José Villalobos Gonzalez
José Villalobos Gonzalez

Growing up in Mexico City, José Villalobos Gonzalez, MPP’24, MBA’24 recalls being struck by the level of inequality surrounding him, which compelled him to take action at a young age. Led by his desire to pursue a life dedicated to creating positive change and addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues, he applied to the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy because of its quantitative, data-driven focus of academic rigor and the opportunity to pair a Master in Public Policy (MPP) degree with an MBA from UChicago’s Booth School of Business. Now, alongside like-minded peers, Villalobos is an active member of the Harris student body with ambitions to create lasting policy change.

“As I grew up, more opportunities presented themselves and I ended up attending Georgetown University for my undergraduate education. I realized I was blessed with a unique opportunity that many of my peers back home did not get and wanted to use it to give back,” Villalobos said of his time before UChicago. He studied International Affairs with a focus on Environmental Sciences and Economic Development.

Through his undergrad experience, followed by diverse work and volunteer experiences, he realized there were many opportunities to make a profit while having social impact. Villalobos left his consulting job with a passion for building bridges between the public and private sectors which led him to the Keller Center.

Some of his major takeaways from his time at Harris span from classroom learning to fellowships, to exploring Chicago. 

Villalobos had a connection to Chicago prior to arriving in Hyde Park. Through years of volunteer work with the National Hispanic Institute as an adolescent, he spent several summers in the city and participated in programming that connected him to the various Hispanic neighborhoods and provided leadership and community engagement opportunities. He now serves as the President of Latin American Matters (LAM), a Harris Student Organization, and works to encourage the Latin American community at Harris to engage in service projects and community growth initiatives within the Latin American communities across the City.

Time spent in the classroom has also provided significant takeaways. Villalobos especially enjoyed programming sequence courses under the leadership of Assistant Instructional Professor Jeff Levy. His final project analyzed the economic and health costs of climate change denialism in the United States.

“I acquired new skills that can be directly applied to the things I’m passionate about.”

Villalobos remarked that learning how to use econometrics and machine learning taught him a lot, but that understanding the limitations of these things was also valuable. He appreciated gaining the quantitative toolkit, but also the critical thinking skills needed to affect real change through his coursework at Harris.

Another highlight of his time at Harris thus far derived from the Bartlett Fellowship, a program in partnership with EPIC, that allows Harris students to gain hands-on experience in energy, environment, and climate economics. “My Bartlett Fellowship was an awesome experience. Mark Templeton taught me a lot about how to work through the legal system and with community organizers to try and make strong arguments for defending things you care about.”

After graduation, Villalobos hopes to work in public and private partnerships – focusing on the fields of energy and sustainability, ESG and impact investing, or within the realm of economic growth through education, job creation, and infrastructure investments, guiding large companies to ensure their efforts are beneficial to all involved.

“There’s a big dissonance between public and private interest,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to do things that benefit everyone if you can get business and government workers to understand each other and talk through their concerns and priorities. One party often has a hard time understanding the other. I went from a public sector degree to a private sector job, and I left wanting to do something where I could be a translator between the two, and help find the greatest synergies between them. For example, renewable energy is a field I’m very interested in and where there’s potential for everyone to benefit, but you have to understand what all parties need.”