Harrison’s doctoral studies focus on regulation promoting gender equality, primarily in the education sector.
Emileigh Harrison
Emileigh Harrison

University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy PhD student Emileigh Harrison plans to focus her doctoral studies on gender equality in education.

Harrison’s path to higher education was not always clear-cut. Homeschooled until 11th grade, she attended her town’s public high school for her senior year. Upon graduation, Harrison knew she wanted to continue her education, but as a first-generation college student with little financial support, her options were limited. A year after she graduated high school, Harrison enrolled in a small community college, earned her associate degree, then transferred to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh to finish her Bachelor of Business Administration. “I couldn’t afford to live in Oshkosh right away, so I drove an hour-and-a-half each way my first semester there.”

Determined to find a way to pay for school, Harrison funded her bachelor’s degree by starting her own photography business. “Starting my own business taught me to set goals for myself and work without being micromanaged. Those skills transfer well into my work as a researcher because much of the initial work towards any given project is done independently.”

Harrison was thrilled when she received the news that she has been admitted to the PhD program. She had initially applied in 2018 and was denied, but was offered a place in the MA in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods (MACRM) program, which is designed to be a stepping stone to a PhD or a quantitative research-intensive job in academia, a think tank, or a policy organization. MACRM students take courses alongside PhD students, and, if admitted into the PhD program, their credits transfer directly. “It’s been a smooth transition since there hasn’t been any change in my coursework. The MACRM program gave me the opportunity to show that I had what it took.”

While enrolled in the MACRM program, Harrison has enjoyed the collegial nature of Harris: “I work alongside students who are collaborative instead of competitive … For example, as an incoming student I had very little experience using LaTeX, R, and Stata. However, many of the students in my cohort were happy to teach these skills to me and others. I don't know how I would have gotten through the first year without that support.”

Harrison also praised the support she received in the apprenticeship program. “I was paired with Assistant Professor Anjali Adukia, and she was an amazing mentor. I met with her every week, and she gave me great advice on applying to the PhD program and provided me with valuable insights into the research process.”

One of Harrison’s research interests focuses on homeschooling policy and ensuring that homeschooled students, especially girls, have equal access to opportunities. “The rules for homeschoolers are wild in that there aren’t many. In most states, children are not required to take any standardized testing and only a handful of states require that parents have a high school diploma in order to homeschool their children. This lack of regulation makes it very easy for children to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, this disproportionately affects girls, who are often not encouraged to pursue further schooling. I’d like to look at how stricter homeschool regulations can benefit children in these situations.”

When asked what motivates her as a person, she says, “Definitely my love of learning. Being homeschooled allowed me to explore the things I was interested in. As an adult, that’s something I can’t imagine stopping.”