Wegner works for Deloitte doing public sector consulting, working with state and local governments on how to improve delivery of health and human service programs.
Nikki Wegner
Nikki Wegner

Improving public services through the private sector was a career path Nikki Wegner never envisioned when she set out to work in public policy. But that’s part of what made her University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy experience so special: embracing the unexpected.

Now a Manager in Deloitte’s government and public services practice, Wegner supports state and local governments in determining how to best deliver and implement health and human service programs so that people get better access to the medical, food, monetary assistance, and children services they need.

“When I entered Harris, I didn’t know that consulting firms like Deloitte even had public sector practices,” she said. “Harris opened my eyes to all of these different opportunities. I think that’s what is so exciting about going to grad school and about making a career pivot: just taking the time to learn as much as I could and to really understand what I wanted to do and how I could have an impact.”

Raised in Milwaukee, Wegner discovered her interest in politics while watching the television show The West Wing with her family, who used the drama’s fictional controversies as a springboard to discuss pressing real-world issues. By the time she was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Wegner already had begun working for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

At 19, she became the deputy finance director for then-Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s successful reelection campaign. And at 21, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she was hired by the consulting firm GMMB to craft communications for political clients—a role in which she propelled the campaigns of House, Senate, and Presidential candidates by producing political TV ads.

“I was very passionate about helping elect candidates I thought could make a difference,” Wegner said. “But I found myself wanting to be more at the center of policymaking, having a more direct impact on the public sphere.”

That inclination led Wegner to Harris. Even though she ultimately opted to focus on health and human services, she lauds Professor Jens Ludwig's class on crime prevention as having an outsized effect on her.

“From that course, I learned how to distill large swaths of data into a policy argument and present it clearly and concisely, and that’s something I use all the time as a consultant.”

Even though Wegner initially was attracted to the public sector, she added her resume to a list for Harris students interested in consulting opportunities, simply to keep her options open. A few weeks later, Deloitte contacted her.

“That started this whole different trajectory and journey for me. Harris opened a door that I didn't even know was there by having a longstanding relationship with Deloitte and other employers.”

“At the core, I'm doing what I set out to do when I entered Harris. I get to work with state and local governments to hopefully achieve positive change in health and human service programs. In the public sector, governors change, presidents change, legislatures change. But in the work that I do, you’re trying to stay true to your core values, which are, for me, working toward change and impact for these programs that help individuals in times of need.

Wegner’s advice to incoming and prospective students is to explore a wide range of topics and career paths while at Harris, keep an open mind, and take advantage of all the opportunities the school has to offer.

“Go sit in on a lecture. Go meet that visiting fellow or network with alumni. Don’t close any door or think you shouldn’t pursue something. There are so many things you can do with this degree and it opens so many doors if you are open to where it can lead you.”