Kathy Im, MPP’97

When Kathy Im, MPP’97, co-founded the Chicago Policy Review in 1996, she envisioned it as an important complement to the Harris School of Public Policy’s otherwise very quantitative-focused curriculum.

“When I started as a student in 1995, Harris was much smaller, and while it had a strong reputation academically, the perception was somewhat one-dimensional – it was known as a hard-core quantitative school,” Im said.

“I thought a policy journal, like a law review at law schools, could help to enhance  Harris’s reputation, while giving students something very different to be a part of, particularly students like me, whose strengths were not necessarily drawn out by the numbers-heavy curriculum.”

Today, Im is the director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Journalism and Media program, which supports public service journalism, documentary storytelling, and participatory civic media, and where she’s certainly been able to put her acumen for all things qualitative to work. And, she keeps current on CPR, as well, both as a reader and a source of inspiration for current staff.

Molly Smith, MPP Class of 2023, Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Policy Review

Earlier this year, Im sat down with the current CPR staff and executive board to talk about the future of the journal and their individual career goals. Molly Smith, MPP Class of 2023, the current Editor in Chief, was in attendance, and she felt a kindred connection with Im and her early inspiration for the journal.

“Hearing her story, where she explained, ‘I came to Harris and was not a math-oriented, quantitative student, and I craved an outlet, where I could focus on my interests,” recounts Smith. “That’s what drove her to found CPR. It's nice to continue that tradition as an editor in chief who is okay with not ‘just focusing on math all day.’”

On Friday, May 6, Im will return to Harris, along with her CPR co-founder Douglas Lauen virtually, for Harris Connect Weekend, a chance for the former classmates and their fellow Harris alumni and friends to not only reunite at their old stomping grounds, but to touch base with a new generation of policy students. For Im and Lauen, it will be a chance to celebrate CPR’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

I am so impressed by the current leadership of CPR, where they came from, why they chose policy school, and why they wanted to be a part of the journal,” Im said. “It’s exciting that a group of this caliber is leading CPR as we celebrate this milestone anniversary for my class and of our school’s policy journal.”

Ellie Vorhaben, MPP Class of 2023, was also at Im’s sit down with Harris students earlier this year.

Before he was elected President of the United States, President Joe Biden (then a U.S. Senator from Delaware) wrote in the Chicago Policy Review.

As CPR’s executive editor, Vorhaben focused on familiarizing herself with as much of the CPR back catalog as possible. What she found – and what is certainly indicative of Im and Lauen’s earliest vision – was a publication focused on professors’ research, as well as submissions from big name politicians, including now President Joe Biden, future Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senator John McCain.

“We're much more focused on getting student voices out there now,” Vorhaben said. “That's been a pretty big shift. The writing style has changed too. Many of the articles at the beginning were academics writing for other academics. But our goal today is different in that we're trying to talk to people on the ground. And that's a challenge for a lot of our writers who are used to talking to other people who have a huge breadth of knowledge about these topics. We have to get them to write concisely and clearly for readers who might not have as much background knowledge.”

When Im and Lauen founded CPR, Im felt the need to include professors in order to bestow instant credibility. The very first issue includes articles from a mix of faculty from Harris and other universities, policy professionals, and a couple of students.

“This allowed the journal to be taken seriously right away,” Im said. “Today, CPR is comprised of 100% student contributions and I think that’s terrific. The articles and commentary are very good. The focus is on sparking policy dialogue and giving students an opportunity to publish, and less about establishing credibility and seeking affirmation. That shows me Harris and CPR have come a long way.”

For Vorhaben, Im’s blessing of the journal’s current direction reinforces her belief that, like any piece of creative output, the publication can exist as a living, breathing body of work. It’s adaptations reflect a reality that the nostalgia surrounding a weekend like Harris Connect reinforces—two years at Harris is really just a short blip in time.

“I think every generation of Harris students kind of comes in hot and ready to make changes because you're only here for two years,” Vorhaben said. “Harris students work really intensely over their tenure thinking about the problems that they're passionate about, and this publication has always been an opportunity to strengthen the ability to get their ideas out into the world.”

Throughout its many iterations, CPR at its core has always embraced the idea that policy can not be created in a bubble, that policy initiatives are only as effective as one’s ability to convince and persuade others of their value and validity.

“Kathy’s career is a perfect encapsulation of why the skills we're trying to instill here at CPR are really, really valuable in your everyday life,” Smith said. “You might not be writing an op-ed or a piece of journalism every day, but you are trying to persuade someone in some capacity through email or some written vehicle each and every day. These foundational skills are going to be beneficial for you as a policy professional no matter where you go next.”

Chicago Policy Review

To celebrate the journal’s storied history, Smith, Vorhaben, and the team are putting out the publication’s first print edition in more than a decade.

“When Kathy and Doug founded CPR, it was quite naturally a print edition,” Smith said. “About a decade ago they moved entirely online, however. Since then, people have wanted to bring back a print edition, an annual compilation of the best of the best of the year.”

“I'm super excited for the print edition,” said Vorhaben. “And I'm happy that it's the same year that many Harris alums who have been part of CPR’s proud heritage are coming together in person. We're trying to make sure that we make Kathy proud, take her baby and put our own little twist on it in a way that feels to her like forward progress.”