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Since its inception 20 years ago, the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston has had profound success in transforming civic-minded graduate students into public leaders. Investing in local leaders and preparing them to confront new challenges and make systemic changes are the institute’s goals. Alumni of the Rappaport Institute’s programs include state legislators, mayors, and high-level officials.

Through the Rappaport Public Policy Summer Fellowship, a 10-week paid summer internship, graduate students at colleges and universities throughout the Greater Boston area get hands-on experience working at state and local government agencies in Massachusetts. Over the history of the program, 279 graduate students have participated. This year, the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic made the fellowship even more meaningful for the four HKS students who took part.

Nick Brenner MPP 2021, Alexis Farmer MPP 2021, Christine Peterson MPP 2021, and Rees Sweeney-Taylor MPP 2021 share their experiences as Rappaport Public Policy Summer Fellows.

 

Christine Peterson

Christine worked with MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative, which uses targeted economic development strategies to revitalize downtown neighborhoods in cities throughout Massachusetts.

Christine Peterson at her remote-work desk.I’m highly interested in state and local government, and the Rappaport fellowship had connections to every department imaginable at both levels of government. Being new to both Boston and the East Coast, I was also drawn by the opportunity to better understand my new home and the challenges it is facing. My supervisor set up weekly talks with different people throughout the organization or in similar roles in other departments whom he thought we'd be interested in hearing from. It was great exposure to other experiences and roles that I could hopefully pursue following graduation. The Rappaport program had stellar guest speakers, and I particularly loved hearing from [member of the Boston City Council] Michelle Wu during the guest lectures and again at our closing reception.

I had planned to pursue state or local government going into the program, so the fellowship helped me to be far more confident that it's the right decision. Having no prior experience in the public sector, I didn't have a lot of expectations, but I certainly learned a lot through this exposure.

“I definitely have a better grasp of the tools and expertise that I want to gain in order to be an efficient and effective policy analyst and public servant.”

Christine Peterson MPP 2021
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After two months of online classes I felt well-equipped for the remote working experience, particularly given that the rest of my new coworkers would have the same working arrangement. While I certainly would have preferred being able to go to the office and meet everyone in person, I think the remote working went as well as it could have, and there's something to be said for the flexibility it allows. After so many of my classmates had internships cancelled, I was just relieved that Rappaport was able to continue its program and adapt to the changed environment.

Rees Sweeney-Taylor

Rees worked with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to help develop policy recommendations for decarbonizing the state’s economy by 2050.

My primary project was modelling how a price on carbon could help meet [an ambitious decarbonization] mandate while also distributing revenues equitably. Additionally, I researched the relationship between heating fuels for Massachusetts homes and geographic location and income. This led to the development of a tool that can be used to focus heat pump conversion efforts in neighborhoods with low-income residents or high usage of fuel oil. Finally, I worked one day each week for the Department of Public Utilities, writing a report comparing several jurisdictions’ approaches to microgrids and potential next steps for Massachusetts. It's really a terrific way to gain exposure to the public sector. Seeing public servants in action, pulling together data, listening to stakeholders, and developing policy proposals really brought the study from my first year into my lived experience.

“[The fellowship] certainly raised my expectations of what is possible in the public sector and exposed me to insightful conversations about the policies and technologies that will drive the energy transition. I saw how inspiring state government can be.”

Rees Sweeney-Taylor MPP 2021
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I had the opportunity to present findings to the undersecretary for climate at the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, David Ismay, and the three-person commission at the Department of Public Utilities. My supervisor also encouraged me to reach out to staff one-on-one at the agency and set up informational interviews. Through our incredible speaker series, including Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and HKS Senior Fellow Steven Kadish, there were certainly lots of insights to take away. An important one, formed both from the speaker series and from conversations with other fellows, is the importance of highlighting environmental justice in tackling climate change.

A critical inquiry for me became how to decarbonize with awareness of historical environmental injustices along lines of race and income. While the teams I worked with regularly highlighted the importance of integrating environmental justice into our work, I acknowledge in myself that foregrounding equity can be challenging. Going forward from the summer, I recommit to tackling the policy challenges of climate change while considering the wellbeing of frontline and overburdened communities.

Nick Brenner

Nick worked in Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s office of New Urban Mechanics to help support the design and evaluation of innovative civic programs and policy experiments.

My project this summer was focused on city curbside management. I helped to study, map, and analyze current regulations on curb use. Every city really should have a map of curb sites and what you can use them for, and Boston does not. So, a map that would show the bus stops, the loading zones, even the driveways that indicate where you can and cannot park, helps identify what else you can use the curb for. And people are starting to get pretty creative around what they can use curbs for, especially given the pandemic this summer. Uses include rideshare pickups, home deliveries of food and goods, outdoor seating for restaurants, and pop-up retail. So, there's a number of trends that are causing increased demand for curb space, and curbs have become one of the city's most valuable assets. Cities are thinking about how to monetize the curb as a way to generate additional revenue.

Nick Brenner taking photos of curb usage in Boston.
Brenner walked 50 miles in Boston taking pictures of parking signs, fire hydrants, all uses of city curbs.

I really enjoyed tackling this new problem.  I learned a lot about the way city government operates both in terms of the structure in Boston and from a software perspective about how influence works in real life. Part of my reason for applying to the Rappaport Fellowship was to test whether or not working in local government would be a good fit for me. And I think, after this summer, the answer is yes. I definitely have a much better idea of what I would look for in public service. There is value in doing work that pushes the envelope and brings technology, and new processes and ways of working, to governments to make public service better and improve residents' experiences of the city.

Alexis Farmer

Alexis worked with the city of Boston’s Office of Returning Citizens (ORC) providing recommendations on developing a uniform release plan for formerly incarcerated individuals and assisting in finding immediate shelter for prisoners released early because of COVID-19 concerns.

Alexis Farmer at her remote-work desk.The City of Boston is often on the cutting edge of innovative policy solutions, whether it is universal pre-K, raising the minimum wage, or considering a free public transit system. The Rappaport Fellowship gave me an opportunity to be in the room where it happens, to use a Hamilton reference. The fellowship had a great mix of mentorship, tangible experience in dealing with the most pressing problems facing the city, which were amplified by COVID-19, and fellowship with students across the Boston area who are passionate about making an impact through government. I was thrilled to be a part of a cohort who was invested in finding both immediate and long-term solutions to critical issues facing the city during a time when government innovation was more necessary than ever.

Because of the pandemic, I worked from my apartment in Boston. It was challenging—not only to manage time and space but also to process the feeling the protests and the pandemic brought on simultaneously. Fortunately, the fellows came together to create space to have conversations about the current events. 

“The experience gave me a perspective on how city government can support returning [formerly incarcerated] citizens. I have traditionally seen nonprofits serve that function, but never a formal role in government.”

Alexis Farmer MPP 2021

Because we all worked from home, I was unable to meet many of the clients that ORC services. This was an unfortunate necessity, but I am glad I was able to speak with some clients over the phone and learn more about their experience with incarceration and reentering the Boston community. Additionally, my mentor was very helpful in encouraging me to write an op-ed as a form of advocacy.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a number of inequities in our society, and the lack of resources for returning citizens is one of them. Housing, employment, and documentation are some of the most important essential resources, but difficult to obtain for formerly incarcerated people. Each of those areas is critical to ensuring  a successful reentry. With limited access to services open for in-person interaction, the barriers to obtaining those supports were made even more challenging. My experience this summer has emphasized the need to ensure people leave a correctional facility with an ID in hand, a place to stay, and ideally a job.

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