CLAS Industry Spotlight: Careers in Public Policy

Are you interested in learning more about careers in public policy – specifically urban education policy? Check out the interview below with CLAS alum Melissa Lovitz and review the following resources for pursuing a career in public policy.

In this post:

Alumni Insights

Melissa Lovitz ‘15
UConn Major: Human Development and Family Studies
Current University: Brown University
Current Program: Urban Education Policy, A.M.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in urban education policy?
When I graduated from high school, I took a gap year and served with City Year in Washington, D.C. I soon realized that many urban schools were facing a lack of resources, inconsistencies between school and home, and many frustrated teachers. My service year quickly confirmed for me that I wanted to address the trajectory of struggling schools and students. I knew that the challenge of improving at risk K-12 urban schools could be overwhelming to some, but to me, it was inspiring.

My City Year experience also motivated me to challenge myself and get involved both within and outside of my university community. Therefore, during my time at UConn, I pursued a teaching internship at an alternative school in Cape Town, South Africa and mentored summer school students in Boston, MA with BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life). Each experience allowed me to think critically about the various, cyclical problems related to education that are especially prominent in urban schools and communities. Through the my involvement in the Human Development and Family Studies Department, I took engaging courses, received exceptional advising, and developed my undergraduate thesis research on family engagement in low-income, urban schools. The influence of my extracurricular opportunities coupled with my academic experiences helped me gain the evaluative skills and hands-on experience that informed my decision to pursue a master’s degree in Urban Education Policy.

What are the current trends affecting your industry?
The field of urban education policy is very broad. Therefore, depending on your interests and intended career path, certain trends will be more influential for your work. A few examples of current trends in urban education policy are teacher evaluation frameworks and teacher rating distributions, conflicting agendas and varying involvement at the federal, state and local levels, and the opt-out movement surrounding standardized testing. Something I’m interested in focusing on is family and community engagement and partnerships in urban schools. As part of my graduate program, I was able to attend the U.S. Department of Education’s ParentCamp USA event in October to learn more about parent engagement in education at the national level in order to better inform my internship project and current research.

What advice do you have for current students looking to enter this field?
Learn to appreciate statistics! When I started at UConn, I intentionally picked a major where I wouldn’t have to do a lot of math. I was intent on graduating taking as few math and statistics courses as I could get away with. Once I started to explore the policy world, I realized how important numbers are in this field. Much of the research and work in education policy is based on applications of economics and statistics. Both locally and nationally, interventions and policy decisions are developed from findings grounded in “evidence-based” research. Increasingly this research is quantitative in nature. The mantra “I’m not a math person” will not get you very far in the policy world! In many education policy or public policy graduate programs, you’ll be required to take a number of research methods, statistics, and economics classes as part of your plan of study. That’s been a big challenge for me but, after putting in the work to learn the material I have found a lot of value in having the skills to interpret and work with large data sets. It’s been particularly valuable to be able to understand how the quantitative results or outcomes, that part I used to skip when reading academic articles in undergrad, influence recommendations and policies. Also, if you’re reading this and thinking “I’ll just do qualitative research then” don’t be fooled, qualitative researchers need math too!

Any additional advice you would share with current UConn students?
To put it simply, don’t just go through the motions. UConn is an incredible school and there are so many resources and opportunities to take advantage of and everyone is there to help you! My top three pieces of advice are: 1) make connections wherever you can, especially outside of your department 2) ask questions even if you don’t think there’s an answer 3) appreciate your experience in the moment and don’t look at every opportunity as just another step toward graduating and getting a job. I have elaborated on these statements in a recent interview with WHUS’ Comptroller Danielle Chaloux. You can listen to that interview and those pieces of advice here: Storries 2: Melissa Lovitz at the 27:50 minute mark!

(If you reach out to Melissa, make sure to include how you found her in your note)

Relevant Articles

Skills preparedness, equity must be part of 21st century education policy priorities, The Hill
By Linda Darling-Hammond and Patricia Gandara

“Despite near-universal consensus that No Child Left Behind is overdue for change, the path toward re-authorization remains uncertain. What is certain, however, is that the global demand for high level thinking skills accelerates daily, and the U.S .must make serious changes to keep up. To that end, the Learning Policy Institute and Jobs for the Future have invited policymakers, advocates, practitioners and business leaders to begin a dialogue on how we can create 21st century learning opportunities for all students, particularly those who have been underserved. The inaugural event will kick off this Friday morning at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill…”

Industry Job Boards
Careers with the U.S. Department of State

Professional Associations
American Society for Public Administration
Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management
Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA)
Women in Government Relations

The UConn Center for Career Development does our best to share up to date, relevant resources; however the Center for Career Development does not specifically endorse any of these sites. Before joining an organization, investing in classes, or utilizing a placement agency be sure to check its credentials through additional sources.

By Emily Merritt
Emily Merritt Career Consultant, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences