The Ford School of Public Policy recognizes state Senator Stephanie Chang (MPP/MSW '14) with the Neil Staebler Distinguished Service Award, the school’s top alumni award for dedication to excellence in public service.
Senator Chang will be honored on March 6, during a Policy Talks @ the Ford School event in which she will discuss environmental justice with U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and former Towsley Policymaker in Residence and newly appointed Director of the Wayne County Health, Human & Veterans Services Department Abdul El-Sayed.
Chang is the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the Michigan Legislature, and worked as a community organizer in Detroit for nearly a decade before serving two terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. In 2018, she was elected to the Michigan Senate where she served as the Minority Floor Leader. Now in her second term in the Senate, Chang serves as the Caucus Policy and Steering Committee Chair as well as the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety.
“The Committee had the enviable burden of choosing between several accomplished alumni with outstanding professional achievements in public service,” Ford School alumni board member Sam Geller (MPP ‘17) said. “Senator Chang’s accomplishments were so impressive on their own, but what set her apart was her longtime volunteer service both to the Ford School and Asian-American Community in Michigan. Senator Chang has already demonstrated incredible leadership on public policy issues in Michigan and the ability to recruit people to participate in our democracy.”
“Senator Chang was my ambassador to the world of activism, civic engagement, and public service. However, I am only one of many who were inspired by Senator Chang to pursue careers that fight for the most vulnerable and make an impact,” said Andrew Kim (MPP ‘13), who nominated Chang.
During her time at the Ford School, Chang was a David Bohnett Leadership and Public Service Fellow, a graduate fellowship that includes a funded summer internship with the Detroit Mayor’s Office, where she helped staff at the mayor’s office with cost estimates and spatial analysis of the city’s streetlight strategy. In a 2015 interview with U-M, she attributes her run for the State House to her experience as a Bohnett fellow. “I decided to run because I realized how amazing an opportunity it is to make a difference for my community,” she said. “My fellowship at the mayor’s office helped me see things from another perspective—the challenges of providing city services in the midst of a financial crisis and declining faith in government.”
Prior to serving in the state legislature, Chang served as state director for NextGen Climate Michigan, alumni engagement and evaluation coordinator for the Center for Progressive Leadership in Michigan, deputy director for the Campaign for Justice, and as an organizer for Michigan United/One United Michigan. She also worked as a community engagement coordinator for the James and Grace Lee Boggs School and assistant to Grace Lee Boggs, the influential Detroit activist, writer, and speaker.
Chang is a co-founder and past president of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan, a mentor with the Detroit Asian Youth Project, a founder and board member of Rising Voices of Asian American Families, and a board member of the Southwest Detroit Community Justice Center.
In the state legislature, Chang worked on issues that affect vulnerable communities, including air quality protection, education, criminal justice reforms, improving economic opportunities, and affordable, safe drinking water. She passed bipartisan legislation on a range of issues including female genital mutilation, nitrous oxide “whip-its”, reentry services for wrongfully convicted individuals who were exonerated, and more. She was named chair of the Progressive Women’s Caucus in her second term, served on the leadership team for the House Democratic Caucus both terms, and was a co-founder of the Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus.
Chang has introduced more than a half dozen bills on environmental justice, including water affordability. In a 2020 interview with the Ford School, she highlighted the connections between environmental factors—such as access to clean water and air—and the disproportionate effect they have on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Knowing the risk factors for COVID-19, like asthma and respiratory problems, are all things more prevalent in communities with air pollution,” Chang said. “It's making it harder to breathe for already vulnerable communities. We have a lot of work to do.”
Chang earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degrees in public policy and social work from the University of Michigan. She lives in Detroit with her husband, Sean Gray, and two young daughters.
The Neil Staebler Distinguished Service Award recognizes a Ford School alumnus or alumna for outstanding professional achievement consistent with Neil Staebler’s dedication to excellence in public service. Qualified alumni will have demonstrated a commitment to engaging with the public policy challenges of our world through professional accomplishments and public service. The award is a program of the Neil Staebler Fund for Political Education, established at the Ford School in 1987 to honor Neil Staebler, one of Michigan’s leading political activists, who devoted his life to improving democratic government by increasing the participation of citizens in all aspects of public affairs.