Felthouse found her public policy niche during her summer internship working on COVID-19 responses with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly.
Headshot of Karis Felthouse
Karis Felthouse

At 22, Karis Felthouse was a field organizer for the Democratic Party of Virginia in a rural area of the state.

And she was having an eye-opening experience.

“There I was, fresh out of Arizona State University: bright-eyed, bushy-tailed...and  excruciatingly green. The challenges constituents were facing in Virginia were vastly different from anything I had experienced growing up outside of Phoenix, Arizona. For example, there was a dying paper mill that was massively polluting the area, and there was no public transit. I learned a lot about listening and meeting people where they are, saw firsthand what ineffective policy could look like and the value of community buy-in at a grassroots level.”

Felthouse honed her knack for working on campaigns during her five months in Virginia and took those skills back with her to Arizona. There, she spent the next few years working for local, state, and congressional races: she served as the finance director for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ campaign and as the Arizona scheduler and staff assistant for Arizona’s senior Senator, Kyrsten Sinema. These experiences allowed Felthouse to discover her niche: “My work in politics led me to seeking the sweet spot where public good and private interest meet.”

At the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, Felthouse has pursued that passion in the Master of Public Policy program while continuing to build her skillset. “I’m currently working towards the Municipal Finance certificate, because I know I need to understand how to follow the money and how it can best work for both public and private interests.” Another asset Felthouse said she appreciates is the way her Harris studies have sharpened her quantitative toolkit. “Once, while I was reading for my regulation class about tax code, I remember thinking how much I disagreed with the author’s point—but I also understood it. I’ve come to really enjoy the study of economics and being able to read and hear from all of these incredible minds in the field. Being able to understand yet disagree with them feels like further proof that I’m really internalizing what I’m learning.”

Felthouse said her toolkit continued to expand in summer 2020 when she was a Global Policy and Public Affairs Intern for the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company. As one of two interns for a global policy team, she focused primarily on COVID-19 responses, especially in the United States. “I also did election analysis for local and federal elections, examined executive orders issued pertaining to drug pricing, and considered what the landscape will look like under Biden versus under Trump.

“My internship with Eli Lilly cemented my desire to focus on how government and business interact with each other. I saw where there are current shortfalls in the industry and the workforce—and how I can use my skillset to fill a niche not many people are in. I was flattered when, over the course of about 40 one-on-one interviews across different departments, many colleagues shared they wished they knew more about campaigns and politics. My summer internship helped me see exactly where I want to put my energy in my final year at Harris.”

When she’s not reading tax code or researching healthcare regulations, Felthouse has perfected her chocolate cookie baking and spends time with her recently adopted dog, Ollie. She never loses sight, however, of what drives her: “My personal mission statement is to use my privilege and talents to make an impact, particularly to help women live better, more fulfilling lives. This starts with making sure people are healthy and have access to resources and infrastructure necessary to support them.”