Louis Makarewicz

Newly minted MPP graduate Louis Makarewicz found the pandemic-forced transition to remote learning for his last quarter at the Harris School of Public Policy to be remarkably smooth.

He managed to maintain the elusive sense of connection thanks in part to his Harris Public Policy network, built through study groups and his role as co-chair of the Prairie State Society, a student organization devoted to state and local policy issues in Illinois.

“I felt a sense of community just seeing those names on the screen,’’ he said, referring to a Zoom feature that lists all participants logged into a class or meeting session.

And he benefited enormously from one professor’s determination to establish community through virtual means.

In Fundamentals of Municipal Bonds, the instructor, Michael D. Belsky, provided his mobile number, wrote personal emails and ended each class session with a music video selected intentionally to provide encouragement and calm in the turbulent early days of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Mike was phenomenal,’’ Makarewicz said. “Each class he offered a philosophical takeaway about the current state of the world.’’

Attending class and studying from the living room of the small Uptown apartment he shares with his wife, Makarewicz was usually stationed at a desk that belonged to his grandfather. For a break from Zoom, he moved to the music corner for a bit of piano or guitar.

Makarewicz, who works as a literacy coordinator at a public school on Chicago’s South Side, felt fortunate to have three instructors  “who went above and beyond to make the most of the online platforms at this disposal, and that made for a much better experience than I was anticipating.’’

For GIS Applications for Public Policy, lecturer Ned English’s prerecorded lectures covered the theory and history of mapping while live sessions were devoted for lab work with students logged on simultaneously to work through problem sets.

For example, Makarewicz and his classmates downloaded Excel files on dropout rates in El Salvador and Chicago and then worked together on coercing that data into community areas and census tracts to discover relation to crime hot spots. 

Michael D. Belsky, AM'83

In Fundamentals of Municipal Bonds, Belsky prerecorded lectures so that class time could be used for discussion and guest experts. He created a module in Canvas for each course section, and another devoted to COVID-19 papers and webinars, enabling students to see the crisis’ implications on policy in real time.

“Depending on the pedagogical approach, we’ve been able to go different directions. It injected more variety into class.’’

A St. Louis native, Makarewicz studied music performance and French as an undergraduate at DePaul University and then earned a master’s in education from Dominican University. At Harris, he sought quantitative skills to support an interest in policy as well as a broader professional network.

He leaves intent on making a difference in economic development, housing, and green space at the state or local government level.

“I came to Harris looking for the known unknowns,’’ he said. “I came in committed to local policy issues and open to new directions. So many opportunities arise. That’s what makes grad school worth it.’’

This article is the part of the Harris at Home series, spotlighting the resilience, innovation, and spirit of the Harris community during the COVID-19 pandemic.