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Ryan Fitzsimons

HOMETOWN: Burlington, VT
UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE: : International Relations, George Washington University
PREVIOUS EMPLOYER: Detroit Public Schools (Teach For America) and KIPP DC

How did your experience with Teach For America impact your decision to pursue a public policy degree?

I did Teach For America in Detroit during the bankruptcy and saw families go through a lot of hardship. Growing up in Vermont, education was a big lever in helping move me forward. But, I learned in Detroit that the problems of education go deeper than the classroom. There needs to be a more holistic approach to empower communities who have been completely devastated economically.

Teaching was meaningful, but I wasn’t having the impact that I had hoped. I want to have a more systemic impact. My experience with TFA inspired me to learn more about economic underpinnings and explore urban policy.

 

What motivates you? What big questions or issues push you to get up every day?

In Burlington, a tiny New England city where I grew up, we’ve had an urban renaissance on the south side. It’s being redeveloped into microbreweries and little organic markets. It’s interesting to see my community develop in that way and then, contrast that with Detroit, where industry just left, leaving huge pockets in the urban fabric. I want to explore those contrasts and why they happen.

I also want to help make the people who do policy work more accessible. Oftentimes, for example, people doing urban planning are not out in the communities. They don’t get to know the people that their policies will affect. As another example, some people—usually those who have been there for five years or less—paint Detroit as this blank canvas, but there are people who have been there for decades who just want their neighborhoods to be whole. Are Detroiters the ones really shaping the future of Detroit?

 

What about your undergraduate experience informed your decision to choose Harris as your graduate school?

I did my undergraduate degree at George Washington University. There was a lot of reading, but it lacked technical and data skill development. I like that Harris has a huge quantitative approach that I couldn’t achieve through self-study.

 

Was there a moment during your graduate program search when you realized, “this is the place for me?”

Harris hosted a “happy hour” event in DC, where I currently live. I was able to speak, in-depth, to Ranjan Daniels, the Associate Dean of Student Recruitment and Global Outreach. It was just very clear to me, from the beginning, that Harris put a lot of effort into its students and had a personalized touch that other programs didn’t have.

 

You had also spent time in Chicago, right?

Yes, I spent five weeks on the South Side of Chicago for Teach For America’s Summer Institute. I really enjoyed the city. Like any city, it has its problems, but people are really proud to be from Chicago and its distinct and varied neighborhoods. Contrasted to DC, Chicago has a really strong sense of self and pride. I’m looking forward to living there.