graduates are prepared for roles such as Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Data Officer (CDO), Chief Technical Officer (CTO), or Transparency Officer (TO) in federal, state, and local governments or work in private firms that serve the public sector.
Excited to enroll in the unique MSCAPP program, Iwata’s coursework prepared her for the Mayor’s office. She is now more fluent in the “language of IT, how to build a database, and what architecture is necessary for specific tasks.”
Just as valuable as the in-depth skillset developed at Harris, Iwata cultivated a network of peers and faculty members. “Being a graduate student at Harris means you get access to all of those resources and support,” she says. “The other students and colleagues are smart and have a wealth of experience that you can tap into. I still stay in contact with my peers; we are planning a reunion. I also remain in contact with my faculty advisors who were strong mentors throughout the program, I can reach out to any of them for recommendations, for job hunting, or career advice.”
Iwata is enthusiastic about the Harris School. She particularly recommends the MSCAPP program to anyone interested in making a strong impact on an emerging sector of public policy. She believes that though the private sector has made large advancements leveraging new technology, software, and tools, the public sector, governments, and municipalities are still in need of bold thinkers and leaders to help them apply new resources to large-scale problems.
“The world of data analytics in the public sector is still defining itself. It’s a developing field with a lot of real opportunities for people at the intersection of public policy and computational analysis to make an impact,” Iwata says. “That makes it an exciting field to be a part of.”