Jefferson believes an MPP will enable him to increase the efficacy of nongovernmental organizations in Latin America.
Nathan Jefferson
Nathan Jefferson

Nathan Jefferson, a member of the Class of 2020 at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, fell under the spell of Latin America while he was still a schoolboy in his hometown of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Perhaps his fascination with Latin America and international politics was influenced by parents’ professions; his mother taught high school Spanish before becoming a school administrator, and his dad is a college professor in economics.  However it began, Jefferson’s interest in the language, government and the economic opportunities of — as well as the challenges faced by — Latin America began well before he entered college.

After graduating with a BA in economics from Pomona College in Claremont, California, Jefferson applied for a position with The Business Year, an international provider of business data and a publisher of annual trade and investment information. As the publication’s editor covering Peru, he relocated to Lima to interview the country’s business and civic leaders, study and analyze economic and political trends, and create a written overview of Peru used by businesses and governments around the world.

Jefferson was promoted after just seven months to regional sub-editor in Mexico City, where he oversaw the management of field offices throughout Latin America. His responsibilities included reviewing transcripts and written material from these offices, as well as taking a leading role in the production of more than 15 different publications for the company. 

“After 18 months of studying, analyzing, and writing about economic trends in Latin America,” Jefferson says, “I realized I wanted to learn even more about the policy questions I was writing about. That’s when I began to think about pursuing a master of public policy degree.” 

I’ve long been interested in exploring the actions governments and nongovernmental institutions can take to benefit the greatest number of people,” says Jefferson. “The study of public policy offers unique opportunities to draw knowledge from various fields to answer a wide range of problems. I also like the fact that public policy is deeply grounded in practical issues and is, by its very nature, flexible and open to new ideas.”

Jefferson first heard about the Harris School of Public Policy while researching poverty in developing countries through studies conducted by The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts, which was founded in 2015 and is housed at Harris. 

“Then, when I started talking to former professors and my colleagues about my desire to go back to graduate school,” Jefferson says, “Harris Public Policy came up repeatedly as an example of a well-regarded MPP program that was a good fit for my goals.” 

Jefferson soon found that Harris’ reputation was well deserved. “I felt that Harris offered the best possible academic experience in an MPP program,” he says. “I was impressed by Harris’ emphasis on quantitative training and the fact that its program gave graduates the tools they needed to succeed across a number of fields.”

In addition, Jefferson says, “I was impressed by Harris’ position in the wider University of Chicago community and the opportunities it offers as part of a major research institution.” He adds: “The research opportunities and the professional networks at Harris are difficult, if not impossible, to find elsewhere. I’m looking forward to using all of these resources to develop my understanding of the issues I care about.”

Before deciding to enroll in the program, Jefferson took advantage of Harris’ invitation to visit the campus and meet students who had already matriculated at the school. “Attending Admitted Students Day at Harris Public Policy was not only enjoyable,” he says, “it also gave me a better understanding of what Harris was and how the community functioned. I’d never been to the University of Chicago campus, but attending Harris’ faculty panels and meeting with the admissions team convinced me it was the right place for me.”

After graduating from Harris Public Policy, Jefferson hopes to work for nongovernmental organizations focused on international development and poverty reduction. He intends to continue working in Latin America — not only because of his experience there but also because it’s where his heart has always been.