Aves is using her MPP skills to support sustainable energy policy as Legal and Policy Advisor at the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Headshot of Kelly Aves
Kelly Aves

Kelly Aves’ passion for evidence-based environmental and energy policy stems from her background growing up in the rural town of Kirkland, Illinois. “My parents were farmers, and I grew up surrounded by nature. My interest in the environment most definitely comes from my upbringing.”

A recent Harris graduate, Aves strives to leverage her fascination with the environment, her science background, and her newly acquired skills from the Master’s of Public Policy program to inform policy that is sustainable and environmentally conscious.

Aves completed her bachelor’s degree in crop sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “I originally thought I was going to become a plant breeder,” she said.

Aves held several research positions while an undergraduate, including one assistantship for the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences department at the university. There, she collected field samples and conducted analyses on soil nutrients in crop production. “While these research experiences were fascinating, I realized my interests lay more in utilizing research results to drive decision-making and enact change.” That realization was cemented after she took a course on environmental governance. “That’s when I became interested in public policy. I was able to see the effects that policy can have, not only in the public sector, but also in NGOs and nonprofits as well.”

Aves elected to pursue her master’s degree right after completing her undergrad and joined Harris in 2019. “I appreciated Harris’ data focus, especially given my background in the physical sciences. I also really enjoyed the professors and fellow admits I met during the admissions events.”

When asked how the MPP equipped her for her policy career, Aves said, “The coursework definitely gave me the skills to pursue more policy-related roles. Not only that, but the networking opportunities truly made the program for me—Harris is invaluable in that aspect. I was able to meet people who were working in fields and organizations that interested me, and they would get me connected with people they knew, and so on. In fact, a fellow Harris graduate introduced me to the Illinois Commerce Commission. I would encourage current and prospective students to immerse yourself in the network while you are at Harris. It’s more than worth it.”

While at Harris, Aves also worked both for the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) as a Research Assistant under Professor Kimberly Wolske and for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation as a Small Business Growth Consultant.

“My work at EPIC revolved around behavioral reasons why people choose to, or choose not to, adopt energy-efficient solutions in their lives. I was responsible for assisting in a large literature review as well as creating data visualizations. At Polsky, I was placed into a small group of UChicago students, and we were assigned to work to find a viable solution to a problem for a small business. The experience mimicked how consulting works in the real world, which was great because I was considering consulting as a career path at the time.”

In her current role as a Legal and Policy Advisor at the Illinois Commerce Commission, Aves works directly for Commissioner Maria Bocanegra. "The main role of the commission is to regulate utilities throughout the state. As an advisor, my job is to keep Ms. Bocanegra up to date on policies and procedures so that she can make informed decisions regarding utility pricing and regulations. It's a great way for me to really support sustainable environmental policy, especially with the new Illinois Energy Transition Act."