Abreu seeks to leverage his MSCAPP degree to target systemic issues at the root of education disparities.
Headshot of Onel Abreu
Onel Abreu

Brooklyn native Onel Abreu, MSCAPP Class of 2022, graduated in 2008 from the University of Buffalo with a degree in neuroscience. As the recession made it difficult to find a job in his field, Abreu jumped at the offer to work in finance in New York City. “However, working in finance felt like I was making people a lot of money but not doing much to help my community.” 

Riding the subway on his way to work, Abreu was reading the newspaper and saw an ad for Teach for America. People told him growing up that he was a teacher in the making, and with the application deadline coming up in a few days, he figured he would apply. He ended up getting the fellowship and was sent to Chicago, where he has been for the past 10 years. “I hoped they would keep me in New York, but unexpectedly they sent me to Chicago. Thankfully I ended up loving the city,” Abreu said.

He spent his first two years in Chicago teaching science and social studies to eighth graders. Then he moved to Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy, part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, where he is currently the Assistant Principal for Academics and Post-Secondary Pathways.

“I thought I would stay with the school for a long time, but in this administrative role I started to feel that a lot of my work was being undone by factors outside the control of teachers and administration—things like systemic racism and oppression, and the resulting lack of resources in the community. As much as I was making an impact at the school level, I needed to push myself to have a broader impact.”

This led him to apply to the Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (MSCAPP) program at Harris to learn about policymaking and better understand data.

“I wanted the skillset that would help me get into the rooms where policy was being made, and to speak from professional experience—with the right numbers to back me up,” he said. “I was looking at some other schools, but Harris was my number one. I had been impressed by people from the University of Chicago who I had worked with before, and I really appreciated the school’s work in the Chicago community.”

Abreu said he has really enjoyed his experience at Harris thus far. One of his favorite classes was Computer Science with Applications with Associate Professor Anne Rogers. “Her commitment and dedication to her students were clear from the get-go,” Abreu said.

Abreu credits the Harris staff for helping him succeed. “I have gotten so much support—my academic advisor reached out almost right away, and teachers worked with me to make the material more accessible. The promise Harris made that I didn’t need a quantitative background to succeed was right. I owe a huge debt to the team for that promise being true,” he said.

This summer Abreu will be working in Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office on a Mayoral Fellowship. He wants to use this summer to decide where exactly he sees himself making a difference in education. “Whether I end up in politics or starting my own business, I am looking to have an impact,” he said. “I love seeing people that have potential and helping them make it better.”