Coming from a service-oriented family, Planchard knew Harris would prepare her to follow in the footsteps of her parents and siblings.
Rebecca Planchard, MPP'17

HOMETOWN:

Durham, North Carolina

CURRENT ROLE:

Policy Associate for the City of Chicago, Office of the Mayor

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE:

BA Spanish and History with a minor in Political Science, from Duke University

Why did you choose to study public policy?

I've always wanted to go into public service. My dad's a doctor. My brother's an urban planner. My mom passed away when I was young, but she was the director of the medical center library at Duke University. Everyone in my family was very service-oriented and really cared about people.

I care every day about doing something that helps somebody else. That is what drives me. So coming into public policy school, I wanted to be able to do that really well and serve people really effectively. Harris was my path to be able to make that happen.

What are the big ideas that motivate you?

The two things that I care about most are women and children.  Women and the policies that impact women is probably the thing that is most important to my heart and soul. I was a teacher before I came to Harris and an instructional coach down in Texas. My life has really been motivated by serving children in particular, but also - because I lost my mom when I was young -  I've always had a real focus on women and women's rights. Early childhood policy is a really good way to unite both of my interests.

How did Harris prepare you for your current role in the Chicago Mayor’s Office?

My role in the mayor’s office is focused on early childhood policy, and we're doing so much. The city of Chicago is incredible for the early childhood policy that we are building right now. We’re going to have universal pre-K; so we're building the infrastructure and systems in order to make that happen in the next few years. It's thrilling. I love every day of that work. You never know exactly what's going to happen, but we get to work with so many different stakeholders because early childhood policy touches so many different aspects of the city.

We're doing outreach work with different departments across the city to get into events that are happening. Using an online applications system, we’re connecting with families and recruiting them to apply. It's outstanding work. I love it.

I think what's really great about Harris and why I wanted to come here, was to build up my quantitative skills. I didn't know anything about economics other than what I saw on the news. I had taken some statistics classes but nothing like what I was going to do at Harris. I really wanted to build a skillset that would prepare me for the type of work that I wanted to do.

I was also able to build a completely different set of skills through all of opportunities that allow students to lead at Harris.  I was president of the Women in Public Policy (WiPP) group and vice president the previous year. That role created opportunities to do public speaking, present policy suggestions to administrators at UChicago, and partner with different organizations across campus and across the city.

What made you decide Harris was right for you?

I remember at Admitted Students Day, Harris volunteers were wearing shirts that said, “Come to Harris. Anything else would be a regression." I saw that and my first reaction was, “Am I going to fit in here?" Math jokes, at that point, weren't really in my repertoire. And I was worried. But at the same time, that really excited me. The idea that if I was going to stop working, go back to school for a couple years, and invest time and money, then I wanted to make sure that the experience was going to really challenge me. And so at Admitted Students Day, I started hearing about the caliber of work that we were going to do - the breadth and depth of areas that I could study, things that I was just so unfamiliar with. That was a turning point for me. I told myself, "I can do this. I can laugh at math jokes." And now, I do. All the time.

I'd say the other thing that switched on Harris for me and made me commit here was the city of Chicago. There's nothing like Chicago. The winters have been mild, they say. I'm alive to tell the tale. Maybe they haven't been mild for me, but the culture of Chicago is incredible. The food is incredible. There is always something to do.

I love the network of people. I've been blown away by how easy it is to connect with people in Chicago. Everybody knows everybody. If you meet one person who's interested in the thing you're interested in, they want you to meet 10 other people who are interested in it too - and I love that.

What post-Harris plans are you looking forward to?

For now, I'm staying in the mayor's office because I love that work so much and again, there's so much to do. But longer term, I want to go back to North Carolina. I'm married. My husband's at the law school. He has one more year there. And so we're figuring out what our plans are as a family. What are we creating for ourselves? But going back to North Carolina is where we're going to be. North Carolina is a fascinating state. It's a purple state. It is a state that has a lot of policy work to be done and so that's where we want to be eventually.

What’s your favorite memory from your time at Harris?

My favorite Harris memory was being an orientation leader last summer for the incoming student class. I loved every minute of that experience. On one hand, I loved spending time with some of my favorite rising second year students. We had a wonderful time hanging out with the incoming students and really bonding with each other as rising second years. On the other hand, I loved meeting the incoming class. They're incredible. Everyone was amazing, every conversation was great. I was learning about people. Learning their stories. Such diverse experiences and life stories. I loved that.

What advice would you give the next generation of Harris students?

Say yes to opportunities that come your way. I think it can be really easy to get bogged down on a problem set or to tunnel vision in your first year and be really worried about academic outcomes. People are going to do fine. We're smart. We're capable. And yes, it is important to be concerned about your academics, no doubt about that. But there are so many opportunities in Chicago, at Harris, at UChicago, in Hyde Park, everywhere. Say yes to go to a meeting of a neighborhood association, or yes to go to a forum or be a part of a student group, or yes to go see a world-renowned speaker at the institute of politics. Whatever it is. Say yes.

Those are the experiences that you're going to remember. You're not going to remember that problem set that you really struggled on and probably did really well on. You're going to forget about that. But are you going to remember seeing that incredible speaker? Yes. You will. Or the network that you created by going to whatever event it was. You'll remember that. And that could impact, I think, and change the trajectory of your future. So, that's my advice. Say yes.

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