Harris Alumni Gather for a Weekend of “Inspired Connections”

Just before she accepted the 2016 Harris Alumni Rising Star Award on June 3, Elizabeth Kneebone, MPP’03, offered some valuable advice to new graduates eager to make an impact. “One thing Harris does is give you a really flexible toolkit that can be used in a lot of different ways in the policy arena,” said Kneebone, who leads innovative urban and suburban poverty research projects at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “Part of that early exploration out of grad school is figuring out where you fit best, how you make the best difference for things that you care about.”

The awards ceremony and reception, held at the Standard Club in downtown Chicago, kicked off an exciting weekend for Harris alumni. This year’s theme, “Inspired Connections,” was a fitting title for a series of events that brought nearly 150 graduates together to reconnect with the Harris community, former classmates, current and future policy leaders, and more.

Kneebone shared the night’s honors with Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard, AM’84, who won the Career Achievement Award for her extraordinary leadership during the global refugee crisis. “I’m tremendously touched and gratified,” she said about receiving the award. 

Describing her work at the State Department, Richard said, “I feel that it’s a privilege to be able to travel around the world and meet people who are in very vulnerable situations, and then come back and tell their stories in Washington—to the press, to the Congress, to the American public—and try to elicit sufficient sympathy so that we can do some good things to help those people.” (Listen to the Radio Harris podcast with Richard.)

Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former ambassador to NATO, accepted the Dean’s Award for a distinguished career devoted to understanding and strengthening US engagement around the world. The award, which recognizes a leading practitioner for invaluable contributions to public policy that are aligned with the vision of the school, was selected by Harris Dean Daniel Diermeier. 

The two leaders indeed share many goals, as Daalder explained. Reflecting on the recent announcement that Harris is creating The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts, he said, “The translation of the theoretical to the applied is something that the Harris School does really well, and I think that’s one of the areas where The Pearson Institute can thrive.” 

The Council, he continued, aims to convene academic researchers and help make their work more widely available and policy-relevant. “We want to link into the academic institutions that exist here in the city and in the Midwest more generally, and the Harris School is one of the most important elements in that linkage.”

Reunion dinners for the Classes of 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2015 enabled alumni to celebrate their milestone anniversaries in style. Based on the volume of conversation in the large ballroom, there was a lot of catching up going on. The following morning, Harris community members gathered for brunch, which included a full lineup of programming: the student-directed “Accolades” awards ceremony and a panel discussion co-hosted by the Minorities in Public Policy and Women in Public Policy student groups featuring Kneebone, Richard, and Cristal Thomas, MPP’01, who heads community health engagement at the UChicago Medical Center. The panel was brilliantly moderated by Assistant Professor Damon Jones. 

Later that day, alumni fanned out across campus to attend the annual Alumni Council meeting, tour the recently renovated Harris building, enjoy a pint in the beer garden at the University’s Main Quad Tent, and take in a lecture with Harris Assistant Professor Anjali Adukia on “Fostering a Culture of Innovative Problem-Solving.”

“We were thrilled to welcome back so many alumni and experienced a record number of attendees across the weekend,” said Director of Alumni Relations Bora Un. “As Dean Diermeier expressed in his remarks at the brunch, alumni play a critical role in Harris’ success, and we look forward to enhancing our global network through continued engagement in many forms.”

Watch interviews with this year's Alumni Award winners >

View a slideshow of photos from the weekend  >