Paisley aims to use the analytics skills she gains at Harris to identify issues facing communities, create solutions, and then evaluate those solutions.
Headshot of Phillippa Paisley
Phillippa Paisley

Phillippa Paisley, MPP Class of 2021, grew up in St. Mary, Jamaica, a small rural parish without much economic prosperity. “I saw the disparities. Those who had more and those who had less.”

For example, although some of the students in her primary school could not read, and students were required to pass a national exam, the government only provided some of the books and materials students would need to pass. “Students from more fortunate families could get all of the supplemental books and materials necessary to help them pass,” Paisley said. “Many others, though, had to prioritize food and other necessities over books.”

Experiences such as these evoked a passion for service and inspired her to find ways to create sustainable change.

“If I have the opportunity to make someone better off, I’m going to give my full effort to make it happen,” she said.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in International Relations with a Minor in Political Leadership, Management, and Strategy from the University of the West Indies, Paisley worked for the Latin American Caribbean Centre in Kingston, Jamaica, helping Latin American students improve their English.

Paisley subsequently moved to the United States in 2015, and in 2016 began working as an AmeriCorps Public Ally in Miami with The Children’s Movement of Florida. There, she assisted parents and caretakers to better understand complex legal and legislative information around subsidized children’s healthcare and childcare.

Paisley followed her AmeriCorps service working at HandsOn Broward, a nonprofit organization that inspires, equips, and mobilizes people to effect positive change in Broward County.

It was while managing the program’s data, Paisley said, “I felt more could be done to use the data to shape programs, identify needs, and make sure the programs were not only reaching, but working for, the people that were meant to be reached.”

She began looking at policy programs with a strong focus on quantitative skills. During her search she spoke with Asia Canady, MPP’19, who was the co-founding president of Black Action in Public Policy Studies.

“Asia was super open with me about her Harris experience. I felt coming to Harris I would have a connection to a group of people that identify in the same way I do.”

Paisley admits, however, having some qualms. “Because I didn’t have a quant background, I definitely had some imposter syndrome.” But that concern was gradually reduced as other students, faculty, and administration were there to help.

“There are a lot of great supportive resources and people at Harris that want to help you get through anything you are going through,” she said.

Always looking for ways to give back, Paisley is now an Orientation Leader, helping incoming students get acclimated to Harris.

“I would like to tell incoming students that there are possibilities at Harris, not roadblocks. Harris opened doors for me—for folks like me who thought I wasn’t cut out to do this, or qualified to be in that space, or that I didn’t belong there. Harris wants to have different voices and experiences in its community.”

Paisley also served the broader Chicago community during her summer internship at BECOME Inc., a Chicago-based nonprofit that works with communities to perform Culturally Responsive Program Evaluations that translates to action and advocacy.

As for what the future holds, Paisley has some concrete ideas. “I hope to pursue a career combining program evaluation, international development, and social policy to identifying issues facing communities, groups, or nations, create solutions, and then evaluate those solutions to ensure the right solutions are being implemented.”