The acceptance email from Harris changed everything. At the time I was working on developing a business model for a Chilean company. I was under a lot of pressure. And I wasn’t sure I was doing what I really wanted to do. The simple word “congratulations” on a maroon colored piece of paper magically healed me.
Harris is “THE school’” to me. My undergraduate degree was in Economics, so I was looking for a public policy program with an element of Econ. I knew I would focus a lot of my graduate work on economic policy, but a degree specific to economic policy would limit my career options. However, with an MPP degree, I have the flexibility to apply for jobs in other policy areas, such as international relations. The MPP program is a great fit for me because it opens possibilities for more career options.
One of my favorite things about the Harris MPP is that we are allowed to choose up to six courses outside of Harris. When I began applying to graduate schools, I thought I might later apply for a doctoral program, so finding a program that allows students to choose electives that open possibilities for pursuing different paths was important to me. The Master of Public Policy (MPP) at Harris allows you to do just that. I could utilize these opportunities to take courses from the Economics department or School of Social Service Administration, for example.
I always wanted to gain more action-based academic experience. I was looking for “hands-on” learning opportunities to analyze, develop, advocate for, and help drive the execution of effective policy solutions in a real-world context. I wanted to engage with real issues and help actual client organizations.
That’s why I was so excited about Harris Policy Labs. In Policy Labs, second-year Harris students work in teams to tackle issues faced by clients operating in a variety of policy areas across the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. We participated in projects related to improving school choice, analyzing outpatient clinic care, and creating an innovative tool to analyze labor standards. We also created an analytic framework for the University of Chicago Medicine's new trauma center.
I was also on team Chapin Hall/CHA to form the basis of a new initiative by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). The goal was to engage and support rising ninth graders and their families in choosing the best fit and high-quality high schools. We received advice from faculty throughout the entire process, from how to greet clients, to how to deliver final presentations and white papers.
The course was intense but very fulfilling. And it helps that the faculty at UChicago are very friendly and responsive to emails.
When I first came to Harris, I was interested in many different concentrations and professional roles. I had no idea which one would be the best fit for me. Between the exciting summer internships, intense but rewarding RA positions, and projects with my fellow Harristas, I was able to discover what I am good at and most enjoy doing.
I will continue to explore the world with my passion for policy, but now with a much clearer direction.
Any experience or job in your life can make a great essay! This student wrote about interacting with various characters at her job at a drive-thru window and how that helped form portals to other peoples’ worlds outside of her own.
The drive-thru monitor on the wall quietly clicks whenever a person pulls up to the menu screen. It’s so subtle I didn’t notice it my first two months working at Freddy’s, the retro fast-food restaurant looming over Fairfax’s clogged stretch of Route 50. But, after months of giving out greasy burgers, I have become attuned to it. Now, from the cacophony of kitchen clangs I can easily pick out that click which transports me from my world of fry oil into the lives of those waiting in the drive-thru.
A languid male voice drifts into my ear. He orders tenders, with a side of cheese sauce. “How much cheese sauce is in a cup?” he frets, concerned over the associated 80 cent charge. The answer is two ounces, and he is right to worry. It’s a rip-off.
After I answer him, my headset goes quiet for a second. Finally, his voice crackles through.
“Do you sell cheese sauce by the gallon?”
A man orders two steakburgers and two pints of custard.
Minutes later, he reaches my window. I lean out to take his credit card, only to meet the warm tongue of a wizened dog.
The man apologizes: “She just loves your restaurant.”
I look at the dog, her nose stretching out of the car and resting on the window ledge, then look at the order he had given me.
Once I hand him his food, the dog sniffs one of the pints.
“No!” he reprimands. “Only after you eat your dinner.”
He sets a burger between her paws, then speeds away.
I can’t understand the order, but I know that whoever is speaking is from New Jersey. Tommy, pronounced “Tahmee”, apparently has high blood pressure. He orders fries.
“No!” the woman screeches. “No salt!”
They pull up to the window. The man, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, thrusts a crumpled wad of cash in my hand.
The women pushes him back. “Sorry!” she apologizes, “But we’re lost! Never been to Virginia before - we’re trying to find Lynchburg!”
It is 10:45 PM, and Lynchburg is three hours away. We give them an extra side of fries (no salt of course) and directions to a nearby hotel.
For these brief moments, I am part of their lives: in their cars, they are at home. They are surrounded by their trash and listening to their music, dancing with their friends and crying alone, oblivious to the stranger taking their order. On the surface, these people are wildly different; they range from babies clad in Dolphin’s jerseys (“Her first pre-game party!”) to grandmothers out for ladies’ night; college students looking for a cheese sauce fix to parents on a dieting kick (“Chicken sandwich on a lettuce wrap”). But, despite every contrasting characteristic, they all ended up in the same place: my drive-thru, my portal to their worlds.
*Click* It’s a family, squished into a little car. When I hand them their bags, they happily open them and devour the food. The mother asks me for extra napkins, forks, and knives.
“We just moved,” she explains. “And everything is still in boxes.”
I moved a lot as a child, so I know what they’re going through. I give them an entire pack of utensils.
As the car leaves, the kids in the backseat press their faces against the car window and wave. I wave back as the car slowly makes it way toward 50. New to the area, they have yet to adopt the hurried rush that comes with the proximity to DC.
Customers like these help me realize I am not just a passive traveller in this drive-thru - I do not just watch and observe. I laugh and I help and I talk with them, if only for a few moments. They tell me about their lives, and I mention stories from mine. Over my hundreds of hours behind the drive-thru window, thousands of different people have come through, sharing snippets of their diverse lives. All they have in common when they come in is the desire for greasy fast food. However, by the time they leave, they share something else: a nugget of my life.
The drive-thru portal takes me to disparate places; to Lynchburg, to the grocery store to buy cheese sauce, to a new home filled with opportunity and cardboard boxes. It transports me back to my room, where I hug my dog and feed her chicken and treats. It is a portal to the world, hidden in the corner of a fast-food kitchen.
With each click, that door opens. (764)