Nora McConnell Johnson wants to use her MPP skills to make an impact in city-level education policy.
Nora McConnell-Johnson smiling. Nora has red hair and is wearing a black blouse
Nora McConnell-Johnson

Studying at Harris, second-year MPP student Nora McConnell-Johnson says, is setting her up for her dream career. “As soon as I could see a career in front of me, I wanted it to be in education policy. Education is the foundation structure in our society, and it unfortunately creates many inequities.”

However, McConnell-Johnson also felt she “had no business working in education policy without having taught in the classroom.” So after earning her BA in Sociology from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, she joined Teach for America and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. “I thought I was going to do two years and get out, but I realized I owed it to the community to be a good teacher.”

She went on to teach in New Orleans for five more years.

With a breadth of the “on the ground” teaching experience under her belt, McConnell-Johnson renewed her focus on education policy. And when researching graduate schools, McConnell-Johnson was drawn by how dynamic the city of Chicago was—and how focused Harris was on social impact.

“During my Admitted Student Day visit, I saw that Harris and UChicago have real impact and ties to the community, and bright professors doing cool research. I knew Harris was where I needed to be.”

And when she arrived for her first year, McConnell-Johnson immersed herself, which led to her participation in Harris Student Government as the Chair of the Social Committee. She has been behind the scenes of several events put on at Harris and loves seeing the hard work she puts into them translate into valuable experiences for the larger Harris community. She also acknowledges that while the transition to remote presents its own challenges, “It has also provided some new opportunities and exciting ways to reimagine things we’ve done before.”

One of the most valuable opportunities for many Harris students is their summer internship, and McConnell-Johnson says hers has been no exception. She has spent this past summer with Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Equity, focusing on the technical and adaptive shifts toward equity in classrooms across Chicago.

“Plus, the path to my internship almost exclusively happened due to opportunities available to Harris students. At a Lunch and Learn event, I met the Chief of Staff for a Deputy Governor who ultimately connected me to CPS and made my internship possible. That’s why you go to grad school—to get those connections to get your foot in the door.” She was also able to secure funding through Harris and the Institute of Politics, which made her able to work for CPS at no cost to CPS.

“One of the unique things about Harris is that we can find our dream internship and funding issues don’t have to hold us back.”

After completing her degree, McConnell-Johnson wants to continue her work in city-level education policy. “What I’ve observed working for CPS—that’s the kind of structural impact I’m looking for.”