As the second largest employer in Chicago—and the third largest school district in the United States—Chicago Public Schools (CPS) staff need to manage, propose, and address policy issues that impact the 330,000 students they serve. It is perhaps unsurprising that some CPS employees seek out the data-driven toolkit that the University of Chicago Harris Evening Master’s Program (EMP) provides so they can make a measurable impact while continuing to work and support the children and families of CPS.

We spoke with two recent alumni and a current student from the EMP program to see how their student experience has helped them to generate impact in CPS. While their roles in CPS are quite different, each was able to apply what they learned in the classroom to better support the mission of CPS.

Rachel Orlowski, AM'20

Rachel Orlowski, AM’20, is the Director for Institutional Giving at the Children First Fund: The Chicago Public Schools Foundation where she leads and executes major fundraising initiatives with foundation and corporate donors.

“The EMP equipped me with the ability to think critically about data-backed policy,” Orlowski said. “For me, all of the courses together led to one general thesis: Understand how data is used to inform policy, but also know that data can be manipulated to suit purposes. Data and research inform policy in important ways, and the coursework taught me how to be critical and ask more targeted questions to understand exactly what the data is saying. When I began the program, I was still trying to figure out how I could make the greatest impact at the Children First Fund, and Harris gave me the skills necessary to do just that.”

Orlowski said her EMP experience allows her to bring a unique perspective to CPS’s policies and programs. “There are some large grants and proposals I have put together with district leaders. And I think not being afraid to ask questions about the data and the strategy itself has helped make those grants and proposals stronger.”

Orlowski had earned her bachelor’s in economics and communications from Villanova University and assumed several roles across different non-profit organizations before joining the EMP. “I had just started working as the Associate Director of Development for the Children First Fund when I became interested in pursuing a master’s degree in policy. Knowing the master’s degree at Harris was not just a funnel into a specific sector was what appealed to me the most about the program. I felt what I would learn would be relevant across all policy areas.”

Orlowski cited two courses as particularly integral to her success as Director of Institutional Giving at Children First Fund. “I see the impact of the discussions we would have in my Public Finance and Budgeting class at work all the time.  "People often wonder how funding from public and private revenue sources can be immediately reallocated when general priorities shift. It's a nuanced process, so being able to understand that piece of policy has proved very useful.” The other class Orlowski considers especially invaluable was Negotiations. “John Burrows’s approach was incredible. We would have a new negotiation every week, so we got plenty of practice. I learned a lot of lingo and strategies that I use more in my day-to-day than I ever thought I would.”

Jake Schultz, AM Class of 2022

The applicability of the EMP coursework in Negotiation also stands out for Jake Schultz, AM Class of 2022. “The prep work for Burrows’s Negotiation class has been fun, and the act of going through negotiations every week was engaging. I loved how much practice we got in that class. My Cost Benefit Analysis course has also been very informative. Looking rigorously at what makes good policy is a key part of why I wanted to do the program in the first place.”

As a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher at the O’Keefe School for Excellence, Schultz said, “I knew I wanted to go into policy, and I knew I wanted to use my classroom experience to inform policy decisions for the better.”

Schultz grew up in the northern suburb of Deerfield, Ill., and got his first taste of policy experience while earning his bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). “I interned in [U.S. Senator] Tammy Duckworth’s Chicago office, drafting memos and engaging in constituent outreach.” After graduating from UIUC, he joined Teach for America and began working as a social studies teacher in Indianapolis.

“The first school I taught at was a charter school: the second, a public school that was at risk of being converted to a charter school. I saw my kids struggling. Students in that public school’s district in Indianapolis are often economically disadvantaged, and language barriers are prevalent.”

After Teach for America, Schultz returned to Chicago. “It had always been a goal of mine to come back to Chicago and apply what I learned in Indianapolis to classrooms here.”

When asked about why he chose Harris to pursue his policy degree, Schultz said, “I was specifically interested in Harris because I was familiar with the institutional collaboration between the University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. For example, the 5Essentials survey is administered by UChicago every year.”

Now nearing completion of the program, Schultz said he appreciates EMP’s engagement with institutes at UChicago that are working on education. “As part of the Current Topics course, the EMP brought in one of the directors of the Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab and they talked about a new notification program the Lab is working on. The program would alert parents via text message when their child doesn’t show up for school. At my school [O’Keefe School for Excellence] we have a student success tool called On Track, and one of the main components measured is attendance. I was able to speak with the BIP director and get a sense of whether this system might work within our existing program. That ability to leverage what we talk about in class in an actual work environment is another huge asset of this program so far.”           

Ali Fendrick, AM ’19

Like Schultz, Ali Fendrick, AM ’19 and Policy Program Manager for CPS, saw the impact of policy on education while participating in Teach for America.  

“After finishing undergrad at the University of Michigan, I joined Teach for America and was placed at a school in Miami. While living in Ann Arbor, MI, I wasn’t exposed very much to economic disparities, so when I started teaching in Miami, it was a shocking sight. The kids just did not have access to quality education.”

After teaching in Miami for two years, Fendrick moved to Chicago where she started working in community organizing roles, including Outreach Director for Educators for Excellence, a local education nonprofit that advocates for bolstering teachers’ voices in discussions around equitable education policy. She organized educators and school staff on the near north side around specific policies that would positively impact CPS.

“However, I still felt there was more I could do,” Fendrick said. “I just kept asking myself: How can I create better policies for kids across the entire district? Where can I make the most impact fighting for equity? I wanted to enter the policy side of education—to be the actual policy writer. So, I started looking at part-time programs that would help me do that, and Harris became the logical choice.”

Fendrick said the EMP’s data focus was a major draw for her. “The focus on data analytics helped me look at data differently than how I did before the program. It has added an immense value to my work as a Policy Program Manager for Chicago Public Schools.”

Like Orlowski and Schultz, Fendrick also cited Professor John Burrows’s course on Negotiations as an integral component of her EMP experience. “Taking the Negotiations course has made me feel more confident, especially as a woman, about asking for more,” she said.

Fendrick also shared Schultz’s assessment of the Cost Benefit Analysis course. “Everything I do as Policy Program Manager at CPS looks at net benefits versus net costs. It’s something I think about all the time, so the skills I learned in Cost Benefit Analysis have been invaluable. I would say my impact at CPS largely stems from my ability to help people look at policy from a perspective of equity and cost benefit analysis. When working on policies or projects, I’ve been able to demonstrate when and how things are inequitable and ring the alarm about why we need to do something different. Without this degree, I would not be able to make the informed changes I make in my role.”

Fendrick, Schultz, and Orlowski all work in different roles within CPS and had different reasons for pursuing the EMP. However, each was immediately able to apply the skills they learned in the program to increase their impact and adjust their approach to policy decisions.

Ranjan Daniels, Senior Associate Dean of Student Recruitment and Global Outreach at Harris, said, “As someone who grew up in Chicago and cares deeply about the city, I’m impressed with the impact EMP students have in Chicago Public Schools. It’s incredibly important that CPS be agile and prepared to rise to any policy challenges that may come, and I look forward to how the Evening Master’s Program can equip CPS staff with the tools to best do that.”

Since beginning in the Winter of 2018, the EMP has launched more than eight cohorts. Students are eligible for scholarships when they submit their application, no additional application is needed. Learn more in our Admissions Blog. For more information, email Jessica Gagle, Director of Student Recruitment at, attend an upcoming event, or  request information on our website.