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Alumni reflect on the enduring and ongoing impact of PPIA

August 26, 2021

“It was really transformational. I really feel like it changed my life, at least my career trajectory. It exposed me to new career paths that I wasn't aware of. It gave me skills and competencies for a number of different roles. In a lot of ways, it makes me much better at my job.”

That was the reflection of Dr. Kenita Williams (MPP ‘07), reflecting on her experience in the Ford School’s Public Policy and International Affairs Program (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute (JSI) program. Currently chief of staff of the Southern Education Foundation, she works to strengthen existing programs, supports the work of the president and CEO and leads strategic initiatives for impact. 

She was one of three PPIA JSI panellists marking the 40th anniversary of the program. The Ford School has been a supporter since 1981, one of a handful of policy schools to host the seven-week junior Summer Institute since its inception.

The PPIA JSI is designed to build diversity in public service, and has welcomed hundreds of rising seniors from schools across the country to prepare them for a career in public service. Many of them have gone on to graduate programs in public policy. 

“I think this work on equity is critically important. I think a lot of the issues that we see, we don't need bad actors or malcontents. They are by and large the results of deliberate policies and choices that we have made. So we need to attack them at the policy level. And those of you through PPIA are charting that path,” she said.

To mark the anniversary, program alumni and students from all over the world “gathered” (virtually) from many of the participating schools, including the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, Princeton University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Minnesota, to network, reminisce, and support the ongoing initiative.

Welcoming the global audience, Ford School Dean Michael S. Barr said the school remains dedicated to supporting the PPIA JSI for many years to come. “We hope to ensure the program continues for another 40 years,” he said.

Farouk Ophaso, a 2006 MPP graduate of the Ford School and JSI alum, is the chief of staff in the office of the undersecretary of defense. During his career, he has served a variety of roles in the U.S. Congress, the White House Management and Budget Office and the Air Force. For him, the program gave him confidence, and opened up a world of different policy topics. 

“Confidence in quantitative skills led me down this career path in the last 15 years working on the federal budget and appropriations in general. Also, as a young person, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. It was the space that allowed me to explore my interests -- domestic issues, international issues, poverty in the U.S., human rights issues -- we talked about everything,” he recalled.

Dr. David Wilson, dean of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California Berkeley, went through the Ford School’s PPIA JSI in 1993. “It gave me direction. It motivated me to think about things in a different way,” which led to public service work, graduate school and eventually academia. 

Their advice to the 2021 JSI cohort included building networks with their peers, widening their professional options, finding mentors throughout their careers, and when they finally get to leadership positions, showing humility.  

Concluding, Wilson addressed the students.You are already on the right path. These people are committed to being in the trenches of doing the public work. And thinking about something higher than yourself. There is no greater reward than giving back.”

You can watch the entire conversation here.

Ford School PPIA JSI alumni are encouraged to reflect on their experiences and stay in touch with the program.