Schaeffer aims to use the skills she’s gaining in the Evening Master's Program to position herself to help alleviate childhood poverty.
Kat Schaeffer, Headshot
Kat Schaeffer

Kat Schaeffer has deployed overseas as a Marine, organized grassroots voting rights campaigns, and coached military veterans on how to reenter the workforce.

But when Schaeffer wanted to address societal problems on a larger scale, she turned to the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy's Evening Master’s Program (EMP). A workforce development program manager in Chicago, Schaeffer said she’s acquiring the quantitative policy analysis and research skills to best position herself to help alleviate childhood poverty.

“Growing up in Texas, I saw my mom struggle to make ends meet as a single parent. From early on, I wanted to help people in those situations. My career has been primarily on the direct service side, and I needed to gain the quantitative knowledge to move up to the next level. With the Evening Master’s Program, I’m positioning myself to be more valuable in analyzing and implementing policy as it relates to child poverty—possibly in a research or policy advising position.”

In addition to her upbringing, Schaeffer says joining the Marines straight out of high school was a watershed moment. Serving for five years from age 18 to 23, she was stationed on both U.S. coasts and deployed twice to Japan.

“The experience provided a very big worldview very quickly. I learned how to work with people from vastly different backgrounds toward common goals. The GI bill also was invaluable: it’s the reason I could attend college. I would not be where I am today had I not joined the Marine Corps.”

In 2014, after graduating from St. Edward’s University with a BA in Kinesiology, Schaeffer worked as a campaign director and administrator for The Public Interest Network in Chicago. There, she organized and managed large budgets for a variety of campaigns, including ones advocating for clean water, voting rights, and extricating corporate money from politics.

In 2015, Schaeffer began working for the National Able Network as a career coach, helping veterans find employment. She subsequently oversaw quality assurance for Department of Labor programs that help low-income seniors re-enter the workforce. “In that role, I saw that while seniors are one of the best-served demographics in our country, children are one of the worst-served. I want to help fix that.”

Although Schaeffer began her program remotely in spring 2020, she said the blend of lectures and hands-on problem solving has provided an experience that closely emulates a classroom setting. Asked what her favorite courses have been, she said, “Statistics for Data Analysis and Leadership and Negotiations. Both have definitely changed my thinking, and I’m already using skills from both courses at work. In fact, I’m really impressed how quickly what I’ve learned in class has been applicable to my work.”

Schaeffer said the standout moment from her first quarter was a Saturday lecture by Associate Professor Damon Jones.

“He presented many theories of income inequality and also tied them into COVID-19 policy such as the paycheck protection plan, and what that meant for income inequality. I previously had this idea that one of the ‘silver bullets’ to achieving more equity was creating a healthy workforce and good workforce programs. But after talking to Professor Jones, I recognized the importance of tax policy—and other policies—achieving those aims. Now I’m thinking more comprehensively about solutions.”

Schaeffer is ready to continue learning new ways of thinking and approaching problems. “I’m so excited to see what the next months of my degree hold.”