Combining policy and finance, Biava will leverage his dual degree at Harris and Booth to building a better world through robust economic development.
Peter Biava, MPP/MBA '19


Rockville, MD


BA in Business Administration, University of Notre Dame

Peter Biava is going to build a better world. After a very finance-focused undergraduate education, he plans to develop a rounded skill set that will help him to leverage public policy for robust economic development. He is pursuing a dual degree at UChicago (an MPP plus an MBA), where he hopes to work on three things: skills (great classes in a great program), credibility (affiliation with a reputable institution known for academic rigor) and network (building relationships with brilliant and talented people).

Why public policy?

I want to use my career to help build the world. Economic development, to me, means private investors working with governments to find areas where capital can be deployed for the greatest impact. I’m particularly interested in infrastructure development, as it’s one of the building blocks of urbanization. Looking forward into the future, new technologies will redefine what cities and roads look like and how we interact with our urban environments. I think infrastructure will be an exciting place to be as since I’ll be working on creating new places to live and work.

Getting a degree in public policy is my way of ensuring that I’m prepared to deal with anything that comes my way in that space. I’m using my time at Harris to explore areas that are tangential to economic development, which I didn’t exactly have access to in my undergrad training as a finance major. I think a well-rounded policy education helps me be a better agent for economic development throughout the world.

How would you say your experience in finance complements your pursuits in public policy?

My previous experience in finance was really markets-based, with a focus on global macro. In global macro, markets move on geopolitical news and central bank announcements that affect interest rates and asset prices. So you could say that I already had a decent understanding of economic policy before I came to Harris. One of the things I wanted to understand better was the real world impact of policies beyond global markets- stuff like social & urban policy that affected people on a personal level.

You recently completed an internship with the Office of the Cook County Commissioner. How do you think that will impact the work you’re doing at Harris?

Local Government was a great way to work on real-world applications of what I was learning at Harris. At Cook County I was able to help design local policies related to social enterprise, small-business succession planning, sweetened beverage taxes, and local responses to federal immigration policy. Through that experience I was able to define what economic development really looked like at a local level and discover what the government’s role truly was.

I met [Cook County Commissioner] Chuy Garcia last year when he spoke in David Orr’s leadership class at Harris, which piqued my interest in the dynamics of Chicago’s municipal, county, and regional politics. Now that the summer internship is over, I’m proud that I got to work with his team. The people at Cook County are doing a lot of great work, including criminal justice reform and economic development. And I’m glad that I got involved. I’m glad I was able to represent Harris, and be an active part of my community. It was a good fit all around.

What are your specific career goals in your post-Harris life?

I want to work in infrastructure finance and development.

Often, the missing piece that prevents a place from growing is a lack of investment. Sometimes the investment itself is the catalyst that creates jobs and other positive externalities. The key is identifying the opportunities where the investment makes sense from a financial and social perspective.

I’d like to be the guy that travels the world looking for those opportunities where double (or triple!) bottom line returns are possible; I’m here at UChicago Harris to develop the skills, credibility and network to actually make it happen.

And I think infrastructure finance is the perfect application for this. It’s global in focus, which certainly ties in with my pre-Harris career, but the things I’m learning in graduate school will help me transition from global markets to global physical assets.

What’s the most meaningful thing you did at your last role? What was important to you about that?*

The most meaningful thing for me last year was connecting with wonderful, humbling, people that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know unless I came to the Harris School of Public Policy.

In my prior career I wouldn’t have had a chance to interact with a social worker for homeless people. But here, [Charlie] ends up being one of my closest friends. Harris has given us a venue to interact with and learn from each other: I’ve been able to learn what his career was like and the impact he’s had on people who really need help on a one-to-one basis. It gives me a great new perspective: I now ask myself how I can have an impact on the same kind of people with the work that I do.

At Harris, you interact with a diversity of backgrounds and develop meaningful relationships. And everyone here will end up playing a different role in the world- you learn to use your strengths and your policy focus to make the world a better place. The trick is finding that small corner of the world where your skills and your specialty can actually move the needle!

*This question appears as part of our new “Pay it Forward” Question Series. Each person profiled will pose a question for an as-yet-unknown future interviewee.

What is something surprising about you?

Most people who know me professionally don’t know that I have a large guitar collection and I play music of all genres: I’ve played in metal/punk bands, reggae bands, salsa ensembles and I’ve produced hip-hop music. Making music and recording music are passions of mine, which is something I inherited from my family. [Peter has even attended the Grammys twice, which this interviewer thinks is really fun and pretty cool.]

Do you have any advice for prospective students (that is, people who are just beginning the process of pursuing a degree in public policy)?

Before you start putting pen to paper [so to speak], take a minute and figure out who you are and what you want out of graduate school. Take the time to do some self-reflection and self-assessment. This is will make it easier to link your past, present, and future. (Do you really know what you want? What’s missing from your story, your goals, your plans? What are the skills you want to work on? Think of it as a trajectory of point A to point C, with Harris providing that missing point B.) This will not only help you articulate your candidacy in the admissions process, but will also help you to stay focused and optimize your time once you’re at Harris. If you already know what you want to work on, you can be focused in your coursework. Once that’s established, you’ll get a feel for how much extra time you have to learn about areas that are completely new to you. For example, I knew that crime and economic development went hand in hand (as a sort of chicken-or-the-egg problem), but there are many policy areas adjacent to those I had not previously considered, like early childhood education or healthcare policy. During my free time, I was able to explore these matters during Lunch & Learns, or sitting in on lectures at the Institute of Politics.

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