By Tara Burchmore MPP 2023

Four girls standing in front of a table
Rural America Caucus members Shannen Maxwell MPP 2023, Marlee Stark MPP 2023, Tara Burchmore MPP 2023, and Rozalyn Mock MPP 2023 at the Student Organization Fair

In my time at Harvard Kennedy School, I’ve learned to manage crises and to code in R. I’ve studied game theory and learned about the history of American religious influences on politics. I’ve traveled to the United Arab Emirates and to Greece to meet leaders and learn about running a country. I’ve taken courses at Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, and MIT. I interned with the United Nations Foundation and worked as a Public Policy Fellow at Google.

But one of my most memorable experiences at HKS was starting a student group that’s a little closer to home – the Rural America Caucus.

Part of the excitement of my MPP Orientation was getting to know my classmates. The MPP class, and my cohort specifically, contained people from different places, backgrounds, and lived experiences. A particular surprise, however, was not related to difference, but to an unexpected sameness. In my cohort of 60 people, I was shocked to learn there were three from my home state of Idaho!

Throughout MPP1, I found myself connecting with other MPPs who grew up or worked in rural places. Despite being from various parts of the country, we bonded over shared experiences while acclimating to Harvard.

I realized that despite having a student population with the shared experience of being from rural America, HKS lacked a formal mechanism to bring rural students together. I saw a need for a Rural America Caucus. I reached out to a few classmates I knew were also passionate about elevating the voices and perspectives of rural students.

HKS invites students to apply to start new student organizations at the start of every term. The application process required our leadership team to describe our organization’s purpose and focus, how the organization differed from established HKS student organizations, how the organization would positively affect the HKS community, and to create a strategic plan for events and activities. Additionally, we had to solicit 10 signatures from other HKS students who recognized the importance of launching the Rural America Caucus on campus.

A few weeks following our application, we were officially recognized as a student group at Harvard Kennedy School. At our kickoff social event, the energy was infectious. Students from across Harvard had heard about how we’d formed a space specifically designed to draw attention to rural aspects of policymaking and brought unanticipated enthusiasm.

The Rural America Caucus has hosted speakers on campus, organized panels, and facilitated engagement with Fellows at the Institute of Politics with rural experience. It’s a space for students of any background to learn more about rural policy and politics.

My clever, interesting, brilliant classmates are the future of transformative policymaking. The presence of the Rural America Caucus at HKS ensures that our future policymakers are conscious of the issues of rural policy and will take Rural American voices into account.

Image Credits

Photo courtesy of Tara Burchmore

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