Nugent is pursuing an MPP at Harris to help non-profits use data more effectively.
Kurt Nugent
Kurt Nugent

Kurt Nugent, Class of 2020, has been working for the past six years to help disadvantaged people of all ages in the United States, Argentina, and Spain. He began while still an undergraduate at Wake Forest University, in North Carolina, majoring in politics and international affairs.  

For the past two years, Nugent has been working with Big Brothers Big Sisters, coaching young adults and taking a leading role in several projects for the organization. Now he is seeking to augment his face-to-face experience with young clients by learning how to analyze statistical data to determine the most effective way to help them.

“Non-profits depend on support from government and other outside agencies, which often demand objective statistics to justify an investment of funds,” Nugent says. “Frequently, this need is served by bringing in outside consultants. But the ideal solution is to have someone from the organization gather, organize, and interpret the required hard data in the context of the organization’s history and culture. With an MPP from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, perhaps I can help fill this role at Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

Nugent’s desire to help others began in high school and included an early interest in politics, fueled by participation on his high school debate team. “Debating was a big part of my life,” he says. “And the exercise of arguing the pros and cons of an issue taught me to think logically about all sides of a dispute. One of the issues I was particularly concerned about was climate change. That interest and that concern has only grown over the years. Eventually, I’d like to make it the focus of my efforts working in public policy.”

Nugent’s career path has, in some ways, been driven by his bi-cultural heritage. His father was born and raised in New York and his mother is from Puerto Rico. Fluent in both Spanish and English, he also had the opportunity to live and work in Argentina and Spain while still an undergraduate. And since his family moved around quite a bit because of his father’s career, Nugent gained a personal understanding of the challenges young people face when trying to fit into new environments.

During the summers of 2012 and 2013, Nugent interned in the office of one of his state’s U.S. senators. In 2014 he spent the summer working as part of a program serving the needs of migrant farm workers in North Carolina. And in 2015 he went to Argentina to spend six months teaching English to primary and secondary school students. In many ways, it was his experiences during the summer, rather than his academic studies, that inspired his decision to go to graduate school.

“I decided to pursue a graduate degree after working in the U.S. and then in Argentina with vulnerable populations,” Nugent says. “I realized that many of the limitations nonprofits face in trying to help these groups are due to public policy. The reality is that many obstacles to resources and overall effectiveness of community activists can only be addressed within the policy landscape.”

“The time I spent as a medical translator and a caseworker with migrant farm laborers in North Carolina,” Nugent continues, “initially prompted my interest in public policy,” Nugent continues. “I was working with people who were often exploited because they lacked many of the workplace protections U.S. citizens take for granted. Upon further experience and digging, I saw that these systematic abuses weren’t just happenstance; they reflected gaps in the labor laws that were intentionally designed to exclude this group.”

After his graduation from Wake Forest, Nugent started working with Big Brothers Big Sisters on a project to help a group of 80 young people transition out of dependence on the welfare system into self-sustained adulthood. His value was quickly recognized, and he is now a case manager.

As his familiarity with the organization grew, Nugent began to see what was needed to help it operate more effectively. He soon concluded that by returning to school for a master of public policy degree, he could provide non-profit organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters with even more value. 

“I chose Harris Public Policy for my MPP,” Nugent says, “because of its focus on developing quantitative analytical skills and its commitment to creating transformational, not just incremental, improvements in local and global communities.” 

But for Nugent, helping nonprofits process data more effectively is just the beginning. “I also want to apply these same skills to assist local communities in creating sustainable leadership that empowers local activism.” he says, adding, “Ultimately, I want to work on dealing with climate change. After all, that’s a challenge to the very existence of our planet and affects all of us, wherever we live, whatever we do, and whatever organization we’re working with.”