Sachango plans to view policy through the lens of women’s lives in a way that improves outcomes for children and families.
Headshot of Idalina Sachango
Idalina Sachango

When asked what motivates her as a person, Idalina Sachango said, “Believing that things can get better.”

Born in Luanda, Angola, Sachango immigrated to Houston, Texas with her family when she was just two years old. “The challenges of immigration, including the very long walk to citizenship, helped to shape who I am today. The lack of stability—whether I would be here from one year to the next—was formative in teaching me how to keep fighting and working towards what I hope my life could look like.”

That hope fueled Sachango to work hard in school from a young age. Her sophomore year of high school, she participated in a summer school program at Stanford. “That was my first introduction to economics, and it was really fun.” Stanford also was where she first learned about the University of Chicago. “The professors were discussing the University of Chicago economics department school of thought. That a school could influence other schools and ideas about economics intrigued me and stuck in my mind.”

Sachango went on to major in economics at New York University (NYU). She chose to double-major in math because “I always thought I was bad at math, and I wanted to push myself—I wanted to go school to learn and be challenged as much as possible.” 

Near graduation, Sachango felt uncertain of her next steps. “I considered pursuing a career in finance, but I realized I wanted a job where I could practice doing good.” Then a chance encounter presented the perfect opportunity. "When I went back to visit my family in Houston for a week, I met this woman who worked in public policy. She said, ‘You know the Texas Policy Lab just opened up. I think you should reach out to them—they might be looking for people.’ So I applied, and that was how I discovered my passion for public policy.”

Sachango worked with the Texas Policy Lab first as a research assistant intern and later as a full-time research coordinator, where she assisted with primary data collection, surveys, and program evaluations for institutions across policy areas. “My first week there, I met with one of our founding affiliates, Dr. Flavio Cunha, and it was the first time I heard anyone talk about human capital formation in terms of meeting the needs of parents and children first. That really resonated with me because as an immigrant, I learned how instability affects young minds and family dynamics. So that’s the lens through which I plan to continue viewing public policy—specifically how to better women’s lives in a way that strengthens families and improves outcomes for all involved.”

While she found her work with Texas Policy Lab gratifying, she said, “I felt like I was hitting a wall in my career trajectory. I wanted to work with data and be in the rooms where the impacts are being measured.” That’s why Sachango decided to apply to Harris—first to the Policy Analytics Credential Program, where she learned statistical research methods with professor Austin Wright, and then to the MS in Computational Analysis and Public Policy. “I had applied to UChicago for the undergrad economics program at 18 and didn't get in, but I’m here now, and I’m really grateful to learn at one of the best schools in the world.”

Sachango said she already feels very much plugged into the community. “I’ve had so much support from Admitted Student Week, to Orientation events." She also looks forward to getting involved in the Harris Student Organizations: Minorities in Public Policy Studies and Women in Public Policy.

To prospective students, Sachango offered this advice: “Apply—even if you think you’re not going to get in. Just take that first step."