Guiriba wants to use policy and technology to improve educational opportunities for Chicago youth.
Sharlene Guiriba in a green shirt and necklace smiling
Sharlene Guiriba

Life is often a lottery. The happenstance of birthplace, where you attend grade school—these circumstances tend to play an outsized role in determining people’s lifelong trajectories, providing some people with a wealth of opportunities and others with very few.

Sharlene Guiriba wants to make it more equitable.

That is why she began attending the University of Chicago, entering a three-year joint program where she will earn both a Master of Public Policy from the Harris School of Public Policy and a Master of Business Administration from the Booth School of Business. Guiriba, a former strategy and operations manager and Deloitte tax consultant, aims to learn how to leverage public policy, finance, and technology in ways that bring better educational opportunities to disadvantaged youths in her hometown of Chicago.

“The circumstances you’re born into are random, but we have a responsibility to reduce the gap in opportunities that comes with that randomness,” Guiriba said.

Guiriba has seen firsthand how much chance can play a role in determining people’s progress.

Born in the Philippines, she was raised by relatives while her parents moved to Chicago to establish a new life for her. At age 4, she joined her parents in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood. But in middle school she applied to attend Northside College Preparatory High School, a selective-enrollment academy in the Chicago Public School system that’s often ranked as one of Illinois’ top high schools.

Soon, she said she began to see a sharp divergence between her educational opportunities compared to what her neighborhood friends experienced.

“My friends’ teachers weren’t as available after class. They didn’t have help getting into college. They didn’t have access to fully equipped computer labs. Meanwhile, my classmates had access to more than 100 extracurricular opportunities. The whole point of my high school is to attract smart, ambitious kids. But what about the kids who get left behind? Many kids from my neighborhood were brilliant, and it was tough to see some of them not be able to fulfill their potential.”

Guiriba felt compelled to give back.

In 2015, she began mentoring elementary school kids to improve their reading comprehension and serving on a Deloitte committee partnered with the Posse Foundation to provide Chicago students with exposure to business careers and assistance with career preparation. Since 2017, she has volunteered as a mentor for Chicago Scholars, a nonprofit that helps first-generation college students from under-resourced Chicago communities to navigate from high school, through college, and into a career. She now sits on that nonprofit’s associate board.

But Guiriba found herself wanting to do more. She decided she needed an advanced degree to allow her to address educational inequities on a larger scale. After researching various programs, she chose to attend the University of Chicago because she said she found it to have the top pairing of business and public policy master’s degrees.

“I needed both programs to be of equal caliber, and the University of Chicago was by far the best fit. The engagement at Harris was superior to other policy programs I looked at. I liked how involved the professors are in working on policy outside the classroom. You can have an excellent professor, but if they’re in a bright ivory tower, what’s the point?”

“A lot of people helped me get where I am today, and I really want to use these degrees to help people in similar circumstances. I feel so lucky to be here. I want everyone else to have that opportunity.”