Nechamkin is on a mission to use data and public policy to level the playing field for educational, income, and social equality.
Emma Nechamkin, Class of 2019
Emma Nechamkin, Class of 2019

Emma Nechamkin had her dream job right out of undergrad as a global health care consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But it wasn’t until an eye-opening trip to Mumbai, when she was surrounded by examples of economic inequality, that she realized her passion for data wasn’t always working in tandem with her passion to help people.

“There’s an unimaginable amount of data that just needs more people who care to use it to help,” Nechamkin says. 

She decided to change paths and joined Teach for America, moving to Chicago to teach chemistry to high-risk, low-income students. Although she could see her students’ tangible improvements in grades and test scores through the work she was doing, the larger, systemic problems her students faced every day showed her that being hands-on was not nearly as effective as changing the hand people are dealt.

To Nechamkin, it seemed the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy had the only master’s program in the country offering a chance for true involvement in the school and the community through a unique degree: a master of science in computational analysis and public policy. In her graduate school search, Harris seemed to come up more than any other program in its ability to deliver high-impact results in real life. She knew Harris would give her the skills to make a global impact.

“Harris was the only place as quantitatively intense as what I experienced in undergrad. That’s what I wanted more of in my future,” Nechamkin says. “The facilities are so empowering and the policy background unparalleled.”

Nechamkin seeks out challenges, and she has found Harris to be an institution that is always ready to put her skills and education to the test. Through the combined computer science and public policy curriculum, she is constantly challenging herself to make sure she is interpreting and understanding data in an unbiased way, then using that data to make evidence-based policy decisions. That, combined with empathetic application in the real world, is how she believes true change is made.

Her message to up-and-coming policy students: It’s okay to struggle because that is a part of trying to help solve problems that have persisted for far too long.

Nechamkin does her part to work toward finding solutions to those problems. In addition to being a top student in the MSCAPP program, Nechamkin currently puts her skills to use as a research intern at the University of Chicago Crime Lab. She develops data-driven systems that identify at-risk police officers for training and support and that ensure accuracy in the Chicago Police Department’s overall use of data.

Nechamkin’s commitment to graduate school didn’t come without intense life changes. The varied experiences she has had—from global health consulting to Teach for America to refocusing as a full-time graduate student—make her a more well-rounded public policy practitioner. She knew that expanding her toolkit by pursuing the MSCAPP degree was the best way of ensuring she would have a meaningful impact on the policy issues important to her.

“People are inherently good,” Nechamkin says, “and data can reveal good choices.”