Crahen’s military experience led him to pursue his MPP as the next step towards a career in public service.
Headshot of Zackariah Crahen
Zackariah Crahen

For Zackariah Crahen, seeking a career in public policy felt natural.

Originally from a small town in Ohio, Crahen earned his undergraduate degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2012. Upon graduation, he commissioned as an Armor officer in the Army. “Over the course of six years, I served alongside a diverse and selfless cross-section of the entire country,” Crahen said.

It was during that time he recognized how public service could play a role in the next phase of his career. “The US Military has historically functioned not just as a means of national defense, but as a social change agent. We desegregated decades before the Civil Rights Act, and just during my tenure, I saw Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed nearly four years before gay marriage was federally legalized, as well as the opening of combat arms and special operations functions to all genders. I’m proud to have served with the first generation of Americans that could wear the uniform but do so as their true selves.”

After he left the Army, a brief tenure working in the corporate world provided Crahen the motivation he needed to take the next step in his career. “I was working a business development job in Dallas and making good money, but it was personally unfulfilling. I realized there was more work to do and I was compelled to public service once again.”

Inspired by what he had experienced growing up and had seen during his military career, Crahen said he realized his interests lie primarily with urban planning, sustainable economic development, and addressing the urban-rural divide that exists across the US. “And I saw that a degree in public policy would provide the toolkit necessary to tackle those challenges—and institute changes.”

Crahen attended a Service Academy Career Conference in San Antonio and had a conversation with a University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy recruiter who also shared a military background. “That conversation confirmed that I not only wanted to pursue a master’s in public policy, but that Harris was my clear choice. And while Chicago’s geographic location was already extremely appealing given my interest in rural-urban divisions, the UChicago network I’ll be gaining—not just from across the Midwest, but in Washington, DC as well—will be invaluable.”

Even before classes began, Crahen had already taken his extracurricular involvement to the next level. “While going through the application process, I knew something else was needed. Veterans and the military-affiliated community share a life experience that is simply not that well understood by those unfamiliar with it. I thought there needed to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for the military-affiliated community interested in Harris.”

So Crahen created one.

Military Affiliated Students of Harris (MASH) addresses, at least in part, the unique challenges faced by veterans transitioning from military service to civilian life to graduate school.

 “I consider it really important that people at Harris, who might find themselves in the highest offices of government, have at least been exposed to the military—so as not to misuse the military or be unaware of the unique issues veterans encounter later in life. In addition, as Harris is a tremendously diverse student body, MASH can serve as an invaluable resource for students not from the US. Our firsthand experience can provide perspectives and insights on our military in a unique and candid manner. Perhaps, however, the most important goal of MASH is to get more veterans engaged in the field of public policy.”

As for where Crahen sees himself after Harris? “Whether a city planner, management of other organizations, or even running for office one day, I want to be closely connected with whatever community I eventually settle in to improve the lives of my neighbors—especially those who have been marginalized or simply forgotten for generations,” he says.