Eduardo Cisneros, MPP'13, at MiPPS' year-end gala on May 5, 2022.

For Eduardo Cisneros, MPP ’13, and this year’s Minorities in Public Policy Studies (MiPPS) Alumni Award winner, the University of Chicago campus stretched far beyond Hyde Park. 

Cisneros, director of intergovernmental affairs for the White House COVID-19 team, saw the entire city as a public policy classroom. The nation’s third-largest school district. Immigration rights struggles. Healthcare gaps. Ward politics. Chicago had it all. 

“Chicago was just a perfect lab,” he said, recalling his decision to attend the Harris School of Public Policy. “I was fascinated.” 

Then, in 2011, President Barack Obama announced that his reelection campaign would be based in Chicago “and that really did it for me,” Cisneros added. “I said, ‘I have to be in Chicago.’ And sure enough, it all worked out.”

Cisneros, went all-in on Chicago. He even lived in Bridgeport, the former Daley family stronghold. And after first volunteering, he was hired by the Obama campaign during his second year at Harris. (“Harris was super flexible, and I was able to make it work,” he said. “But I did not sleep for three months.”) 

MiPPS members at the Carnivale event.

Cisneros headed back to Chicago, along with his young son, this month, to accept his award from MiPPS, “a really great group” that, he said, played a big part in his years at Harris. MiPPS honored Cisneros at its school-year-end Gala at Carnivale, on the eve of Harris Connect Weekend 2022 festivities. 

“I was really thrilled to hear from them,” Cisneros said of MiPPS, which is one of Harris’ oldest student organizations. MiPPS, he said, opened doors, enabling group members to meet with policy leaders and politicians of color and getting a chance to see the success of those who’d gone before them. There was even a MiPPS trip to City Hall to meet Black and Latino aldermen, he said.

Such access offered a unique view of future possibilities for Cisneros, a first-generation Mexican American who arrived at Harris thinking he would build a career centered on public-education policy.

“I'm from Los Angeles County, a very working-class, majority Latino space, and I came out of the public-school education system there,” he said. “Education is the key to breaking down barriers and a universal equalizer, if you will. So, I went to Harris thinking ‘How could I affect the most social impact change for my community?’ And the answer was public education.”

“But then,” he said, “I started to look at other elements of policy including healthcare.” Healthcare issues synched with education issues, he said. Inequities mean minority kids may not get the glasses they need to see the blackboard in school. Children can't learn if someone in their family is sick and doesn’t have access to care. Diabetes in the Hispanic community has been described as a “growing epidemic.” So he immersed himself in health-care policy. 

Fast forward to 2020 — after stints in the Obama Labor Department, on the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and with SEIU Healthcare — and Cisneros was back in Los Angeles working at a community health center when the White House COVID coordinator called. He joined the Biden administration during the transition from the Trump administration. 

“When we came in, there was no stockpile of vaccines, there was a shortage of personal protective equipment, and jurisdictions were essentially competing against one another for PPE and other supplies,” he said. “There was just no coordinated response at the federal level.”

So, the White House COVID team got to work, using the full force of the federal government to accelerate a response.

Cisneros receives this year's MiPPS Alumni Award.

“It came full circle for me very quickly because one of the first federally run vaccination sites that we stood up in January 2021 was at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles County,” Cisneros said. “We actually deployed military personnel to go out there and get vaccines in arms. And it was one of those really special moments.”

Today, from within the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the West Wing, he coordinates federal COVID response measures with governors and big city and public health leaders.

He said he is “100 percent” using the tools he learned at Harris in his job — one packed with reams of data on infection levels, new variants, and the vaccine confidence and acceptance rate reports that help influence the government’s COVID response. “The training I was able to get at Harris to really understand and interpret that data has been extremely helpful,” Cisneros said.

Healthcare is also a personal issue for Cisneros. He blames the death of his father, Salvador, nearly 20 years ago on a lack of access to quality healthcare.

“My parents were just the most incredible kind of humans,” he said. With only elementary school educations, he said, they instilled in him and his two siblings the importance of education and hard work. His mother, Josefina, died in 2019.

Their sacrifice to uproot themselves and immigrate to the United States meant, Cisneros said, “that the least I could do was return the service back to this great nation.”

“Having said all that,” he added, “I did not anticipate the path here. I could not have predicted getting a call to join this team, let alone being on the front line of fighting his pandemic. I couldn't think of a bigger calling to public service than to come back to Washington, D.C., and be in this fight against COVID.”