Higginbotham believes that reforming urban school systems will lead to a more successful society.
Crystal Higginbotham
Crystal Higginbotham

Eleanor Roosevelt once observed that each of us is responsible for shaping our own lives and ourselves. Crystal Higginbotham is an excellent example of someone who has been doing that all her life. Now as a member of the Evening Master’s Program – Cohort 2 at The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy she is developing skills to change public policy to help others from urban areas do the same.

Self-directed to achieve from an early age, interested in a number of different disciplines, and driven by a desire to have a positive impact on society, Higginbotham has a specific goal. “After completing my degree at Harris Public Policy,” she says, “I want to pursue a career in research and development or academia to advocate for education reform.”  

Higginbotham was raised by a single mother in Detroit. She realized early on that doing well in school was the surest path to a brighter future and took advantage of every opportunity to move forward with her education. When she learned that athletic achievement could help her qualify for admission to a better high school, she honed her talent on the basketball court.  When she discovered an aptitude for science would help her get into college, she pursued a degree in chemical engineering. 

Initially she dreamed of leaving Michigan and going to a prestigious school on the east coast.  But she realized that adjusting to college life in a totally different location might be more challenging than she had anticipated. She elected instead to accept a full scholarship from a school closer to home - Michigan Technological University.

After earning a bachelor of science in scientific and technical communications as well as one in chemical engineering, Higginbotham began her career by teaching science in a public high school in Camden, N.J., as a member of the Teach for America corps.

This experience gave her a sense of the important role that public policy plays in the lives of urban residents which, in turn, can impact the education of inner city children.  “One day in class, I was faced with an unexpected dilemma,” Higginbotham says. “One of my students had such poor personal hygiene it was disturbing other members of the class. I found that I had two options: I could ignore the situation or exercise the school's official policy and send him home. I chose the latter. I discovered later that the student in question had been living without running water for several months. I never saw him at school again.”

“The quality of education in urban communities like Chicago, Detroit, and Camden is highly influenced by negative ‘social drivers,’” Higginbotham points out. “Misrepresentation in policy, racial inequities, xenophobia, microaggressions, fatalism, etc., have caused achievement gaps within urban communities, creating a pipeline for disenfranchised adult groups.”

Although Higginbotham loved teaching, a few years later family obligations required her to put income above personal job satisfaction. She took several positions in the private sector that offered significant financial reward for her superior skills in communications and sales. 

One of these positions was working as an account executive for FedEx, where she exceeded her sales goals by 120 percent and built connections with over 500 local companies. A few years later she accepted her present position as a sales associate with Aetna, implementing strategies that yielded a 40 percent increase in marketing campaign responses. 

Throughout her career as a teacher and now in the private sector, Higginbotham has remained committed to helping educate and empower the younger generation. To this end, she serves as parliamentarian for the Chicago Urban League Metroboard and also volunteers with Operation HOPE, providing financial literacy education and empowerment programs to young people and adults throughout Chicago. 

“Education has always been what I’m most passionate about,” says Higginbotham. “And now I’m ready to make advocating for educational equity in underserved communities my life’s work.”

The Evening Master’s Program at Harris is an ideal solution for busy professionals like Higginbotham.  It has been specifically designed to help students learn new skills and develop a valuable network while simultaneously conducting full-time careers. By increasing their knowledge and expanding their connections, they can take a significant step toward more successful futures.  

“I learned about this opportunity from one of my closest friends,” Higginbotham explains. “She’s a practicing attorney and is now matriculating through the Harris Evening Master’s Program. She knows that I am very data driven, committed to research and development, and dedicated to education reform. Knowing about my ultimate goal, she suggested that I apply to Harris.” 

Higginbotham immediately recognized the value of this suggestion. “Graduates of Harris Public Policy programs are known locally and abroad for being agents of change,” says Higginbotham. “I want to be part of a program that teaches a holistic and systematic approach for creating policy to uplift urban communities like Camden, Chicago, and my hometown of Detroit.” 

Yet big decisions are rarely easy – even when they take us in the direction we most want to go.

 “I admit I was a bit apprehensive about enrolling in graduate school,” Higginbotham says. “But when my friends, family, and peers supported my plans and reminded me of my past successes, I became more optimistic. Most of all, I realized that the Harris Evening Master’s Program is key to my ability to help improve the education system for students and communities, which will lead to a better future for our nation.”