Puc hopes his MPP from Harris, combined with his experience working for Congress and the state government in Quintana Roo, will help him achieve his ultimate goal: changing the educational outcomes in Mexico.
Nelson Puc
Nelson Puc

Education has always played an important role in Nelson Puc’s life. His parents both taught elementary education in rural Chetumal, Mexico, and Puc taught elementary English before working for Congress and the Rural Development Secretariat in Quintana Roo.

At a young age, he came to an important realization about the disparities between school districts: “When I was very young, I visited my parents’ school. When it was time for recess, we all went to play soccer, and there were a lot of kids who didn’t have shoes, but I did. And I was still getting outplayed! So I decided to take off my shoes. Of course, that didn’t help my game at all; in fact, it hurt quite a bit. But it did help ease the feeling that I had an advantage, and the other kids reacted positively. It helped me internalize that we all have things we were born into, and there’s no merit to being born into a family that can provide you with things like shoes: you are not superior because you have shoes. That moment helped me realize that I was born into privilege. And, rather than feeling ashamed, I want to convert those privileges into opportunities to improve outcomes for less fortunate people.”

Now an incoming student in the Master of Public Policy program at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, Puc is one of few Fulbright-Garcia Robles scholars to come from a small town in Mexico. His ultimate goal is to close gaps between urban and rural schools by working at his country’s Ministry of Education.

When he taught, Puc noticed that reforms in education policy were often too general. “The policies implemented were sometimes out of touch with the realities of the school. For example, the same quantity of resources for my large class of 30+ students might also be given to classes half that size in other districts. The policies for schools often do not take key differences into account.” He plans to create a more tailored approach to education policy that addresses feedback from teachers, who can best clarify the specific needs of their school districts.

Puc always knew he was passionate about education, but he came to the conclusion he wanted to pursue education policy when he participated at Talentum-Universidad, a program by the Center for Economics Teaching and Research (CIDE) which, not unlike Harris Public Policy, emphasized data analysis with a strong focus on community outcomes. “At Talentum, students got to know people in underprivileged parts of Mexico City. We talked with experts and learned how to make an impact in our communities. I realized that I wanted to pursue policy over economics because I want to make a difference in the real world.”

Combined with his personal connection to education and his experience analyzing data for Congress and the state government in Quintana Roo, Puc hopes his MPP will better position him to achieve his ultimate goal: changing the educational outcomes in Mexico. “UChicago has a strong reputation of quantitative, evidence-based policymaking, and I have seen policies implemented are not always well-researched. I’d like to help change that.”

Puc understands that some students are concerned about their undergraduate backgrounds and the cities they come from, but he encourages them to consider applying to Harris. “I always knew I wanted to do something big and get out of my comfort zone. In order to achieve big goals, the first step is to think you are capable. The fear of not being enough is something people need to overcome.”