From community organizer to state senator, Sen. Chang (MPP/MSW ‘14) is committed to public service

August 21, 2020
The Bohnett Fellowship helped me understand some of the deep challenges the City of Detroit was facing. That experience helped to ensure that as a policymaker, I think about what it will take to actually implement certain ideas.”
Stephanie Chang

Stephanie Chang

MPP/MSW, '14
State Senator, State of Michigan
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Location: Lansing, MI

First job out of Ford School: House Representative, State of Michigan

Senator Stephanie Chang (MPP/MSW '14) entered graduate school with the long-term goal of running a non-profit. With community organizing experience under her belt, she started at the Ford School and School of Social Work to enhance her quantitative skills. In her second year of graduate school, then state Representative Rashida Tlaib encouraged Chang to run for State Representative of District 1 in 2014. "I was hesitant," she said, "but after self-reflection and shadowing Rep. Tlaib, I decided to do it because I saw as an organizer and someone who cares about making public policy change that this was a way that I could make a bigger impact on issues I care about." She won, setting her on a new career path in public service.

In 2018, Chang won the State Senator seat in Michigan, representing District 1, which includes the city of Detroit. One of her top priorities is police accountability.  "What’s clear is oftentimes police are responding to calls for service that may be a mental health crisis, domestic violence, or homelessness crisis. It’s important to have a social worker on hand to work with the victim and/or the offender," Senator Chang explained. "We're looking to replace the law enforcement/armed person there with a social worker to play the role of helping figure out what a person's needs are and getting them the right services."

Senator Chang explained that environmental justice is also at the forefront of her agenda, particularly in responding to COVID-19. "I've introduced more than a half dozen bills on environmental justice, including water affordability. Detroit water bills are particularly high. During the pandemic, people can’t wash their hands if they don’t have access to water," she said. She explained that the high pollution rates make Detroit citizens at even greater risk for COVID-19. "Knowing the risk factors for COVID-19, like asthma and respiratory problems, are all things more prevalent in communities with air pollution. It's making it harder to breathe for already vulnerable communities. We have a lot of work to do." 

With her dual degree, Senator Chang believes that public office is the perfect place for her to make a difference in communities. And the Ford School prepared her for a career in public service. "I love working directly with people to solve problems. I love organizing, but I'm very much a policy wonk and love having in-depth policy discussions," she explained. Sen. Chang was a Bohnett Fellow at the Ford School, giving her the opportunity to see the inner workings of local government. "The Bohnett Fellowship helped me understand some of the deep challenges the City of Detroit was facing. That experience helped to ensure that as a policymaker, I think about what it will take to actually implement certain ideas," she said.

When she is advocating at the Capitol or speaking to her counterparts, Senator Chang relies on the communication skills she gained at the Ford School. "It is important to be able to clearly articulate what I'm trying to accomplish and why a particular solution would work best and it is also important to be able to rebut arguments clearly and concisely. The Ford School helped refine some of these skills." she said, "In my job, people are always trying to provide us with information from their point of view. The Ford School helped me understand what information is important, what assumptions are being made, and how to counter their arguments."