PPIA Program

“Diversity & Leadership in Public Service”

News: 35 years on, next-gen leaders reflect on public policy, international affairs prep school

An excellent article published by the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy about the PPIA Program:  http://fordschool.umich.edu/news/2017/35-years-next-gen-policy-leaders-reflect-policy-prep-school

35 years on, next-gen leaders reflect on public policy, international affairs prep school

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Angela Banks (MPP ’97) is a senior attorney for the U.S. Social Security Administration. Latesha Love-Grayer (MPP ’02) is a senior policy analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Farouk Ophaso (MPP ’06) serves on the minority staff of the U.S. House Committee on the Budget. Ciera Burnett (MPP ’09) is a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State. And Evan Raleigh (MPP ’12) directs Winston-Salem’s Office of Business Inclusion and Advancement.

Not only are these all Ford School graduates, they are also alumni of the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program, a summer training institute that prepares fellows—all students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in policy leadership—for graduate school, and careers of influence, in the field.

“The program was huge for me. And I imagine for others as well,” says Lorelei Vargas (MPP ’96), a former fellow. “To this day, the people I met during that summer, I’m still friends with.”

Vargas knows PPIA fellows who interned at the White House, or in Congress. She completed her own internship with Mario Cuomo, who was up for reelection at the time. “I got to work on the campaign and sit in on press conferences. It was a great opportunity to get a feel for politics and government from the inside.”

Mellie Torres (MPP ’97)
Photo of Mellie Torres

Mellie Torres (MPP ’97) says PPIA made it possible for her to consider a career in public policy. “I’m so forever grateful for the fellowship opening up this whole new focus for me. And the rigor of it was so mindblowing,” she says. “It was the first time I had to pull all-nighters!”

PPIA also helped bring Torres to the Ford School for her master’s in public policy. “We had a reception at someone’s apartment—a student’s apartment—and professors came out,” she says.

“It just seemed like a very down-to-earth space; I was so comfortable with them… I didn’t even want to think about other schools I had applied to. The professors just made me feel so welcome as a student of color.”

Banks, Love-Grayer, Ophaso, Burnett, Raleigh, Vargas, and Torres are just a few of the 4,500 alumni of the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) fellowship program. Over the past 35 years, many of those alumni have come to the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy for the fellowship’s undergraduate summer institute, to complete their graduate studies, or both.

The fellowship is based around the PPIA Junior Summer Institutes—a national initiative launched by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (link is external) in 1981.

These seven-week long institutes bring students from diverse backgrounds to the campuses of top public policy programs, where they take a rigorous course load. At Ford, that curriculum is focused on training students in quantitative and applied policy skills through courses in statistics and economics, and through rotating policy seminars, many taught by prominent faculty, that cover a variety of policy challenges.

These summers of hard work and networking have helped to train a generation of public service leaders. Most alumni of the Junior Summer Institutes go on to complete graduate degrees in public policy or international affairs.

Today, PPIA Fellows serve as Foreign Service officers for the State Department and USAID; as administrators in federal, state, and local government; as policy advisors for the United Nations; and as program managers, research analysts, fellows, consultants, and more for a wide array of groups, both public and private.

Alumni of the program have tended to rise up to important positions—and many credit PPIA for setting them on the course.

Seventeen PPIA alumni are currently working on master’s degrees at the Ford School—12 of whom attended the summer institute here, as well. According to Beth Soboleski (MPP ’89), director of admissions and recruiting and PPIA Board of Directors secretary, this is one of the largest groups of PPIA alumni studying at the Ford School at one time, something made more significant by the Ford School’s unwavering commitment to the program.

Monica Rodriguez (PPIA ’16) and Roger Sanchez (PPIA ’16)
Photo of Monica Rodriguez<br />
and Roger Sanchez

“The Ford School’s long and rich partnership with PPIA has been beneficial in so many different ways. The most obvious benefit is the relationships that we are able to develop with the fellows in the summer,” she said. “It’s so amazing to have an opportunity to get to know this talented group of students from across the country and to help them think about the next stage of their lives and careers.”

Current Ford students who went through the program reaffirm many of the experiences and benefits described by Vargas, Torres, and Soboleski.

“PPIA gave me the tools I needed to excel beyond my undergraduate career,” says Cortney Sanders (MPP ’17), who first came to Ford as a PPIA fellow in 2013.

“No one in my family really knew how to navigate graduate school applications and interviews. It was the PPIA experience that set me apart from all the other students who came from a similar background of poverty and being a first generation graduate student.”

“PPIA for me was nothing short of a life changing experience,” says Melvin Washington (MPP ’18), another 2013 fellow.

“Even though I had always been interested in politics generally, PPIA introduced me to the world of public policy…and connected me to a network of wonderful people both inside and outside of my own cohort. The PPIA family has served as a wellspring of intellectualism, guidance, and friendship.”

In the past, over 20 public policy schools offered the Junior Summer Institute to undergraduates as part of the PPIA fellowship program. But as external funding was redirected, many institutions stopped offering summer institutes. The Ford School, however, has offered a Junior Summer Institute each summer since 1983.

“We’re one of only two schools that has never missed a summer,” says Susan M. Collins, Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy. “When funding was pulled, the University of Michigan and the Ford School decided this was a program we were deeply committed to, and the decision was very, very clear.”

When the program began, both the summer program and graduate fellowships awarded to participants were fully paid for by external foundations. When outside funding for PPIA ended in 2006, the university and the Ford School stepped up to provide funding for the full costs of the summer program, including room and board, a stipend for each fellow, summer instruction, as well as a guaranteed graduate fellowship of at least $5,000 for PPIA alumni who choose to continue their studies at the Ford School.

“That’s a decision we’re all really proud of, and one we continue to support to this day,” says Collins.

By Jackson Voss (PPIA ’13, MPP ’18) for State & Hill, the magazine of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Alumni Voice: Michael Mitchell PPIA 2009 (Carnegie Mellon University)


We had the pleasure to interview Michael Mitchell (PPIA 2009, Carnegie Mellon University) who is the Senior Policy Analyst and Program Director of the State Policy Fellowship Program at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Mr. Mitchell focuses on criminal and juvenile justice reform and reinvestment as well as state higher education funding and affordability, and the fellowship program is for recently graduated Masters students interested in conducting research and analyses on critical state budget and tax policy issues.

Below is our interview with Mr. Mitchell where he discusses how PPIA has impacted his graduate studies and his professional career, the significance of his work today, and some of his proudest accomplishments.



How did PPIA impact your career?

The Public Policy and International Affairs Program has played a huge role in shaping the early years of my career. It gave me confidence that I could not only get into a top-tier public policy school, but that I could thrive at one. Working with graduate level instructors, taking graduate level classes and learning aside other talented and passionate young people – many of them also students of color – gave me the shot of confidence I’d need to excel in graduate school.

PPIA has also been an entry-point into an invaluable network of dedicated public policy advocates. Almost without exception at any conference I attend or networking event I find myself at, I run into other PPIA alum. Having that built-in network that I can tap into is great and helps facilitate the connections I need to do my day-to-day work well. On a more personal level, some of my closest friends are people that I met during my summer as a PPIA Fellow – it’s been amazing to grow and advance in our careers together and support each other throughout all of it.

Lastly, my summer with PPIA gave me a glimpse into all the different types of careers and roles that could be available to me if I pursued a career in shaping public policy. Having an idea of what I could do with a master’s degree in public policy helped me go into graduate school and the job market with my eyes open and ready for a range of opportunities.

You mention that you are focusing on criminal and juvenile justice reform. Could you talk a little more about what you are working on and why your work is significant today?  

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a Washington, D.C.-based policy institute that conducts research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic policy, policies related to poverty, and several social programs at both the federal and state levels. In my role as a Senior Policy Analyst, I focus on fiscal policy – that is, what we choose to spend public tax dollars on and how we choose to raise those tax dollars. This, of course, intersects with almost every other area of policy you can imagine including criminal and juvenile justice.

For criminal and juvenile justice advocates, this is an especially important moment in time as a narrow window of opportunity has emerged where folks along the ideological spectrum are realizing that the tremendous human and fiscal costs of our current criminal justice policies are unsustainable. It is possible that for the first time in decades, states may choose to enact reforms that would markedly slow, and perhaps even reverse, the growth of their prison populations. In a country where more than 2.2 million people sit locked up in prison and jail cells on any given day and states spend more than $50 billion on prisons and parole, there’s no overstating how tremendous a policy shift this would be.

As a Senior Policy Analyst, my work in this environment has focused on highlighting how costly our criminal justice is – for families, for whole communities and for state budgets. I argue that states can and should shrink their prison populations, spend less money on locking people up and instead put those resources into other more socially productive areas of spending, like better schools, child-care for families and mental or physical health care. It has been exciting to work and partner with other social justice organizations, author reports and participate in panel discussions to accomplish these goals.

In addition to making the case for shrinking our reliance on prisons, I’ve also engaged in research on the intersection of criminal fees and fines and state fiscal policy. This is an issue which has gained significant and growing attention in recent years especially after the tragic shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. As the resulting Department of Justice’s report of the Ferguson police department uncovered, local policymakers had become dangerously reliant on revenues generated from court fees and criminal fines to fund day-to-day government operations. This is not only an issue in Ferguson, and my research has focused on detailing this trend and what fiscal policy solutions exist to reverse it.

Throughout your professional experiences, what achievement are you most proud of?

Along with being a Senior Policy Analyst here at the Center, I’m also the Director of the State Policy Fellowship Program –a two-year policy fellowship opportunity for recently graduated master’s students. The program identifies highly motivated candidates – paying particular attention to candidates having experience with communities that are underrepresented in state policy debates – with a demonstrated interest in working on public policies that affect low-income and diverse communities and have implications for racial equity.

As the Program Director, I oversee almost every aspect of the program, from day-to-day interactions with the fellows, to alumni engagement, to the recruitment and application review process. It is so remarkably rewarding to engage with such talented and passionate individuals and to see them grow and thrive in research placements across the country. As someone who has benefited deeply from fellowship experiences in my own career I feel extremely honored to have the chance to pay that opportunity forward.

CBPP’s Mission Statement: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a nonpartisan research and policy institute. We pursue federal and state policies designed both to reduce poverty and inequality and to restore fiscal responsibility in equitable and effective ways. We apply our deep expertise in budget and tax issues and in programs and policies that help low-income people, in order to help inform debates and achieve better policy outcomes.

Alumni Voice: Jennifer Godinez PPIA 1996 (Princeton University)


We had the opportunity to speak with PPIA Alum Jennifer Godinez, the Associate Director of the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership (MNEEP). In our interview, we discusses the state of education in Minnesota and how MNEEP is working to ensure that students of color and American Indian students achieve their full academic and leadership success.  Ms. Godinez shared her motivations pursuing a career in public service and education, and how PPIA and her graduate school experiences at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs played a role in her professional career.

Below is our interview with Ms. Godinez.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


Could you talk a little bit about the challenges facing Minnesota’s education system today and MNEEP’s role in transforming education in the state of Minnesota?

So the organization is really concerned about a couple things. One is obviously, we’re measuring talent, we’re measuring students by test scores and we see a persistent gap, what we call an achievement gap, but we understand from research and from other best practices that it’s really reflective of an opportunity gap. So where we have growing numbers of students of color and immigrant students in the state, we are obviously not transforming our system to better meet their needs and better meet their families’ needs so that they can be successful in academics. So our mission statement, we changed it a couple of years ago but we’re very focused on using a race equity lens to transform organizations and institutions and leaders to better address the opportunity gaps of students of color in the state. We have 5 major goals, and we’re really looking at systems change and we get community voice to help shape systems change in education.

Why is it important that we use the word equity vs. equality?
That’s a great question. Well we know that equality means – everybody gets the same thing in order to produce an outcome of equality. We understand that there are differences, and especially historical differences and how different groups have been treated in this country, so there’s another term that we use which is the education debt which is coined by some critical race theorists, and prominent ones in education saying that there’s been historical disinvestment and holding back of communities of color and immigrant youth. And so with those policies in place, historically and currently too in terms of suspension rate policies right now and over representation of young men of color, then we know that we need to get to equity which is addressing specific needs of certain groups and really including them in systems and policies in a way that they’ve never been included before.

How has your JSI experience and your time at the Humphrey School helped you in your profession today?

I think every kind of training I’ve had in public policy has built on top of the other because it’s understanding the fundamentals of making arguments, knowing how to do policy analysis, understanding research, seeing how, historically, research has been used to shape policy and how sometimes that’s good sometimes that bad. So really just a good background on fundamentals of writing, research, and policy analysis […] It engaged me a bit more in the field of public policy in what you could do in the field whether as a non profit manager or an elected official or working at a capital or working at the national level in policy – so really that introduction and overview of all the different roles and the skills that it take to be successful in those roles.

“I still think, for students of color, getting to know people on a very personal level, understanding what our Muslim brothers and sisters go through, understanding what men who have been previously incarcerated for very small issues that are now back in our society, understanding what transgender folks are going through to go through school or a family that has a transgender child… that makes a huge practical and relational difference in our society,” Jennifer Godinez.

About MNEEP: “Minnesota Education Equity Partnership uses a race equity lens to transform educational institutions, organizations, and leaders to ensure that students of color and American Indian students achieve full academic and leadership success.”



2017 Public Service Weekend Recap: UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy

Congratulations to the UCSD GPS Public Service Weekend Participants!

Read the full story below published by UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy, written by Anthony King and Sarah Pfledderer.

Paths to public service

GPS hosted ambitious, diverse students for the inaugural Public Service Weekend at UC San Diego

By Anthony King and Sarah Pfledderer | GPS News

Madeline Bell Hauenstein spent the last nine months working in South Africa and is curious about how nonprofits and the public sector work together to improve lives. Jessie Hernandez-Reyes wants to serve in Congress to confront inequities, representing the 51st district of California. Nancy Nguyen — who experienced economic inequity firsthand while growing up — wants to break the cycles of poverty concentrated in communities of color.

Ambitions considered, these three 20-somethings also share an eagerness to know if a career in public service is their best choice. And for one weekend, together, the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) gave them a look into just that.

Funded in part by a UC San Diego Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Innovation Grant, the School hosted a first-of-its-kind weekend retreat for underrepresented undergraduate students, showing them that careers in public service are not only interesting, but achievable.

Thirty-two students from across California visited campus April 22-23, participating in discussions with faculty members and staff on building career skills, working in the public sector and applying to graduate school. The visitors interacted with current GPS graduate students and received a tour, focusing on the many campus resource centers.

Identifying opportunities for diversityStudents tour the campus

Jennifer Burney, an assistant professor at GPS and 2017 Diversity Award winner from the Office of EDI, said the impetus for putting together the weekend stemmed, in part, from a desire to develop a more diverse student pool for the new Master of Public Policy degree program. Burney said the weekend served as a path to expose and train diverse candidates for careers in public policy.

“The field of public policy lacks racial and ethnic diversity, and grossly fails to represent the general population at all levels: local, state and federal. This is particularly worrisome for real-world implications. Institutions and policies will not only be uninformed of their constituencies, but they will potentially be counterproductive,” Burney said. “It’s obviously a multifaceted problem, but we believe through this weekend we’re addressing this critical issue in a very local, active way.”

Undergraduate students attending came from many University of California campuses, including UC San Diego, UCLA, UC Riverside and UC Berkeley. Some came from California State universities in San Diego, Long Beach and Los Angeles, while others participated from Point Loma Nazarene University and several of the region’s colleges: Palomar, Southwestern, Pitzer, Pomona, Scripps, Occidental and Pasadena City.

“I am honored to have been a part of the first Public Service Weekend,” said Karen Alpuche, majoring in public policy analysis at Pomona College. “I took away so much from this weekend. The panels were incredibly helpful in trying to determine the different career paths there are, and served to demystify what ‘public service’ entails.”

Latrel Powell double majors in political science and Africana studies at San Diego State University. “I’m interested in policy because that’s where the best and brightest minds congregate and really solve, critically, the issues and address real concerns,” he said. “Also, I want to change the world. I’m still a little kid in that sense. I want to make it a better place, and I think it begins with connecting with people.”

To that end, Public Service Weekend organizers recruited speakers whose careers modeled the multitude of ways one can make a difference through their work. There are many ways to contribute, said GPS assistant dean Wendy Hunter Barker, thus the overarching purpose of the weekend was to assist students in discovering what next step is most productive.

“Of course, we hope pursuing higher education is something they consider, and a strong goal for the weekend was to strengthen our ties to the many institutions and colleges outside of UC San Diego who serve underrepresented students,” Hunter Barker said. “Ultimately, we are all working toward the same goal: helping students achieve their dreams.”

Tom Wong speaking at Public Service WeekendPublic service paths unveiled

Tom Wong, associate professor in UC San Diego’s Department of Political Science, gave a colorful walkthrough of the obstacles he overcame as an undocumented immigrant growing up in a Southern California neighborhood infamous for gangs — ultimately building a support network that took him to a policy advisor position for the White House to improve the quality of life for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“Whatever chip is on your shoulder, let it build a fire under you,” he said to students. “And say yes to everything. You don’t know what opportunities you will miss.”

Former California Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny spoke to the students as well, painting her personal backstory about entering public service and, foremost, running for public office. She is now the senior policy advisor at GPS’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.

Former Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) director Joy Olson also addressed students, treating them to a condensed version of WOLA’s advocacy training that has been used in communities in central America for decades to affect change. Additional speakers included GPS acting dean Gordon Hanson, Master of Public Policy faculty lead Zoltan Hajnal and School of Medicine Associate Director of Policy and Education Casey Cox. Students heard from elected-official representatives, community officers from the environmental, social, health and education sectors, and campus diversity leaders.

In addition to the Office of EDI, sponsors for the weekend included the Public Policy and International Affairs Program (PPIA) and the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. PPIA national director Simone Gbolo attended the weekend, which was the first in a series of PPIA’s Public Service Weekends in 2017, and underscored the importance of diversity in public policy careers.

The UC San Diego Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion funds pilot projects that advance the campus Strategic Plan diversity goals. Grants up to $15,000 may be requested, with priority given to those who propose new, innovative projects that have the potential to create systemic changes addressing disparities in faculty, student or staff ranks at UC San Diego. Innovation Grant applications are accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis. The next proposal deadline is May 26.

View photos from the weekend.