On how Aristotle and urban development brought him to Harris Public Policy.

HOMETOWN:

Philadelphia, PA

UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE:

BA in classical languages and philosophy, University of Chicago

"I want to serve others and build better communities. That decision is rooted in the sense that I have something important to contribute.”

Early Greek philosophers probed the nature of human relationships, community, and the ideal citizenry. Aristotle said human beings are ‘political animals’ who naturally create cities or communities. Plato ruminated on the virtues of citizenship and the importance of ‘man in relation to his fellow man.’ Human efforts to leverage community for the collective good aren’t novel, nor is the struggle to improve them. Yet, the drive to build and improve our communities remains strong, as it does for Michael Harvey MPP ’15.

“Being a part of a community comes with a certain responsibility—a gravity,” explained Harvey. "How Aristotle and Plato talk about building communities is really foundational for me.”

As a child in Philadelphia, Harvey experienced both the benefits and the challenges of growing up as part of an urban community. A promising high school scholar with financial need, Harvey earned an Odyssey Scholarship to attend the University of Chicago, free-of-charge. He said, “My background demonstrates that community is important. It has the power—when folks are concerned about one another— to elevate people beyond adverse circumstances.”

Harvey spent his undergraduate years probing the theories of an ideal society from the perspective of the classical Greeks. As his freshman year turned into his senior, he found himself at “a loss as to how to connect the theoretical ideas he was learning in class with how people live today and the inequities that clearly exist.” He wanted to bridge the gap between the theoretical and the practical to improve communities like Chicago and his hometown of Philadelphia—where 25 percent of adults and 38 percent of children live in poverty.

A Master’s in Public Policy at Harris Public Policy became a clear vehicle to close the divide. In comparison to other programs, Harvey was impressed by the “quantitative focus,” the “culture of intellectual pursuit and rigor” and the “interdisciplinary focus that allows students to be exposed to different schools, fields, and students.”

The Harris Core Curriculum was also a selling point. In particular, Harvey was impressed by the Core’s Analytical Politics class, which delivered on the real-world approach he’d been seeking. In his first quarter at Harris, Harvey dug into the application of analytical tools to deal with issues ranging from conflict to resource scarcity using approaches like game theory scenarios.

“The Harris School is an exciting place to be for policy students. I live in the University community of Hyde Park. Having the University situated on the South Side means there are community connections that exist that are substantive and that students can tap into,” explained Harvey.

For example, Harris School partners with the Arts and Public Life initiative to advance community development efforts in culture and context, according to Harvey. Harris students and faculty at Harris lend their capacity and engage with their neighbors in reimagining aesthetic practice as policy through the work of Place Labs.  

The issues Harvey plans to tackle with his Harris degree? Housing and urban development. Harvey believes housing is “more than just shelter.” A lack of quality housing options has a ripple effect for families and communities, impacting areas like health, education, and wellness. Harvey offers examples like housing instability effects on school attendance and performance, or lead paint impacts on childhood health.

“Harris has helped me map out how to address issues in communities that are barriers to realizing Aristotle and Plato’s ideals. I want to serve others and build better communities. That decision is rooted in the sense that I have something important to contribute.”