Haverford's First-Ever Public Policy Forum
A few months ago, journalist David Wessel '75 interviewed former U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner for The Wall Street Journal magazine. As the interview concluded, Wessel let a research assistant ask the final question: What advice would Geithner give a young person about to start a career? Wessel thought it was a throw-away, but Geithner surprised him.
â€œHe said, â€˜Decide whether you're going to choose a cause or a craft. It's better to figure that part out than to figure out what sector of the economy is going to grow,'” Wessel, the director of the non-partisan Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institute, told the audience during Haverford College's first-ever Public Policy Forum.
Geithner continued to say that“most Americans don't think public service is a cool thing. They haven't thought that since Jack Kennedy.” But for Geithner, it was clear his stint in government was the coolest thing, said Wessel, who was the keynote speaker at the day-long forum, which took place on campus March 21. The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, Center for Career and Professional Advising, and various faculty members, including Economics Chair Anne Preston, who helmed the planning committee.
Wessel, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and author of two best-selling economics books, gave the audience some tips to follow to find a satisfying career. Among his advice: Do what you want, not what your parents want. Find something you enjoy. Don't worry about finding the perfect job right after graduation. Don't take a job where you're not learning. Work with good peopleâ€”mentors, peers, and protÃ©gÃ©es. It's more satisfying if you feel like you're making a difference. Set boundaries for your work life. Money does matter, but be true to yourself with the choices you make.
â€œBut what I want to close on is [a] question,” Wessel said.“What is it you can get at Haverford that can maximize your chances of having a satisfying career and a satisfying workplace?” He pointed to Bruce Agins '75, medical director of the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute and director of HEALTHQUAL International, who noted at the health-care panel he was on:“`Haverford didn't point me towards the career I choose. It prepared me for it.'”
This new event, geared to introduce interested students to actual jobs in the public policy realm, featured panels devoted to different areas, such as public law, health care, and international and domestic policy. Almost all of the panelists were Haverford alums with noteworthy jobs with organizations such as the United Nations, the National Security Council, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Haverford Provost Kim Benston started the day with a brief address that noted how the rigors of Haverford well prepares students for a challenging career in public policy.
â€œHaverford students develop analytical, imaginative, and consensus building skills, as well as the ethical attunement required to take the arduous steps towards good policy making,” he said.“[They] are prepared not only to solve public problems in effective and efficient ways, but to do so in ways that serve justice, support democratic institutions and processes, and encourage in others active and engaged and empathetic citizenship. That, in the long run, is very good public-policy making. It gives us policies that not only serve the public good, but also help sustain the very idea of a community.”
Some of the panelists, such as Misha Baker '10, described how their Haverford education had helped their careers. Baker told her audience that she remembered sitting in the same classroom â€” Hilles 109 â€” five years ago, only she was the one looking toward the front of the room for guidance. Baker graduated with a B.A. in cultural anthropology and then did a fellowship in Philadelphia.“That really let me see policy in action,” she said. She's currently working on a masters in public health at Emory University and working as a research assistant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
â€œAt the CDC, they do a lot of work around policy, creating national guidelines,” Baker said.“I get to evaluate what the guidelines look like at a very tangible level.”
Other panelists provided practical advice. At the“Public Law” panel, for example, all three speakers talked about the importance of public-service loan forgiveness. Law school loan debt, or a lack of it, could make the difference between taking a job or following a passion. Eric Tars '98 talked about never wanting to go to law school, then gave his listeners some tips: You don't need a prep course to do well on the LSAT. You can buy a $25 book. You don't have to take any courses in law school just for the bar.
Now a Senior Attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Tars described how his work has helped launch practices aimed at the decriminalization of homelessness.
â€œThere are homeless people on the streets of America right now who are not being criminally punished simply for trying to survive thanks to the international civil rights standards I helped to create,” he said.“I am living my dream of creating a new tool for domestic advocates to use, specifically for our homeless clients but also to lay a path and create a whole new form of advocacy and a new venue. My goal is [that] human rights will become part of our daily conversation.”
These experienced professionals also told listeners that it is OK not to follow a direct career path. During the“Environmental Policy” panel, Adam Freed '98 said he'd had 14 jobs in eight different organizations until he landed in his current position as a sustainability expert at Bloomberg Associates. When he was moving between jobs, he said, it didn't seem like each was a stepping stone. But each was.
Fellow panelist Anna Brockaway '12 had a similar view.“In hindsight,” she said,“everything makes sense.”
The Public Policy forum was well received by students, who presented their own research during two poster sessions at the event. Cities major Auror Jensen '15, for example, used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to look at the best ways to bring bike lanes to a car-dependent California suburb. Jensen is a GIS advocate, saying she was thankful she'd had the chance to study it.“It's kind of a technical thing to learn at a liberal arts college, but having these skills under my belt, has really allowed me to zero in on analysis,” she said.
While attending the“Health” panel, Jensen said she found herself wondering how she could use her skills for medical policy.“In theory, this kind of GIS knowledge can be applied to large epidemiological patterns, so I was thinking about that in the back of my head, while watching the health panel,” she said.“It was a nice fusion of things.”
Tamar Hoffman '14, a political science major, presented a poster that looked at the most effective ways to reduce recidivism in Pennsylvania. Hoffman was passionate about her topic, which is why she also sat in on the“Public Law” panel.
â€œIt was nice to hear about the experiences of former Haverford students and how they found their path,” she said.“They're all at organizations I've heard about before and I'm very interested in. I definitely took something away from it.”