Brewster plans to use her MSCAPP degree to build tech-based policy tools to improve domestic government service delivery.
Headshot of Caton Brewster
Caton Brewster

"Growing up, my dad always said, 'If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,'” said Caton Brewster, MSCAPP Class of 2022, "and I was always encouraged to actively be involved in change in every situation." However, Brewster said over time she found that many of the world’s deepest challenges lacked easy answers. Now, she is pursuing her MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) in order to help build policy that makes better use of data and technology.

Brewster says her path to pursuing the MSCAPP was inspired during her time as an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. "It was there I read Poor Economics as part of an economics course, and everything about the importance of using data to help solve challenges on a global level clicked," said Brewster. "The authors built their thesis for global poverty eradication on randomized controlled testing, and that prompted me to seek out jobs in international development where I could gain experience with scientific data collection to make a change."

Brewster subsequently secured a role with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). While there, she conducted scientific trials on the impact of livelihood, agriculture, and financial service programs on alleviating family financial strain. Brewster also managed various aspects of research design, including development of recruitment and implementation procedures, sample selection and randomization, and survey design and implementation.

The strong statistical research foundation Brewster built during her time with IPA served her as she moved on to work for Young 1ove, a nonprofit in Botswana that scales evidence-based programs in health and education to connect youth with proven, life-saving information. In her role as a Research Specialist, Brewster designed data collection tools and monitoring and evaluation systems and oversaw data entry, data cleaning, and data analysis.

"During the six years I spent in the development field, I saw firsthand that some of the biggest problems policy practitioners face stem from seemingly simple aspects of technology," Brewster said, "including data quality, data interoperability, and access to data. I knew the MSCAPP program would uniquely position me to address these problems because it places technology and data within the policymaking framework."

Since starting at Harris, Brewster has found incredible value in that combination: “Not all policy schools are created equal in that sense. Harris gives you the amazing network, the content area education, and hard skills that help you perform better.” While working through her Computer Science and Applications I class, she found that every homework assignment applied her new skills to a real policy issue. “It was so much more than reading lines of code.”

Brewster also said she has felt the focus on real-world applications of data and technology in and out of the classroom. On the Harris Student Government Academic Committee, she works to analyze and understand student feedback—"a job that is more important now than ever given the myriad facets of virtual learning and understanding the needs of students both in Chicago and across the globe."

Brewster is seeking to bridge her international development experience into domestic policy by working for or alongside the government. After spending many years in the nonprofit sector, Brewster realized “the government has a real opportunity to provide services more efficiently and effectively to people.” She looks forward to using her MSCAPP to build technology that streamlines government service delivery. "Government technology may not always be shiny or sexy, like building the next iPhone, but the problems are still problems because there is no magic solution. I’m looking for that middle space where I can be a part of the solution.”