Hillegass hopes to use her MPP to connect her background in financial services with policies that create and advance opportunities for economically disadvantaged children and families.
Headshot of Sarah Hillegass
Sarah Hillegass

In 2017, Sarah Hillegass graduated from Marquette University with a degree in accounting and finance, which she quickly put to use working for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in New York City. At PwC, Hillegass spent two years in auditing followed by two years in consulting. Despite a strong appreciation for the work, Hillegass felt that something was missing.

“I always knew I wanted to go to graduate school in some capacity,” Hillegass said, “and during the summer of 2020, I began to feel like I wanted to do work that had more of a direct tangible impact in communities that I’m passionate about.”

Hillegass has long been involved with communities facing urban injustices such as poverty, segregation, and educational deficits. “As a child, my family was involved in mentoring inner-city minority students in Chicago through the Link Unlimited Scholars program. Then, while in college in Milwaukee, I mentored public school students through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and while working in NYC I mentored public school students on their reading capabilities through Read Ahead.”

It was the COVID-19 pandemic, however, that spurred Hillegass to take action. “Like many people, the pandemic gave me time to think and reprioritize my lifestyle. My professional career, alongside my personal interests, made a public policy degree a logical progression—and also a career pivot,” she said. “At PwC, I had various opportunities to work through the impact of the implementation of federal policies in different industries and realized there could be a place for me in the greater policy landscape.”

The Master of Public Policy at Harris, she said, was immediately appealing. “I always knew the University of Chicago was a great school. However, what I really liked about the program was that it is very quantitative focused, which plays to my background,” said Hillegass. “I wanted to study policy from an analytical / practical mindset rather than just the theoretical.”

While at Harris, Hillegass hopes to help assess and develop effective data and results-driven policies to positively impact families and children in need. “I am eager to research and learn more about injustices and inequities that plague our society and in turn work with companies—or on policies—that help improve the wellbeing of all children and families.” She has already become involved in extracurricular activities such as Harris Community Action, a Harris Student Organization that provides free strategic consulting to non-profit organizations on the South Side of Chicago.

When asked about how her work at PwC will inform her Harris experience, Hillegass said, “In the last four years, I analyzed the performance of a multitude of different companies from a quantitative and operational perspective. I think that will help me in my studies from the policy framework of understanding incentives—why people make certain actions, how companies may operate, or implications from policies on people and businesses.”

As for future plans, Hillegass said, "There’s still a lot of time to learn more, but I think working at a foundation, within impact investing, or the public sector would be a natural fit.” She said she is looking forward to continuing to be challenged academically and beginning coursework outside of the Core curriculum in classes such as Economics of Education Policy.