Congrats on your new position. You’ve been part of the Policy Council and Executive Committee before. How does your experience change the way you’ll approach your role of President-Elect?
Thank you so much! As a Policy Council and Executive Committee member and chair of the diversity committee, promoting equity and inclusion within APPAM and in our field more generally has been a passion of mine. I believe that our work will be better when all voices, especially those currently underrepresented in our community, have a seat at the table and can contribute to our work. That interest will continue to be a central focus as I step into the role of President-Elect. For example, the theme of the fall 2021 conference will be “The Power of Inclusion: Incorporating Diverse Voices in Public Policy Analysis and Management”. I am really excited to see this theme reflected throughout the sessions.
As President-Elect, you are in charge of the Program Committee for this year’s Fall Research Conference. Can you share with us a memory from Fall Conferences past that would be emblematic of the event for you?
Sherry Glied did such a terrific job of organizing the 2020 conference despite the challenges of planning for a remote conference so I have big shoes to fill! My hope is that we will all be together in Austin in November. I have so many fond memories of conferences past: great sessions, thought provoking plenaries, and robust discussions at poster sessions. I also appreciated being able to participate in the mentoring sessions that have been part of the last few conference. It is always great to connect with young scholars. But honestly, some of my favorite memories are the opportunities to connect with old friends and network with new colleagues whether it is during post-panel discussions, impromptu chats between sessions, or connecting at receptions or over informal dinners. I really missed those aspects of the fall conference in 2020 and hope that we will be able to reinstate them in 2021.
Changing gears, could you talk to us about your career so far?
I often joke that I stumbled into research. I started my career (over three decades ago!) in direct service and though I enjoyed connecting with my clients, I quickly noticed I was not getting as much satisfaction from the work as my colleagues did: for me, helping one individual and family at a time, though critical, was frustrating and felt too incremental. Thinking about what was next, I remembered how much I enjoyed my research classes as an undergraduate psychology major so I thought why not try that for a while and explore how research might be leveraged for bigger change. I eventually landed at MDRC, and what I thought would be a five to seven year job has turned into a wonderful 24 year (and counting) career. I have felt so lucky being able to play a number of different roles during my tenure at MDRC, from a quantitative analyst to a researcher leading large-scale evaluations of youth programs to being deputy director of one of our policy areas. Currently, I lead our program development efforts which means I get to work with my amazing colleagues across all of our policy areas and centers to help incubate and launch new initiatives. I sometimes miss the day-to-day project work, but I do try to play a small role on a project when it makes sense so that I can stay grounded in our work.
What is your hope for the year 2021?
Of course, I hope for an end to the pandemic and that the reckoning our country is facing around racial justice leads to real change. Seeing the momentum and the energy around social justice has been encouraging and gives me hope but I know there is a long way to go. On a more micro level, I hope and wish for the opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues in person. I am grateful for the technology that has allowed us to stay somewhat connected, but I look forward to the day when face-to-face meetings are again an option.
Finally, what is your favorite APPAM Conference city?
There have been so many great places it is hard to pick just one. But if I had to choose, I would say Miami. The warm weather, the culture, and the food were all terrific. Even the torrential downpours couldn’t spoil it for me. My family is from Puerto Rico and I spent part of my childhood there (and go back as often as I can!) and Miami reminds me of a lot of the things I love about Puerto Rico.
Thank you very much!
Thanks so much for this opportunity! I am looking forward to working with our APPAM community over the coming year and hope to see many of you in Austin in November!