On Saturday, March 23, the halls of the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center bustled with activity as current students, alumni, and other members of the Haverford community gathered for the fifth annual Public Policy Forum.
With alumni panels on universally relevant and impactful topics like housing policy, law and justice, renewable energy, health policy, and global security, the day-long forum marked a unique opportunity for fellow Fords to engage with both each other and the issues facing the world at large.
The six panels on issues from housing policy, law and justice, renewable energy, health policy, education, and global security were composed of alumni from diverse backgrounds and career paths and moderated by Haverford faculty. For the alumni panelists, including Caitlin Hutchison ’06, assistant director for the Arlington Department of Human Services in Virginia who sat on the housing policy panel, the event was both about giving back to the Haverford community and learning from the other attendees.
“What I found really interesting was how much overlap there is between my work in human services, and in housing in particular, with the work that I learned about when I heard from the health policy panelists and the education policy panelists,” she said. “That is a reason why I think this Public Policy Forum is so critical for current students–it is a perfect illustration of the fact that you can’t do your work in a vacuum because everything is so interconnected!”
At the Arlington Department of Human Services, Hutchison works in five core areas (aging and disability services, behavioral healthcare, child and family services, public health, and economic independence) in order to promote the well-being of the local community. As a former religion major, Hutchison sees the work she is doing in her career as an extension of her Haverford education.
“What drew me to Haverford in the first place was its Quaker roots and its commitment to social justice,” she said. “I had many opportunities as an undergraduate student to put those concepts into practice–both inside the classroom and out.”
Hutchison emphasized to the gathered students at the housing policy panel that a career is made of twists and turns and that the pursuit of progressive change does not follow a linear arc. She spoke of a field placement for her CPGC course, “Women, Medicine, and Biology,” in which she helped individuals apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (sometimes known as food stamps) at a West Philadelphia health center.
“Many [sat] for hours at a time because they were low-income and uninsured, and it was the only place they could access any sort of medical care,” she said. “I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that we lived in such an inequitable society and that what I saw at the health center was the norm for so many people. That semester confirmed for me that after I graduated, I had to effect change–I had to do something that mattered and made a difference. And so, after a somewhat circuitous journey, here I am 13 years later helping to lead an organization that aims to ‘strengthen, protect, and empower those in need.’”
Hutchison’s story and policy advice resonated with current students like economics major Batia Katz ’19. “I always really like getting to hear about the cool policy work Haverford alumni are doing, and especially seeing how excited they are to talk with Haverford students,” she said.
The afternoon portion of the event featured poster presentations from current students in the social sciences, including Katz, who was able to share her findings on the financial disparities experienced by women in STEM fields with interested alumni.
“It was really great to get feedback and questions on my work from people who are a little more removed from my research than my thesis advisor and the economics department,” said Katz, who is beginning a job as a research assistant at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., after graduation. “I also really liked getting to see all the different projects my classmates had been working on and how their work had developed since last semester.”
The keynote conversation between Senior Producer at WNYC Studios Ann Marie Baldonado ’94 and Partner at Baker & McKenzie LLP David P. Hackett ’76 was another highlight of the forum. Bringing together their diverse professional experiences—Baldonado has extensive experience in media and formerly produced Fresh Air while Hackett is an environmental lawyer—created a fruitful conversation about the importance of collaboration and understanding in order to achieve common policy goals.
For the alumni who came back to campus for the event, participating in the Public Policy Forum was a way of giving back to current students and the College’s mission.
“I firmly believe in Haverford’s commitment to education for ethical action, so I was excited to play a small part in fulfilling that pledge,” said Hutchison.