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MPA Alumna Katrina Ballard Talks About Making a Social Policy Impact

Katrina Ballard

When Katrina Ballard (SPA/MPA ’18) entered the Master's in Public Administration program at the AU School of Public Affairs, she was an intern in her first semester at the Urban Institute. She sampled a few other jobs in government and the private sector in the course of her graduate studies but returned to the Washington-based nonprofit for a full-time position after finishing her degree program.

“I really enjoyed the team I worked with at Urban. I kept in touch and when they had a policy opening, they thought of me and the timing worked out,” says the 29-year-old from Syracuse, New York. Ballard is now a policy outreach manager with the Urban Institute’s Research to Action Lab. The new center tries to connect with policymakers and engage stakeholders on various projects at the organization.

Ballard is working on an innovative “pay for success” initiative that is similar to a social impact bond. Government partners with corporations or foundations that fund a program and reimburses the investors if it reaches its specific outcomes. She is also working on an upcoming conference for Promise Neighborhoods, a Department of Education K-12 program.

Ballard received her undergraduate degree in journalism and political science from Boston University in 2011. She worked for two years in a Colorado middle school for Teach For America and then a charter school network in New York City before deciding to enroll in SPA for the MPP program.  

Ballard’s MPA concentration in policy analysis has been particularly helpful in her new job. Working for a research organization, classes in quantitative methods have given her a better understanding of the researchers on staff and their projects. Also, she says, courses in SPA examining the dynamics of public-private partnerships have been beneficial at the Urban Institute.

Since she had worked prior to graduate school, Ballard says it was important for her to have internship experience, and the evening class schedule allowed her that opportunity. While at SPA she worked as an analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office; interned at Foster America, a small, nonprofit startup focused on child welfare, and was a public policy fellow in the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education’s office working on education issues.

 “I really liked how the SPA program was professionally focused,” says Ballard. “It was also well-respected and affordable.” Her advice for students entering the program: “Take advantage of being in D.C. and all the opportunities at AU. It’s useful to have access to professors who can help you add things to your resume and make you stand out in your career.”


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