fbpx Alumni apply the skills they honed as students in vital roles around the School | Harvard Kennedy School

FROM HELPING CITIES tackle public challenges to improving diplomacy to advancing gender equality in the workplace, Harvard Kennedy School alumni contribute to the School long after graduation in many ways. For instance, several faculty members hold HKS degrees, including Henry Lee MC/MPA 1974, the Jassim M. Jaidah Family Director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program; David Deming PhD 2010, a professor of public policy, academic dean, and director of the Wiener Center for Social Policy; Kessely Hong MPA 2000 PhD 2008, a senior lecturer in public policy and the faculty chair of the MPA programs; Jack Donahue MPP 1982 PhD 1987, the Raymond Vernon Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and MPP faculty chair for 2010–2021; Arthur Applbaum MPP 1982 PhD 1988, the Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values; John Haigh MPP 1982, codirector of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government and a lecturer in public policy; Kimberlyn Leary MPA 2009, a lecturer in public policy; Malcolm Sparrow MC/MPA 1986, professor of the practice of public management; and Eric Rosenbach MPP 2004, codirector of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a lecturer in public policy.

Core administrative departments also benefit from the expertise and knowledge of alumni. At Degree Programs and Student Affairs, Denise Gilchrist MC/MPA 2010, Debbie Isaacson MPP 2000, and Amy Davies MC/MPA 2010 ensure that students at the School can thrive. And Michael Humphrys MC/MPA 2011 manages strategy and planning at the Information Technology department.

In addition to staff members in the core departments, many alumni have roles at the Kennedy School’s research centers. We caught up with a few of them to learn about what motivates them in their work and how they apply the lessons they learned as students.

 

Exploring the future of human rights policy

woman with colorful styled backgroundSUSHMA RAMAN MC/MPA 2013 was born and raised in India and came to the United States for college and graduate school. After teaching graduate classes in public policy and working in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector, Raman was ready for something different. “I thought the Mid-Career program would be a great way to build my skills and knowledge,” she says. Her program made a big impression: “I loved it so much; I just never left the Kennedy School.”

For six years now, Raman has served as executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. “Every center at the Kennedy School has its own flavor and culture and mission,” she reflects. “That’s what makes this School so unique.” Raman works with Mathias Risse, the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs, and Philosophy, to shape the strategy and activities of the center. 

“We’ve thought about the future horizon of human rights. For the past 70 years, the world has made significant progress on a range of rights,” Raman says. “But there is a lot of work that still needs to be done as we look to the future. The role of technology is increasingly shaping human rights, and we felt that this was a really relevant topic for the Carr Center.” Raman co-authored her first book, The Coming Good Society, which was published last year and focuses on the implications of technological and scientific advancements and norms changes on the future of rights.  Raman also worked with Risse to launch a program on racial justice. “What I like about our work is the ability to be both strategic and responsive,” she says.

Raman thinks a lot about the future of the center and how to grow it. “The great thing about being in such a small center is I do a lot of different things. No day is exactly the same.” Raman also recognizes that her time as a student has helped her in her work: “I can relate to students who come to me seeking career advice or input for their Policy Analysis Exercises. I learned so much—I loved every single class I took.”

 

Championing inclusive democracy

woman with colorful styled backgroundTERESA ACUÑA MC/MPA 2017 spent more than a decade working in public policy and politics at the state level in California and at the national level and before enrolling at the Kennedy School as a Roy and Lila Ash Fellow and a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow. At the School, she wanted to dig deep into policy issues, especially the challenge of how to improve democracy. She now focuses on this topic at the School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Acuña believes in strengthening inclusive democracy. “I do believe that our country will thrive when everyone is participating in it,” she says. In her work at the Ash Center, Acuña invites expert speakers from a range of backgrounds to whom the HKS community might not otherwise have access. “It really means a lot that the voices that we feature are reflective of the very communities that we care about and want to help,” she says.

Acuña has also strengthened civic culture on campus through the Harvard Votes Challenge, an initiative she helped spearhead to encourage Harvard students to vote in elections. And she is keeping busy with running the Ash Center’s Technology and Democracy Fellowship, a program for practitioners who are “incubating ideas to confront the challenges for democracy.” These ideas will be translated into a tangible product, such as a report or web platform. 

Reflecting on her time as a student, Acuña says, “It helped me understand my ‘why.’ I really care about marginalized communities, and I want to help bring them into the ‘small d’ democratic world.” Acuña was particularly inspired by “Public Narrative,” a class taught by Marshall Ganz, the Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society. “It’s helpful to talk about democracy by telling the stories of how people are engaged or not engaged—how they are included or excluded,” she says. “Stories illustrate the points that the theory seeks to say.” 

 

Creating pathways for better jobs

woman with colorful styled backgroundRACHEL LIPSON MPP/MBA 2018 first became involved with the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School as a Harvard College undergraduate. Her interest in public service and politics led her back to the Kennedy School after working in campaigns and policy. “I knew that I wanted to feel like I was making a difference that positively impacted people’s lives,” she says. “My parents both trained as social workers, so service is something that’s been ingrained in me from an early age.”

Now Lipson is the project director of the new Project on Workforce at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, working alongside faculty lead David Deming, a professor of public policy at the Kennedy School and a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The project is jointly led by faculty members at Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, making it a true cross-University effort. Lipson says, “There is a huge opportunity to create more pathways to good jobs for more people in this country. The private sector has a big role to play in that, but so does the public sector, and so too does the education system.”

 

Solving cities’ procurement challenges

man with colorful styled backgroundALEX KHOURY MPA/ID 2020 is undertaking a fellowship with the Government Performance Lab, run by Jeffrey Liebman, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy and director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government.

Khoury grew up in Natick, Massachusetts, but spent summers visiting his grandparents, who are smallholder farmers in the mountains of Lebanon. After graduating from college, he moved to Lebanon, where he spent a year documenting the living conditions of Palestinian and Syrian refugees to guide the efforts of UN organizations. Returning to Boston, he worked in public health research, building evidence to persuade governments that investing in the health of their populations makes good economic sense. Gradually, however, he realized that he wanted to move from research to the practice of public policy. “I needed to be a little bit closer to the impact, a little bit closer to the decisions that were being made,” he reflects. So he came to the Kennedy School. 

Despite his international development background, Khoury found himself increasingly drawn to domestic challenges, inspired by a course taught by Linda Bilmes, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy. In MLD-412, “Greater Boston Applied Field Lab,” Khoury worked with officials in Gloucester to bring an arts facility to the city. And through a Public Policy Summer Fellowship awarded by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at HKS, Khoury helped Salem’s city government provide COVID-19 support for businesses. “Those experiences made me open to the idea of working domestically, in a way I hadn’t been before,” he says. 

Now Khoury is helping cities make their procurement practices more equitable through the Government Performance Lab—a natural next step. “My dad’s an immigrant grocer in South Boston, a neighborhood notorious for its very late and contentious desegregation. When he opened shop in the 1990s, it was not an easy place to be an Arab American,” he says. “I’ve seen a few of the extra struggles minority business owners can face, but I’ve also seen how small-business ownership can be a powerful lever for social mobility.” Across the United States, minority- and woman-owned businesses are far less likely to win government contracts. Through the City Budgeting for Equity and Recovery Program, Khoury is helping cities both reduce disparities in the types of businesses that they work with and get better value for the public dollars they spend on contracted services. “It’s a small role in the work of advancing equity across society,” Khoury says, “but it feels right for me.”

 

Training mayors to build better cities 

woman with colorful styled backgroundSIRI CHILAZI MPP/MBA 2016 started at Harvard as an undergraduate and returned to complete joint master’s degrees at the Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. During her time at HKS, she took part in From Harvard Square to the Oval Office, an initiative of the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP), which provides training for students to run for elective office, and was inspired by courses taught by Professor of Public Policy Todd Rogers, a behavioral scientist, and Hannah Riley Bowles, the Roy E. Larsen Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management. After graduating, Chilazi found herself back at the Kennedy School and WAPPP as a research fellow. “Clearly, I love the place; I can’t get enough,” she jokes.

About her research, Chilazi says, “My interest area within advancing gender equality is identifying and testing organizational processes and practices that could help to level the playing field for women. In other words, finding solutions to close the gender gaps that are well documented.” This work, Chilazi says, is very practical: Organizations want concrete solutions to the challenge of debiasing their hiring processes, for example.

Chilazi notes, “I spend a decent amount of my time not just conducting research but also translating it for audiences and bringing it out into the world.” She writes articles on gender bias with the aim of reaching policymakers and organizations more efficiently. “Thanks to my educational background, I can speak the language of the academic audience and what they value, as well as that of practitioners,” she says. “I find that a very enriching nexus because the reactions of the practitioners to the research that we publish helps to inform the future research that we do.”

 

Serving the public good through technology

man with colorful styled backgroundMIKE MIESEN MPP 2019 recently wrapped up a research position at Harvard Kennedy School. He joined the School as a student in 2017 interested in a public service career in national security and international relations. 

At HKS, Miesen was excited to learn from faculty such as Ambassador Samantha Power, who has since gone to the Biden administration to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Ash Carter, a former U.S. secretary of defense and currently the Belfer Professor of Technology and Global Affairs and director of the Belfer Center.

After graduating, Miesen became a research assistant for Carter. “I’ve been working for Secretary Carter for the past two years, and it really has been a privilege to work for him as part of his Technology and Public Purpose project team,” he says. “This project works to ensure that emerging technologies are developed and managed in ways that serve the public good or the public purpose.” In this role, Miesen has written briefs for Congress, and the work has taken him to Washington to speak with congressional staffers. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity to take what I learned as a student and apply it directly to pressing public-purpose problems,” he says.

With the skills and knowledge he gained both as a student at the Kennedy School and supporting Carter’s Technology and Public Purpose project, Miesen is now off to Washington as a Presidential Management Fellow. “A lot of what I learned at the Kennedy School will be directly relevant to what I do next,” he says. 

 

Shining a light on North Korea

woman with colorful styled backgroundJIEUN BAEK MPP 2014 is a fellow with the Korea Project and the Applied History Project at the Belfer Center. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she attended Harvard College as an undergraduate. As a freshman, she had the chance to hear a North Korean escapee talk about his experience of being sentenced to a political prison camp. Inspired by this story—and that of her grandfathers, both of whom also escaped from North Korea—Baek switched gears, dropping her plans to go to medical school, and instead focused on understanding the issues facing North Koreans.

As a Master in Public Policy student at the Kennedy School, she was the head of the North Korea Study Group and had the opportunity to learn from Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, who remains an important mentor to her. She also draws on the knowledge she gained while earning a doctorate in public policy at Oxford University. Baek says her work at the Belfer Center includes studying “how the U.S. government can utilize information campaigns and human rights as policy tools to pursue denuclearization of North Korea.” Baek wakes up every morning driven by a sense of purpose that is built on the bedrock of her Christian faith. “I’m trying to do everything I can in this short life to figure out ways to bring freedom to North Korea,” she says.

 

Training mayors to build better cities

woman with colorful styled backgroundAFTER SPENDING MORE than a decade in social and economic policy research and consulting, Bulbul Kaul MPP 2008 came to the Kennedy School to dig further into the role of governments in creating more just and fair societies; to learn the mechanisms though which the historically underserved and excluded might gain political power; and to explore the purpose and exercise of leadership.

She was inspired by her courses on leadership, organizing, and human rights with Ronald Heifetz, the King Hussein Bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership; J. Bryan Hehir, the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life (retired this summer); Marshall Ganz, the Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society; and Samantha Power, the Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at the Kennedy School and now on public service leave to head the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Kaul is a senior program director with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative at HKS, where she supports mayors and other city leaders in building leadership and organizational capabilities to improve people’s lives. Through the team she leads, the initiative also engages students from the Kennedy School and across Harvard in research and fieldwork to support current city leaders and invest in future generations. 

Kaul believes that “innovative approaches to tackling many of our complex societal challenges can and have come from the local level.”

 

Shaping the next generation of diplomats

woman with colorful styled backgroundA DECADE AGO, right after graduating, Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook MPA 2010 joined faculty chair Nicholas Burns, the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, at the Kennedy School, as executive director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and, a few years later, the Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship, both of which are housed at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. This summer, she took up a new role as director and CEO of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. 

A major motivator for Clüver Ashbrook has been exposing current Kennedy School students to the challenges of diplomacy and international relations. Before coming to HKS, she had a career in European public policymaking and broadcast journalism. As a German and American national, she believes a strong transatlantic relationship is vital. “What is the education and preparation for the next generation of foreign policy diplomatic international leaders going to look like, given the plethora of challenges we’re going to be facing as global societies?” she asks. “This is the set of problems that I’ve really sunk my teeth into.”

An HKS Alumni Board Member for eight years, Clüver Ashbrook says, “The Kennedy School is a place I care really deeply about.” And now she has seen the results of her programs’ decade of serving students. “I’m incredibly proud of our graduates who’ve been touched by the Future of Diplomacy Project, who’ve been engaged in it,” she says. “By now, they are mid-career or senior-career foreign service officials for their countries all over the globe, leading digital innovation within their governments, driving solutions to food inequity at the World Economic Forum, acting as trade representatives in Asia—and redefining diplomacy for the 21st century through their own careers.” 

 

HKS alumni featured in the banner photo illustration. Photos courtesy of the subjects.

black and white images with colorful collage styled background

1  John Haigh MPP 1982
9  Jieun Baek MPP 2014
17 Henry Lee MC/MPA 1974
2  Siri Chilazi MPP/MBA 2016
10 Amy Davies MC/MPA 2010
18 Bulbul Kaul MPP 2008 
3  Alex Khoury MPA/ID 2020
11 Malcolm Sparrow MC/MPA 1986
19 David Deming PhD 2010
4  Teresa Acuña MC/MPA 2017
12 Debbie Isaacson MPP 2000
20 Rachel Lipson MPP/MBA 2018 
5  Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook MPA 2010
13 Sushma Raman MC/MPA 2013
21 Kessely Hong MPA 2000 PhD 2008
6  Eric Rosenbach MPP 2004
14 Denise Gilchrist MC/MPA 2010
22 Arthur Applbaum MPP 1982 PhD 1988
7  Jack Donahue MPP 1982 PhD 1987
15 Mike Miesen MPP 2019
 
8  Kimberlyn Leary MPA 2009 
16 Michael Humphrys MC/MPA 2011
 

 

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