Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, March 12, 2012

High school experience drives Hill's interest in education reform

Kelsey Hill


After graduating in 2013 with a Master of Public Affairs, Kelsey Hill joined the Wisconsin Department of Corrections as a program and policy analyst.

For Kelsey Hill, involvement in the causes that interest her and affect her the most is of paramount importance. That tenet brings her to the La Follette School to pursue a Master of Public Affairs degree with an emphasis on education policy.

Hill attended a public magnet school in Chicago that attracted students from around the city who passed tests to qualify for enrollment. Their academic achievement, not where they lived, is what bound them.

"Students practiced a multitude of religions, spoke many languages, came from homes with widely different incomes and hailed from neighborhoods with totally distinct cultures," Hill says. "Our high school offered an exceptional experience for all students, and, for many, it was a much better option than their neighborhood alternative. Some of my friends came from unsafe, low-income communities where education was often not adequately funded, recognized or emphasized. Our high school was an escape from some of those hardships on a daily basis and in the long-term. It truly paved the way for its 2,200 students to go on to college and do great things."

Hill knows she and her classmates were lucky to be educated in an intellectually challenging environment. However, she thinks all students should have access to quality education, regardless of family income and where they live.

"I believe neighborhood schools need continued support and investment, and I hope to be part of the movement to best identify how to do that," Hill says. "My high school experience is the most profound motivation for me to pursue an MPA."

Hill is also interested in social policy. While completing her bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she participated in The Detroit Partnership, a student group that organized tutoring sessions, clothing and supply drives, and community beautification days in the city. "It was very humbling to see the rows of abandoned houses, empty lots, and forgotten buildings," Hill says. "It certainly put things in perspective, highlighting the need not only for money but also for motivated individuals and creative ideas."

After she graduated in 2009, Hill returned to Chicago to intern with two nonprofits. "Although they differed in their structures and missions, my work with both offered unique exposure to how nonprofits operate," Hill says. "I especially enjoyed my time at the Make-A-Wish Foundation and working alongside truly selfless and passionate people working for an incredible cause."

Hill chose La Follette after looking at a number of programs that accepted her. "None of them impressed me as much as La Follette," she says. "Some were much larger, which made the faculty seem unapproachable and the entire graduate experience seem impersonal. Others seemed highly hierarchical, with more emphasis placed on the program and its instructors, compared to the students and their ambitions.

"The feeling I got from La Follette was very different," adds Hill, who received a fellowship from the school. "Immediately I knew that the faculty and staff here would be much more engaged with their students; they emphasized how La Follette students can be involved in real research, work with clients and establish strong relationships with their instructors."

Hill also appreciated that not all students have strong quantitative experiences or skills, something faculty acknowledged when she visited the La Follette School. "That was different than some other programs I looked at, where quantitative skills were heavily emphasized, to the detriment of other engaging qualitative courses," Hill says. "The size and feel of the La Follette School's program are truly exceptional."

Hill notes she does not have a very strong quantitative background. "I do not plan to be a statistician or economist when I leave La Follette, but I do appreciate the importance of the skills that I learned first semester and that I will continue to foster during my time in the program," she says. "We must be able to understand the data being used in relation to given policy decisions, even if we are not the ones conducting the surveys or running the regressions. Employing the skills learned at La Follette will make me a better and more productive advocate for greater educational equality."

The relationships students form with each other and with faculty are an important part of Hill's experience. "One of my professors compared the school to a family, and he was absolutely right," Hill says. "The intensity of the first semester really brings people together as they tackle new and difficult concepts. But people also know how to have a good time outside of class and how to make the most of their time on this incredible campus."

"Plus, Madison is a great place to be," Hill adds. "Since it's the capital, there are always exciting things going on, and the city is very beautiful, very lively and very welcoming. La Follette definitely has a presence in the town, which is wonderful for making connections and certainly fosters a sense of pride among students."

When she graduates, Hill wants to work for a nonprofit committed to urban education reform and improvement, she says. "I hope to spend my career in an equally positive environment with colleagues committed to community improvement and educational equality."

She credits her parents for nurturing her commitment to public service. "My parents always emphasized empathy and generosity," Hill says. "They led by example, donating their time and available resources to different organizations and causes. I think what initially began as a way to make them proud evolved into a very real acknowledgment of how lucky I am and how simple it can be to make a difference. I've had wonderful educational experiences, but many people have not. That's devastating and unfair; a very real wrong that I hope I can help make right."

— updated October 25, 2013