An MSCAPP degree will help Li use data science innovations to resolve complex public policy issues.
Peter Li


Peter Li, a member of the Class of 2020 at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, is part of a small but growing group of forward-thinking problem-solvers who want to use the latest developments in computer technology to research, analyze, and create more effective public policies for business and government. To achieve this goal, Li enrolled in the two-year Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP).

Previously, Li had worked in Beijing as a consultant with KPMG, the international professional service company with clients in the private and public sectors. Li views the MSCAPP as a unique opportunity to advance his academic education and expand his professional skills. “I was looking for a graduate degree that would give me the best tools possible to apply data science to public policy,” Li says. “When I found out Harris was the only school that offered a STEM program in public policy, I didn’t bother to apply anywhere else.”

The MSCAPP program, offered jointly by Harris Public Policy and the University of Chicago’s Department of Computer Science, provides students with a strong foundation in computer science, statistics, and public policy analysis. Then, immersing them in advanced coursework covering econometrics, machine learning, big data methods, data visualization, and application development, it teaches them how to apply this knowledge to numerous contemporary public policy challenges.

Li learned the impact that public policy can have on ordinary people — and not just on governments and international corporations — while still a schoolboy in China. When he was in middle school, Li’s parents relocated to Beijing from the small town where he was born. Because of China’s education policy regarding “registered residence” at that time, this move resulted in financial hardships for Li’s parents and limited his access to a university education in his homeland. 

Despite these disadvantages, he was a highly successful student and completed several impressive high school projects on international trade and economics as a chief advisor of his high school’s Model United Nations club. “Then,” Li recalls, “I was fortunate enough to be chosen to represent my school at a Model United Nations Conference held on the Qatar campus of Georgetown University. This experience opened my eyes not only to the fascinating politics and culture of the Middle East but also to the possibility of my going to college abroad." 

Through getting to know professors from Georgetown University at the Qatar campus seminar, Li realized he wanted to attend the institution’s main campus, in Washington, D.C. This dream came true in 2012 when he matriculated at Georgetown as an international economics major. “I fell in love with the beauty of the logic behind economic theory,” Li says, “and decided to use my degree to work in the realm of policy research and analysis for businesses and professional services.”   

Having graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown with a BS degree in foreign service, Li returned to China to join KPMG. He became a consultant and was responsible for reviewing the internal risk control and business performance of automotive dealerships, restaurants, and professional-service companies, among other client industries.

“After I joined KPMG, I became interested in pursuing a graduate degree in public policy,” says Li. “I had consulting engagements in government sectors, especially free trade zone design and implementation. Working on these projects, I realized I needed more extensive training in both qualitative and quantitative public policy studies.” 

A close friend recommended that he consider going to Harris Public Policy. “I was already aware that Harris offered rigorous training in economics and statistics,” Li says. “And after reviewing the curriculum, I realized that Harris’s MSCAPP program offered me an unparalleled opportunity to combine my economics studies with training on policy research and analysis, especially from the perspective of quantitative methodologies.”

After completing his MSCAPP, Li plans to continue providing professional services to private clients or doing government work involving private contractors. He’s confident that with his MSCAPP degree, he will be well-equipped to help his clients take full advantage of the latest advances in data science, whatever their needs or their industry.