Hirschy continues to serve the community while she studies housing and urban development at Harris.
Headshot of Isabelle Hirschy
Isabelle Hirschy

Originally from Cary, North Carolina, Isabelle Hirschy, MPP Class of 2022, spent her summers repairing houses with the nonprofit Appalachia Service Project. 

“My first summer working there, I was 14 years old. We were putting a new roof on a mobile home which had degraded so much the only way the owner could keep his roof in place was to put tires on top of it. So the first thing we had to do was get up on this roof, and just roll tires off of it. And I was shocked because I definitely grew up in a bubble of economic privilege and to be confronted with this lived experience was really eye-opening for me. I kept going back, year after year.”

Wanting to continue serving her community, Hirschy majored in political science at University of North Carolina. After graduation, she worked for a year with the Conservation Fund through the Johnson Service Corps, a program similar to Americorps, that places members in a nonprofit and provides them with professional development opportunities. Her team offered boutique consulting services to nonprofits needing assistance with technical services such as establishing a board, filling out 501c3 status applications, and creating budgets. “It was wonderful to work with so many people who came up with creative solutions to local problems. At the same time, it surprised me how many barriers there were to getting resources funneled to nonprofits that provide essential services to their communities.” 

This work made Hirschy curious about how to connect her service experience with the policy analysis she had learned in college and examine housing and urban policy at the national level. “I knew any sort of housing work I wanted to go into would touch the government at some point, and public policy would allow me to look at the big picture while still impacting direct service provision. Harris stood out to me because of the many opportunities to get involved in the community.” 

She wasted no time in getting involved—in her first year, Hirschy joined the Harris Student Government Social Committee, became a member of Harris Community Action, and began working with the South Side Housing Data Initiative through the Office of Civic Engagement. “I knew that Harris had lots of opportunities to get involved in the local community. Engaging with the complex history and the work being done currently to improve the relationship between the university and its community was really important to me as I study housing and urban development.”

In Harris Community Action, Hirschy worked with a team of students providing pro bono consulting for local nonprofits. Recently, her team worked with a nonprofit doing trauma informed care and restorative justice with youth on the South Side. “Being able to learn from a practitioner and my fellow group members—that experience was so much more than its end product.” 

Through the Southside Data Housing Initiative, Hirschy is working with her team to analyze the state of housing in different neighborhoods across the South Side. “We’re currently working alongside community organizations in South Shore, and they're definitely driving the bus on the application of the data. It’s excellent to know that our research won't just exist in a vacuum. I learn something in class one day and then I’m using it the next.”

This summer, Hirschy has also secured a Mayoral Fellowship. “I knew that having public sector experience, especially local government experience, and knowing how cities function would be very valuable to my interest in housing policy. I’ve spoken to Harris students who have done the fellowship before and staffers at the mayor's office, and they work on a variety of fast-paced projects with other student interns from across the country. I know that it's going to be challenging in the best sense.”