Macademics: Engineering and Public Policy
Hello again! I am back with another Macademics post this month. If you remember my post titled Why STEM? I talked about how studying engineering doesn't limit you to one thing; you can also be a lawyer, writer, a doctor, or even a public policy maker. Well this week I am featuring my friend Whitney Wilson. Whitney studied BioEngineering in undergrad and did her master's in public policy. Today I'm featuring her so she can tell us about public policy. Here's what she had to say:
How would you describe public policy in your own words?
Public policy is an effort to make policies, rules, and laws that will benefit society as a whole. It is about identifying a need and coming up with strategies and solutions to ensure that that need gets filled.
Can you provide us an example of some of the work public policy makers do?
One of my projects during grad school was analyzing the career and technical programs in high school. This all started as recognizing a need to fill a skill gap and preparing students to be successful after high school understanding that for some people may not be headed to college. As a result of this need, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 1984 was put in place to increase the quality of career and technical programs in schools across the country.
What did you undergrad and how did that spark your interest in public policy?
I have a bachelor's degree in BioEngineering with a minor in International Engineering. It wasn't so much my major that sparked my interest but being rather being involved in the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). I noticed amongst my peers that there was varying levels of preparedness for pursuing degrees in engineering specifically amongst minority students. Through my own research, I learned about public policy, specifically education policy, was an area that could inflict change on that problem.
How did your undergraduate studies help you in your public policy studies?
Engineering helped with my quantitative analysis skills being that engineering is often looking at a lot of numbers and trying to derive a conclusion. This was extremely helpful in public policy because when trying to show the potential impact of your derived solution, you want to have numbers to back it up. Additionally my problem-solving skills that I have learned through studying engineering really played to my advantage through all my work.
Can you describe some of the work you're doing now?
I work for a higher education best practices research firm. A lot of my work involves analysis on the advancement shops (fundraising) of higher education institutions. One of the coolest projects I've been working on is analyzing an institutions staffing, expenditures, and productivity to then develop a customized benchmark report that shows where they can improve and better their overall performance.
What are some of the challenges you faced being a minority in your field?
While in school, it was difficult finding mentors who were had studied engineering or were doing interesting things with their engineering degree. Additionally, it was hard find people who were empowered rather than defeated by pursuing their engineering degree.
What do you hope to ultimately achieve in your career?
I want to work on creating policies that increases the access or quality of STEM education for minority students in K-12.
Lastly, do you have advice for our readers wanting to pursue a career in Engineering or Public Policy?
For those who want to study public policy, don't underestimate your potential impact. For those who want to study engineering, don't be afraid or feel guilty to not work in a "typical" engineering job.