Chantal Forster, EMP Class of 2019, believes in advancing philanthropic goals through the strategic use of technology.
Chantal Forster
Chantal Forster, Class of 2019


Successful professionals have many reasons for joining the Evening Master’s Program Cohort 2 at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. Some come to augment their education credentials, with the goal of acquiring more responsibility at work. Others want to bring new ideas and skill sets to their current roles. And still others are exploring an entirely new career direction.

For Forster, the decision to pursue a public policy degree reflects her desire to enhance the societal contribution she is already working toward. “I see public policy as an interdisciplinary field that explores questions and creates solutions for the benefit of our society,” she explains. “And that intersection is precisely where I want to devote my energy and expertise.”

Forster believes in looking at life through a multi-dimensional lens and actively cultivates an appreciation for literature and music, as well as an interest in science and technology.  As an undergraduate at Purdue University, she wanted to take a double major in English literature and biology. When the school couldn’t easily accommodate this goal, she majored in English literature with a minor in psychology and went on to get a master’s degree in professional and technical writing at DePaul University.  

Joining SPSS Predictive Analytics (later IBM) after graduation, she worked on the data mining team, leading its documentation efforts as a senior technical writer. In that role, she wrote several books, developed online help systems, and created web-based tutorials and white papers for data-mining software and methodologies. 

But for Forster, technology has always been a means to an end. Aspiring toward integrative thinking, she sees her role as a bridge-builder between technology experts and their counterparts in other disciplines.

“After 15 years in technology management within the private, public, and social sectors, I’ve learned an important lesson: many of society’s most pressing problems are not technical ones,” Forster says. “Technology can innovate and scale solutions. But unless these innovations fit people’s needs and are implemented with an appropriately humble and adaptive approach, they won’t be adopted, let alone provide meaningful improvement in the lives of people, their families, and communities.”

Currently, Forster serves as the executive director of the Technology Affinity Group and is chief strategy consultant and owner of Gibson Carlisle, which develops customer-oriented strategies to drive innovation in educational and nonprofit organizations. 

As a mid-career professional, Forster feels she is at an inflection point. “The first half of my career was spent in technology management,” she says. “Now I’m reflecting on the impact the second half could make in our society. How can I best contribute, given my particular trajectory?”  

In addition to enabling her to attend classes while allowing her still to play a leadership role in her industry, the Evening Master’s Program at Harris Public Policy attracted Forster for several reasons.

“Within the circle of people concerned with the future impact of technology on society, Harris has an unparalleled reputation for an evidence-based approach to public policy,” Forster says.  “Some of the leading thinkers and doers in this space, such as Brenna Berman, the executive director of the City Tech Collaborative, developed their policy approach at the Harris School.”

“And as a data-driven humanist,” Forster says, “I make my best decisions when approaching questions through an evidence-based lens, as well as a humanistic one. Harris’s commitment to rigorous analysis is important to me. Under Dean Katherine Baicker’s leadership, this approach, blended with her own deep humanity, convinced me that the Evening Master’s Program was well worth investing in.”

Forster sees participating in the Evening Master’s Program as an excellent way to fulfill her stewardship of the Technology Affinity Group—and more. “Deepening my policy knowledge at Harris,” she says, “will surely help me open up nationwide conversations and initiatives relating to technology, innovation, and public policy. Together with other leaders in the field, I hope I can leverage technology to answer some of society’s toughest questions in a sustainable, genuinely humane way.”