Lemelle plans to use the skills he gains at Harris to champion the voices of those often unheard.
Headshot of Deion Lemelle
Deion Lemelle

A Navy veteran, Deion Lemelle earned his pilot’s license at 18, studied aerospace engineering at Tuskegee University, and was extensively involved in Navy ROTC before serving as an officer in the Navy for more than two years. 

However, when a medical disqualification barred him from fulfilling his aspiration of serving as a pilot, Lemelle realized it was time to embark on a new professional path.

“Despite my undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering, I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer,” Lemelle said. “However, the project management skills and leadership experience I gained in the Navy opened doors to management opportunities in the civilian world.

“As an officer, I needed to think about my sailors holistically to ensure they had the resources to take care of themselves so the unit could thrive,” he said. “Fortunately, that approach to leadership helped facilitate a smooth transition to the political world.”

Lemelle became interested in policy while volunteering for the Progressive Social Network of Baton Rouge, LA, and soon went on to work for the Louisiana Democratic Party as a special project coordinator. He subsequently worked for Pete Buttigieg's Pete for America campaign, and most recently for Win the Era Political Action Committee and Action Fund.

“I also volunteered on the science policy and democracy reform policy committees with Pete for America—a volunteer role I continued doing for the Biden campaign. That exposure got me thinking about how to write policy in order to have the desired effect—and how to avoid the unintended consequences of poor policy decisions.”

Though Lemelle knew his professional trajectory would include graduate school, it wasn’t until he worked on the Yes on 2 ballot measure campaign in 2018 that he recognized his graduate degree would be connected to policy. “I was talking to voters about the impact that public policy had on them. I have a strong desire to help people, and policy seemed the way to best lend my voice to the fight. I want to generate meaningful policy changes that improve peoples’ daily lives.”

Lemelle said Harris’s focus on quantitative skills was what led him to apply to the Master of Public Policy program. “Since I wanted to apply a quantitative background to policy, Harris was my clear choice. Given my work with various political campaigns, I also was interested in Professor  Anthony Fowler’s research on compulsory voting and voting incentives. The prospect of engaging with the Center for Effective Government really appealed to me as well.”

Now nearing the end of his first year at Harris, Lemelle works as a graduate assistant at the Center for Effective Government, supporting program development for the Senior Practitioner Fellowship program and the Center more broadly. He also serves as a board member at large with the Black Graduate Coalition at UChicago, where he is currently planning an alumni panel, “Black in the Workplace,” to talk to current students about race in the workplace. And this summer, Lemelle will be interning for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, an internship he says dovetails perfectly with his background and policy interests.

After Harris, Lemelle said he hopes to work as a member of a policy team in the legislative or executive branch of the federal government, or as a policy consultant. “A lot of the policy challenges we have today are because we don’t do a good job of hearing everyone’s voice,” he said, “and there’s a lot more work to be done.”