Li hopes to combine skills from the strong quantitative core at Harris with opportunities to study global conflicts at The Pearson Institute.
Elaine Li, MPP '19 (Expected)


Atlanta, Georgia


EIC Education Group (Consultant)


Various White House initiatives and the Department of State

How has your past career experience led you to public policy?

When I first started out at the State Department, I was an intern with the Office of Foreign Assistance Resources. One of the things I noticed in that office was that a lot of the development work that we do in the field didn’t always correspond with the impact that we wanted to make. Part of it was because of how policy and politics play out in Washington and abroad. I decided that my undergraduate degree in International Politics from Georgetown gave me a strong foundation to understand the world, but I needed to develop some of these data and analytical skills, so that I could better design, implement, and evaluate foreign assistance programs in the field.

Did you have a career shift that made you want to go into public policy?

I spent the last two years in China working as an education consultant, coaching and mentoring youth who wanted to study abroad here in America. As much as I enjoyed the work that I did – and it’s something I hope I will be able to return to at some point – I wanted to come back into the international affairs field because there is just so much going on and now more than ever, we need passionate and dedicated folks in this space. I felt the best way to do so was to go back to school.

Why did you choose Harris?

One of the reasons why I chose UChicago was because when I was looking at different schools, I wanted a program that had a strong quantitative core. I liked that the University of Chicago had a strong core. I also saw that The Pearson Institute was up-and-coming and aligned with what I wanted to do in terms of international development. Also, when I received my acceptance, Associate Dean Ranjan Daniels gave me a personal call (even though I was based abroad in Shenzhen, China at the time). That [call] made me feel an immediate personal connection to Harris, and I look forward to building more of these personal relationships on campus.

This summer, you were selected as a USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Fellow. How has that opportunity made you excited about the work you will be doing at Harris in your first year?

The Payne fellowship is a fast-track to the USAID Foreign Service. This summer, we spent time on the Hill understanding how different elements come into play when we are drafting foreign policy. Next summer, we will work at one of the USAID Missions. Then upon graduation, we get sworn in as Foreign Service Officers. Something I’m really excited for at Harris is the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy (CHPPP). I’ll be starting as an RA [Research Assistant] in the fall; I think it will be really interesting to see how behavioral insights inform policy. The reason why I’m interested in that is I’m hoping to join the Foreign Service as an Education Officer, and I’d like to be able to work with some of our implementing partners to develop programs that improve education access.

As an incoming student who just finished the graduate school application process, do you have any advice for prospective students who are in the first stages of applying?

I definitely think starting early really helped me. I applied Early Action—by starting early with Harris I had things ready to go – my letters of recommendation, my transcripts from Georgetown, etc. – and that really helped me get in the mindset of applying. I also think it’s important to be able to tell a story; so sitting down with your closest colleagues or classmates and explaining why you’re interested in public policy is helpful. They’re the ones who are going to ask you clarifying questions, and you can better shape your narrative from their advice. That will increase your chances of getting into your best-fit program.

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