Policy Careers: A Jungle Gym

by Callie McLean, MPA '17
March 25, 2016

“Someone told me policy career paths are more like a jungle gym than a ladder. Policy professionals try out new things -- they move laterally and up as they embrace new experiences in order to augment their skill set,” said Ellie Klein, MPA '14. Klein took the lesson to heart, setting out to learn about the policy area, role of the organization and grow her own personal skill set in each internship and job.

The combination of Klein's background in teaching and Trachtenberg School’s training set her up to succeed in her current position. She serves as Program Manager with the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute here in Washington, D.C., where she spends most of her time talking to college presidents. Klein bridges institutions and sectors to improve programs and policies—like increasing socioeconomic diversity—on campuses across the U.S.

Klein's top experience at Trachtenberg? Her program evaluation course with Kathy Newcomer and its consulting project. She worked with her classmate, Cara Fisher, to create a program evaluation design for an after-school tutoring program in D.C.

“The program had never been evaluated before, and the staff didn't have much experience with program evaluation, but they were so enthusiastic to learn about the tools Kathy had taught us, and we were excited to utilize what we were learning in real time. That project continues to be one of my favorite professional experiences,” she said.

Klein hasn’t forgotten the rest of her MPA experience either.

The program gave her a more solid understanding of the lay of the land in D.C. – the players and organizations that make, influence and implement education policy and initiatives. She uses her skills from economics and statistics to boost her research and from budgeting to manage project costs.

Klein continues to meet with Denise Riebman from Career Services, who Klein says helped her get where she is today. She says Riebman imparts both technical career tools and sparks big picture career reflections to tease out what will make you happy.

When asked about advice for those considering a degree in public policy or administration? “Do it!” Klein says. We’ll see her on the jungle gym.