Asher Mayerson, MBA/MPP'21

Fresh out of Dartmouth in 2015 with bachelor’s degrees in math and economics, Asher Mayerson, MBA/MPP’21, wanted to find a job that mixed finance and government policy. Instead, he landed at the most hallowed American address for aspiring political junkies: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I ended up right out of undergrad working in the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement, which was focused on community and stakeholder outreach,” says Mayerson, who served as a policy advisor and staff assistant in the office and supported the White House’s public engagement efforts. “It was amazing to serve President Obama and the administration, but not exactly the work that I wanted to do long-term.”

When Obama left the White House, so did Mayerson. The native of Rockville, Maryland, moved to Chicago, where he dove headfirst into local government and community life. He became active in Buena Park, his North Side neighborhood, and took a position with Kurt Summers, the City Treasurer, where he learned the ins and outs of municipal finance. And, of course, he fell in love with the Windy City.

That’s where the University of Chicago comes in. In pursuing a dual degree at the Harris School of Public Policy and the Booth School of Business, Mayerson managed to find the perfect intersection of his interests.

“It felt pretty natural,” he says. “To be able to draw on the richness and expertise from the classes, the professors, the student body, and the extracurriculars at both of the two schools, that was exactly the education I wanted.” While sharpening his skills in finance fundamentals, applying them in policy spaces in both corporate and public sectors, he was also able to do the policy work he loved, and he learned how the two disciplines could intertwine in his professional career.

A perfect example was a course in household finance taught by Assistant Professor Dmitri Koustas. “One of my real takeaways was that the complicated financial decisions that households face are in some ways similar to the types of decisions that businesses have to make,” Mayerson says. “For example, how does an individual or a household invest in their future, whether it's an educational investment that they’re really hoping is going to pay dividends in the long term, or taking out a new mortgage or refinancing an existing mortgage? These are all similar to capital expenditures that a company would make.” Not all households have the capacity or time to think through those complex decisions; Mayerson says this is where he learned that it’s up to policymakers to support them in making those decisions and ease the financial burdens households face.

Mayerson with President Barack Obama.

The diversity of Harris students, and their interests, energized him. “People came from different sectors, public, private, nonprofit, and then people left to work in different sectors,” says Mayerson. “And that diversity is quite helpful because policy intersects with everything in our world. And then for me as a Harris alum, to be able to have relationships across different sectors—policy organizations, political consulting, private sector consulting, government at the federal level, state, and local level, in finance—is also quite valuable.”

After a short stint in investment banking, Mayerson landed at Boston Consulting Group, where he collaborated with large financial institutions on climate and sustainable finance before hearing the siren call of Washington, D.C., once again. “I always had the intention of coming back after having built a unique set of capabilities,” says Mayerson, who is now employed at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “That’s why I worked in municipal finance. That's why I got my MPP at Harris and my MBA at Booth. That's why I spent a summer in banking and why I went to work with large financial institutions. I always hoped those experiences would set me up to make a contribution that was unique to me and my skill set.”

That contribution, or one of them, came as part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in 2022. One of the provisions of the legislation involved a $20 billion appropriation that brought together several of the areas of expertise that Mayerson had honed at UChicago. He was tapped to lead the design and implementation of the $20 billion appropriation, which has taken shape through a pair of grant programs: the National Clean Investment Fund (NCIF) and the Clean Communities Investment Accelerator (CCIA). “The programs will work together to create a national clean financing network to finance climate and clean energy projects, especially in low-income and disadvantaged communities,” says Mayerson. “Designing the programs involved translating a couple hundred words of text from legislation into hundreds of pages of requests for applications and guidance, designing an incredibly robust review and selection process, and more—for programs that resulted in selections for grant awards ranging from $400 million to $7 billion.”

“The impacts of climate change are here,” says Mayerson, who was with Vice President Kamala Harris when she announced the funding in April 2024. “And the sooner that we can get capital out into projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the better we are going to be at not just reducing the impacts of climate change over the long term, but also creating the clean energy economy we want to see in this country.”

Achieving those climate goals, Mayerson says, is going to require a tremendous amount of capital in communities across the country. By leveraging $1 of public funds for almost $7 of private capital over the next seven years, these programs will ensure that the federal government drives capital into the projects that most need them and into the communities that will most benefit. Mayerson loves that his position at the EPA allows him to “get in the weeds” and focus on specific details on topics on a granular level to drive decision-making.

Mayerson cites UChicago Harris’ focus on quantitative rigor as a key influence in his career. “Numbers are often choices,” he explains. “For example, the unemployment rate. There are different ways of calculating the percentage of people who are truly employed. The numbers that we calculate are products of choices, and then what we choose to focus on is also a choice as well. I think part of the UChicago ethos is to rigorously interrogate those choices and then to use the quantitative tools where they’re most valuable.”

The “UChicago ethos” of not accepting statements at face value plays out in other ways. While he knew little about federal grant regulations prior to his time at the EPA, Mayerson knows to seek out answers from experts—and worked to integrate the new data. “Asking the questions, that’s how you develop the knowledge,” he says. “And also someone has to be the integrator across different knowledge sets. Someone needs to integrate grant regulations with what are we are actually trying to do from a programmatic and policy perspective. And the only way to do that is to ask questions of the relevant expert. It's really that Harris perspective of always asking the question that has served me well in this work.”

Mayerson counts running, beer, and soccer among his hobbies; he particularly enjoys watching the Washington Spirit, the local NWSL team. And whether he’s jogging in Rock Creek Park, influencing America’s approach to environmental concerns, or simply tending his garden, Mayerson is thrilled to be where he is in his life. And now, when he returns to the White House, it’s not as a kid straight out of college, but rather as a savvy leader who is there to brief senior staff on his programs.