PPIA Program

“Diversity & Leadership in Public Service”

Catherine-Mercedes Judge

cjudge_photoFor Catherine-Mercedes Judge, public service is “more than simply giving a voice to the voiceless, but authentically engaging people to lead the campaigns that will bring the changes they want to see.” As Associate Director of the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute, a program of Urban Habitat, Catherine works to build power in low-income communities and communities of color by combining education, advocacy, research and coalition building to advance environmental, economic, and social justice in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Catherine’s path to PPIA was not an easy one. A year before she participated in a Junior Summer Institute (JSI), financial constraints compelled her to drop out of a small, private university and enroll at a larger, public institution. Facing criticism from peers who did not understand her decision, Catherine constantly felt as though she had to prove herself to people who only valued elite colleges. As her family was unable to contribute to her college tuition, she took on academic expenses as debt and the thought of attending an internationally prestigious graduate school “felt like an unattainable dream.” Fortunately, PPIA exists to help students just like Catherine.

Catherine attended the 2008 JSI at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. Her time there provided her with the support and resources she needed to work through academic challenges. For example, Catherine had always struggled with math and recalls spending long nights with friends in the program who continued to push her until she understood complex formulas. Before PPIA, she would try to learn on her own and usually gave up when she got frustrated. In addition to confidence, Catherine gained a network of close friends and access to alumni who could help her continue her professional development.

Thanks to PPIA, Catherine looks forward to turning her once-elusive dream of attending a top graduate school into reality. She is passionately committed to public affairs and realizes that her strength is in “managing projects that connect people and resources toward a greater vision for justice in our communities.”

To all those interested in pursuing a similar path, Catherine offers these words of advice: “Always let people know how they have impacted you and return the favor. If not directly, do it indirectly by mentoring someone else. The cycle of leadership development needs to continue, it is important to build up those around you, and sustain our efforts toward a more just, equitable society.”