On her experience at Harris, how the recession impacted the public policy landscape, and her current role at Deloitte Consulting.
Libby Pearson, MPP '10


Charlottesville, Virginia


Manager, Deloitte Consulting


BA in religious studies, University of Chicago

"The Harris MPP program is really good at explaining the logic behind policies and what those policies are trying to accomplish. The training I received there prepared me to be able to tell my clients what they need to do so they can fulfill their policy promises."

How did you decide that the Harris School of Public Policy was the right place for you?

I worked in college admissions for the University of Chicago for three years. I became interested in education policy, issues like school funding and college-going, because of my experiences visiting high schools around the country. I saw how different the high school experience could be for students even a mile away from one another. This interest made me want to pursue public policy, but I was coming from a religious studies background. It was a shift. Because of that, I decided to find out what it would really be like by auditing two courses at Harris. I took one on K-12 and another on higher education with Professor Ofer Malamud. He made me think about education policy in a really different way and inspired me to pursue the MPP program.

How does Harris play a part in your everyday work as a manager at Deloitte Consulting?

The Harris MPP program is really good at explaining the logic behind policies and what those policies are trying to accomplish. The training I received there prepared me to be able to tell my clients what they need to do so they can fulfill their policy promises.

At Deloitte, I’ve been able to work across a lot of clients. Right now, I’m at the State Department in the Bureau of Consular Affairs and I oversee a financial management project. I help them run a model that tells them how much it costs to process visas and passports. When you are charging fees for government services, you cannot make a profit, and obviously you don’t want to run at a loss. The clients use the results of the model to set their fees and ensure they fully recover the costs.  In this role, I use a lot of what I learned in Senior Lecturer Paula Worthington’s classes on public budgeting, and a class on taxation. They help me think about things like how to influence behavior or how to set the right time for a fee to go up or down so that people can get the services they need at the right time for the organization.

I also recently started managing an IT project, also at Consular Affairs, which is totally different from anything I’ve ever done. Basically, I’m helping to update software that federal employees need to do their jobs to support US citizens who live overseas. I took an administrative law class at Harris with faculty from the law school that has been hugely beneficial for this project. Because of it, I feel really comfortable reading law, policies, and executive orders, telling my clients what it means for them, and explaining why a certain policy happened.

How do you feel like you are making your mark on the world?

You know, a lot of the time, consulting has a very invisible component to it because you work in the back office, on financial management, human resources, or IT. But, I am helping the government to manage their money and that matters a lot.

I recently got to visit several consular sections overseas and I really got to see that there are so many people around the world who want to become Americans, visit, work, or become students. I am directly supporting that by helping Consular Affairs get money to support their efforts for people around the world. I personally think the connections that people have with Consular Affairs is the most important diplomacy that the State Department does. I know It might not be as fancy as going on a trade mission or meeting a dignitary, but it’s how everyday people connect with the US. I think its incredibly important to support that and make sure that the State Department has the resources it needs to support anyone who wants to visit the US to go to Disney World, for example, or become a Harris student! It’s a critical connection between the US and the rest of the world.

You thought about getting your master’s in education, but ultimately changed your mind. Why?

I realized I would get the most value out of a master’s in public policy program because of the quantitative skills needed to analyze policy in a robust way. The M.Ed. just wouldn’t get me that. I also realized I was interested in education policy partly because that’s what I was most familiar with. The MPP allowed me to explore problems beyond those in just education.

In retrospect, it was a good decision because I am more of a generalist and that serves me well in my career. I love my job as a Manager at Deloitte Consulting. I find it really fulfilling and I can’t imagine having the skills to do it well without my policy degree.

Though you entered Harris with a bent towards education policy, you didn’t ultimately choose a career in that area. Why?

I went to Harris during the recession. Before I went, there were a lot of public sector jobs, but they disappeared during the recession because local and state governments with big education infrastructures were no longer hiring at that time. So, that played a part.

But more importantly, I realized at Harris that there was a lot more outside of education policy that I could explore with my degree—like consulting. With consulting, I know that I will explore multiple topics and projects. I decided to stay away from being a federal employee for that reason. As a consultant, I will never be sitting at a desk doing the same thing for five years. I’ve had a lot of different projects with diverse clients and I find that really enjoyable.

You talked briefly about the recession and how that changed the public policy landscape for a certain period of time. The election just happened. How do you think that will affect the landscape?

It’s hard to tell because the President-elect is not very specific or consistent about what he plans to do. In consulting, we usually say that, in general, Republican governments are good because there is more reliance on consulting. There is more cutting of federal programs and budgets, which forces people to be more efficient. So, they hire consultants to help them do it. Democratic administrations, on the other hand, are good because they generally want to do more and need consultants to help them do that.

Generally, I think consulting is a pretty good place to be if you are in a firm that plans for that. I think, for people in consulting, change is the name of the game. When change happens, we are there helping the government think through that. So, consulting is a pretty good place to be. We have to wait and see what this administration will be like.

Can you describe an experience or experiences at Harris that changed you?

Harris’s core curriculum gave me an excellent foundation as a humanities major. I didn’t come in with a very logical or systematic way of understanding how policies work and why policies change outcomes. Harris helped me to focus on policy in a holistic way instead of just focusing on any one type of policy. I learned to understand things like political economy, game theory, and how to measure changes or impact.

After the core, I was able to get into more specific changes that can happen, like a taxation change. And we explored really interesting questions like, “How does the way people choose their spouses affect society?” You can take the tools that you learn in the core and apply them to any problem at all. That’s why I enjoy consulting, because I can apply the same understanding of how policies are implemented and how they influence behavior to solve a lot of different kinds of problems. I find that I can easily understand my clients’ policies, why they work, and why they’ve made the decisions they’ve made to shape future outcomes.

What do you think is the Harris School differentiator?

I think the focus on the quantitative aspects of policy is a real differentiator. If you can’t measure outcomes yourself, you need to be able to talk to people who can in order to really understand how government is working. Otherwise, if you implement a bad policy and it fails, that has tremendous implications. You can’t take the quantitative lightly.

Harris also has a comprehensive curriculum which is the basis for their understanding of how policy works. I think there are other schools that cobble it together and don’t have a cohesive story for why public policy works and how it affects people.

I also think UChicago’s relationship with the economics department and the attention to the economic underpinnings of public policy is an important differentiator.

You talked about the value of the quantitative. Do you have to be strong in mathematics to be a Harris Public policy student?

No, there is a lot you can get out of the program even if you are just checking the box on the math classes. But, it is a critical part of the education that can’t be overlooked and students wouldn’t want to. There are schools that entirely overlook it and don’t require a quantitative methods class. I think that’s a big mistake.

You are a member of the Alumni Council. You obviously care about Harris a great deal to be a part of the council. What makes you feel so connected to Harris?

The friends I met during my time at Harris are currently my closest friends, which I think is true for many people in my class. I see my classmates all the time. When I visit Chicago, I stay with them and when they come to DC, they stay with me. Also, my closest friends that I have in DC are from Harris. It’s different from my college friends who are doing really different things, like one is an urban planner and the other a novelist. With my Harris friends, we all work in the same field, so we can talk about our work and give each other advice.

The University of Chicago is situated in the diverse neighborhood of Hyde Park What’s your favorite spot in Hyde Park and why?

I really love Jackson Park right behind the Museum of Science and Industry. The Japanese garden is really beautiful and I used to love jogging through there.

What did you enjoy most about living in Chicago?

People, like myself, who have lived in smaller cities, don’t always get what it means to live in a global city like Chicago. There is so much to do, so many restaurants, theater, and music. Even in DC, we don’t have as much. It’s nothing like the scale of Chicago. Being in Chicago is really like living in Seoul or London or Beijing.