Kelly Suzanne Saulsberry MPP'13 works to shape policy in “a dynamic city with problems, innovative solutions, opportunities, and a hope that is ingrained in its culture."

Kelly Suzanne Saulsberry MPP’13 has accomplished a lot since graduating from the Harris School of Public Policy. A public servant, civic leader, and civil rights champion, she has worked in the Chicago Mayor's Office and now shapes policy for the city’s Commission on Human Relations.

Her journey to this point, however, was never etched in stone. 

“My career path hasn’t been linear,” said Saulsberry. “It’s been a winding road with rocks, dust, and occasional cul-de-sacs, but also a path of curiosity, learning, growth, and appreciation. Every stop I have had has been a learning opportunity and source of professional and personal growth.”

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” she added.

Saulsberry grew up in Chicago with parents (and aunts) who set a high bar. She and her sister were expected to earn graduate degrees — anything less was not even up for discussion. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in history with a minor in women’s studies and French from Wellesley College, Saulsberry – like many newly minted graduates — was unsure about what field she wanted to pursue, let alone which advanced degree to obtain.

Subsequently, she taught English for ten months in Paris, then returned to Chicago to plan her next steps while working in retail and customer service positions.

Her path became clearer after landing a position at the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media. She then spent nearly three years as the public programming manager and special assistant to the director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“My work experience in non-profit and volunteer work with organizations advocating for issues I care about helped me identify public policy as my interest,” said Saulsberry, “and I determined that it was time for me to push myself to the next level.”

Saulsberry learned how policy is made on the ground in the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In Harris, Saulsberry found a multi-disciplinary approach she says helped her develop a more critical and analytical eye, as well as the ability to ask more insightful questions. “I also learned that while public policy is a set of imperfect solutions, not a silver bullet, we should still be ambitious and creative.” 

While at Harris, Saulsberry also recognized some of the tough realities that make public policy challenging to execute, noting, “Good intentions alone don’t result in good policy, every decision has a trade-off, and nothing is free. Everything has a cost — whether it’s time, money, or some other resource.”

The analytical toolkit Saulsberry gained at Harris has proven invaluable for her current role at the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. There, she works with various departments and stakeholders in Chicago, including advocates, service providers, businesses, religious/faith leaders, and others, to enforce and strengthen the city’s civil rights laws.

Working on policies with large, multi-stakeholder groups with competing interests and priorities is not new for Saulsberry, who spent the first two years after graduating from Harris serving as the Deputy Policy Director for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

“There was tension, and the legislative process was difficult and messy, but it was rewarding to make progress and eventually draft and pass a piece of legislation. That made the stress worthwhile.” The experience actually reinforced for Saulsberry that Chicago is an excellent place to study public policy. “It is a dynamic city with problems, innovative solutions, opportunities, and a hope that is ingrained in its culture.”

She also encourages current and future Harris students to get out and about, both on and off campus. “We are a city of fascinating people, vibrant neighborhoods, kick-ass organizers and advocates, and people of many cultures, nations, backgrounds, and walks of life. Be curious, and uncomfortable, and explore!”