Thomas wants to use his MPP skills to create effective policy for Eastern Kentuckians.
Headshot of Conner Thomas
Conner Thomas

Kentucky native Conner Thomas, MPP Class of 2025, pinpoints three critical experiences that led him to pursue a policy degree at The University of Chicago.

“While an undergrad at the University of Kentucky, I worked with Legal Aid of the Bluegrass. There, I saw firsthand the impact policy can have on nonprofits and organizations, and how that trickles down to people who need it. It was eye-opening, and I took what I saw there to heart: I decided my ultimate goal would be to try to give back to Kentucky somehow. After I graduated, I joined Americorp as a Lead for America Fellow, where I supported the Kentucky Broadband Initiative. Finally, my Lead for America Fellowship provided me an opportunity to develop a community venture, which is how I founded my own nonprofit, the Eastern Kentucky Leadership Summit.”

The mission of the Eastern Kentucky Leadership Summit, Thomas said, is to give rural Eastern Kentucky students an opportunity to gain leadership development skills at an annual conference, retain human capital in the region, and foster a sense of community pride. "As someone who has lived in Eastern Kentucky, I know bringing jobs to the area is critical. In order to attract industry, there is a need for community development and civic engagement—things that require leadership and people who are 'staying in' and investing in these communities.”

Through these experiences, Thomas said, he learned about what touches rural Kentuckians in terms of policy. "My goal is to understand policy first and then see how I can apply my lived experience in these areas to create policy solutions that positively impact these communities.”

Although Thomas weighed several graduate programs, he said Harris was his first choice. "Harris offers so many opportunities to gain exposure to a diversity of thought and people, within both the Harris student body and the city of Chicago as well."

Thomas said the Harris Master of Public Policy's rigorous, wide-ranging, and results-oriented curriculum is the perfect springboard for the kind of work he wants to do in the policy world.

“While I’m at Harris, I want to gain an understanding from an academic lens of how to form, enact, and sustain effective policy,” he said. “I want to learn how to bring diverse groups together to form policies that are equitable for the communities that they serve, become qualified to create that policy, and make the policy understandable for people most impacted by its implementation. If I can address even one of the challenges confronting people in my communities—lift one of the barriers rural Kentuckians face—that would be awesome.

“My family was blown away when I told them that I got in,” he said. “I’ve been talking about it for a long time, and I’m just super happy and excited for the opportunity and what's next."