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Several new faculty members across a wide range of policy areas are joining Harvard Kennedy School this fall. We take this opportunity to introduce them to the HKS community.
Rachel Werkema is an adjunct lecturer in public policy. She has taught in the Mid-Career/MPA summer program since 1997 and has served as economics coordinator for the program since 2000. She previously served as deputy research director at MassINC, a Boston-based public policy think tank, where she worked on a variety of projects focusing on the economic and demographic conditions of Massachusetts and New England.
Q: What brought you to the Kennedy School?
Werkema: I earned my PhD in political economy and government from Harvard, so I spent a lot of time at the Kennedy School, especially at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy (I was a member of the first cohort of the Inequality and Social Policy program). What brought me to the Kennedy School then was the broader scope of study and interests than what you would find in a traditional one-discipline department. Not only do you have faculty from different backgrounds offering multiple perspectives, you also have an explicit focus on policy relevance. I've been fortunate to stay connected to the school directly, teaching MC/MPA students in the summer for many years now. I'm excited to teach in the MPP core and continue the tradition of taking the foundations of a discipline – economics – and showing how those principles apply directly to public policy issues.
Q: What are your primary areas of research?
Werkema: I've been interested in education policy for a long time and have studied school choice, high school curricular offerings, and access to higher education for low-income students. I'm especially interested in inequality and how our institutions work (or don't work) to overcome the gaps in opportunity and access among different socioeconomic groups. As a parent of two school-age children, I find myself personally more intrigued by the role of classroom teachers.
And as a mother who took time off from the labor market to stay home with my children when they were younger, I'd like to more formally explore the career decisions and paths of mothers and also the economic and civic contributions of "stay at home" parents.
Q: What courses will you be teaching?
Werkema: I'll be teaching API-101, Markets and Market Failure, in the fall semester.
Q: How can the work being done here at HKS help address some of the world’s most significant public policy challenges?
Werkema: The Kennedy School is blessed with an abundance of smart, talented, accomplished, and committed individuals, from the faculty to the students. We often focus on the professors who have worked in the White House or for a federal agency, or international organization, but many students arrive on campus with experiences that can further inform the best strategies for tackling significant policy challenges. Put these folks together and the combination of intellectual power and passion is invaluable. Also, never underestimate the power of a well-designed and well-executed PAE!
Q: What are you currently reading?
Werkema: I'm just starting “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I consider myself an introvert and I've wanted to read this book for a long time. I just finished “The Art Forger” by B.A. Shapiro, which I loved and would recommend to anyone looking for a novel that weaves in some local flavor. The plot revolves around the still-unsolved theft of several paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston over 20 years ago.
At the risk of sounding nerdy, I'm also reading “Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science” by Charles Wheelan. This was recommended to me by some fellow economics instructors and I figured I should read it myself before recommending it – and I would definitely recommend it!
But the most fun I've had with reading recently is a re-read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. My twin girls are eight and they both discovered Harry Potter this summer, so we read book one as a family and I enjoyed re-living the beginning of the saga.