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MPP Alumna Courtney McSwain Works for Community Change

Courtney McSwain

With a passion for service and a penchant for social science, Courtney McSwain, SPA/MPP ’06, is putting her degree to work in satisfying ways.

“I love studying, but I chose an MPP because I wanted to do something,” said the Greensboro, NC, native, who also holds a BA in sociology from North Carolina A&T State University.

SPA’s program proved to be a great fit for McSwain, as it gave her the flexibility to work while studying and take a multidisciplinary approach to her degree.

“I was able to take a class on Race, Class and Social Justice in the Sociology department. It was interesting to compare the two approaches: policy analysts look at a social problem and ask how to fix it, whereas sociologists look for the underlying causes,” said McSwain.

Much of McSwain’s coursework informed her work as research analyst for the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), where she authored numerous policy reports on equity in higher education.

“There was a direct connection between what I was learning and doing,” from data analysis to program evaluation, said McSwain.

One of the most important skills McSwain applied to her work was “learning how to define a question and dig for the answers,” said McSwain. “I really found my niche in research and analysis.”

A blossoming interest in nonprofit management and communications led McSwain to a new position: assistant program officer for external affairs at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). The nonprofit takes a multifaceted approach to community development, from affordable housing to educational access. McSwain is responsible for proposal development, corporate donor stewardship, and external communications.

One key skill McSwain honed at SPA was the power of persuasion. “We try to position the organization to engage and excite a funder about our work. It’s really no different than trying to influence a policy audience,” she explained.

One of the most rewarding aspects of McSwain’s job at LISC is getting to choose, shape and fund community partnerships. McSwain helped secure funding for an Oakland program that uses community gardening as a gateway to engage youth in art and service projects and teach them about health, nutrition, and culture.

“Now I get to see much more of a direct connection between policy advocacy and change in my work. It’s great to know that even if I’m working in an office in Washington, DC, it’s helping students across the country get excited about changing their communities.”