“I want to make data-driven decisions and also have the sensitivity to know whatever decision I make will impact real people.”
Jimena Allendelagua
Jimena Allendelagua

Jimena Allendelagua understands the exponential value of a good job. For some, a profession can impart purpose or stability; for others, it can be a ladder out of poverty.

Decades ago, a series of good jobs allowed Allendelagua’s grandfather to thrive in Mexico City; he had left the countryside after his eldest child died due to a lack of rural health care options. And in Allendelagua’s work for the nonprofit Intrare, where she assists Central American refugees as they integrate in her hometown of Mexico City, she recognizes that steady employment is often what allows refugees to create a new home and plant roots in a foreign land.

In the fall, Allendelagua will attend The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy as a Master of Public Policy candidate and a recipient of the Fulbright-García Robles Scholarship. She plans to study how to develop and implement data-driven approaches in labor economic policy, with the goal of aiding marginalized communities and improving their inclusion in labor markets.

“I’m very interested in issues of poverty, especially when it comes to job discrimination or labor inclusion,” Allendelagua said. “It’s important for people to feel that what they’re doing in their daily life contributes to something, and it’s important to pay attention to these issues because it really impacts people’s perception of themselves.”

Labor market issues are particularly important in Mexico, Allendelagua said, because nearly 44 percent of the nation lives in poverty. While a student at El Colegio de Mexico, she assisted in academic research into the informal labor markets of downtown Mexico City and recognized that creating quality jobs in her homeland could go a long way to solving both economic and social problems.

After graduating, she worked for two years as an analyst and advisor to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Office of the Chief of Staff. There, she helped organize an intergovernmental conference to promote Central American economic growth and also analyzed North American labor, trade, and border issues.

However, it was her work researching Mexico’s lauded social-welfare program Prospera for Mexico City that piqued her interest in domestic policy. As part of a team responsible for interviewing the public officials who had implemented the program, she found herself face-to-face with passionate policymakers who had fought to help the nation’s most disenfranchised.

“They were so committed to having an impact on people who were from the poorest communities in Mexico,” Allendelagua said. “These were people who were really out there, working directly with people. And it was eye opening to see how an individual can really make an impact if they become involved with the problems they believe need to be changed.”

Those same values also drew her to Harris.

“I was very inspired by the University of Chicago’s commitment to their surrounding community—not being apart from the people who they’re supposed to be working for,” Allendelagua said. “It’s very holistic: the human element of public policy.”

“I feel in Chicago I can learn the skills I need to make data-driven decisions and also have the sensitivity to know whatever decision I make will impact real people.”

Allendelagua’s desire to make an impact also prompted her to co-found the program Colmentoras in early 2019. Colmentoras connects female students at her alma mater with professional mentors who can guide them as they enter the early stages of their careers. The group also hosts workshops and lectures about women in the labor market.

While Allendelagua knows Harris will help her own employment opportunities, she said that getting a public policy degree is about much more than landing a good job. It’s about putting herself in a position to help others.

“With privilege goes responsibility,” Allendelagua said, quoting President John F. Kennedy.

“I also want to give back. And if I put myself out there and speak up for what I believe in, I hope to have a positive impact on people’s lives.”