Loyola University Chicago

Masters of Urban Affairs and Public Policy


Student Spotlight

Jonathan (Jazz) Lee-Coley

Mariam Pera

Moriah Johnson

Alicia Jarret


Jonathan (Jazz) Lee-Coley 

I grew up in both Los Angeles and Atlanta. I started my first national non-profit at eleven years old and have been working in the public sector ever since. I attended the University of West Georgia and received a Bachelor’s of Science in Political Science. It’s a wonderful little liberal arts university next to a local farm community in Carrollton, Georgia. It was at this institution that I learned the building blocks of community organizing, the importance of civic engagement, and the power of “showing up” to demand rights. I am currently a second-year Master of Public Policy Graduate student at Loyola University. My policy interests revolve around the ever present issue of Human Trafficking and international state policies that exist to define and protect victims and survivors. It is my goal to work in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on issues directly concerning the Trafficking of persons around the globe. 

This summer I served as Development Intern at the Obama Foundation. The Obama Foundation (OF) seeks to educate, empower, and equip young people and emerging leaders, who are looking to change their world through civic impact. The Foundation is the continuation of former President Barack Obama's, and his wife, Michelle Robinson-Obama’s, goal to help the next generation of young people actively pursue meaningful civic and/or global change. The mission statement of the Obama Foundation is to “inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world.”

 The Foundation launched many programs this past summer and new initiatives are kicking off every season. Some programs currently offered include, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Girl’s Education, Leaders: Africa, Community Leadership Corps, and Training Days. Each were designed to assist a specific group of individuals, who the Obama Foundation believes need more resources to reach success. Additionally, The Obama Foundation offers scholarship opportunities through their Fellowship and Scholars programs. These programs support leaders who have already made great contributions in their field and teach young leaders strategies be more effective in attaining their goals. The Obama Scholars receive a fully paid graduate degree from either the University of Chicago or Columbia University in New York.

When searching for potential organizations and internship opportunities, I was drawn to the mission and ideals of the Obama Foundation. I really liked how mindful the foundation is in embodying their ideals and values - Team, Humility, Integrity, Inclusivity, Stewardship, Fearlessness, and Imagination.

My day to day tasks included supporting OF staff members achieve their goals, however, as an intern I still had the opportunity to have real input in meaningful work. I assisted with many interesting projects that will aid in the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, to be in the Jackson Park Neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. I collaborated with other interns in Washington D.C. to analyze information and data, contribute to various programs, and create finished project deliverables.  

My summer at the Obama Foundation has taught me invaluable skills and helped prepare me for a future career in the non-profit industry. My experience at the Obama Foundation opened my eyes to how limitless life can be if you believe in yourself and the work that you do. It’s routine for individuals to prioritize money over mission, but that’s not the case for the staff at the Obama Foundation. Each of them has expertise and the bravery to lend their talents to reaching a goal bigger than themselves. I was continually humbled by some of individuals I interacted with. Many could work anywhere in the world, and yet they stayed and devoted long nights to helping communities they’ve never been to and people they’ve never met. I would definitely recommend interning at the Obama Foundation to other Loyola students - it’s the perfect organization to explore new fields of work and get exposure to the field in a high-profile setting.


Mariam Pera


‌‌I grew up in Edgewater on the North Side of the city, about a mile from Loyola’s Lakeshore Campus. I attended Lane Tech College Prep High School and went to Loyola for my undergrad. I majored in Journalism and International Studies and picked up minors in History, Anthropology, and Italian.

‌Being a Chicago native, Loyola has always been a staple in my community. Growing up, many of my student teachers and teachers attended Loyola, and the University often engaged in different programs at my elementary school since it is in the   neighborhood. When I was choosing where to attend college, the combination of available scholarships/financial aid and a new journalism program drew me to Loyola.

After graduating in 2010, I was one of the fortunate few who found a job using my degree. I served as a Public Relations Coordinator for the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, where I learned a great deal about professional regulation by state/federal entities, as well as the insurance industry. (And got great dental advice!) Then I worked as an Associate Editor for the flagship membership magazine of the American Library Association, where I wrote print and online news and feature articles, interviewed authors, and managed social media. I loved working at ALA (not just for the free books, although they were a bonus) because I learned quite a bit about privacy issues, regulation of libraries, censorship, and government transparency. I think I could have continued working there for another 30 years, as many of its staff do.

At one of ALA’s conferences, I was covering a session where the speaker was a national security editor for the Guardian US. He shared details about the NSA leaks and why libraries, as beacons of reliable information and supporters of the First Amendment, were critical to sustaining democracy. That session reminded me that, as much as I love writing, there were deep issues at various levels of government that I could not change as a journalist. I didn’t know what my next step was necessarily, but since ALA had a tuition benefit, I started looking into public policy programs around Chicago.

In early 2015, I had lunch with a Loyola staff member who had been a mentor to me and she encouraged me to look into job postings at the University. A few weeks later, a Grant Writer position became available in the Advancement Division. I had helped a few colleagues at ALA with government grants from the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and found I really enjoyed the challenge of persuasive writing. Two months later, I started my new job.

Loyola staff members have to work at the University for a full year before they are eligible for a tuition benefit. In my first year, I continued researching careers in public policy and whether my work experience was relevant to the field. I also reached out to Dr. Steinacker to learn more about the program. As much as my personal passion has always been international politics, the more I learn about government, the more convinced I am that impact is best made at the local level. Dr. Steinacker reinforced that my writing and fundraising skills would help me be successful in the MPP program and in a variety of settings after graduating.

Being back at Loyola as a staff member was a fairly easy transition since I knew the University and campus so well. Going back to being a student, and working full-time, has been more of a challenge. The hardest thing for me has been turning off my ‘work brain’ when I get to class or sit down to work on an assignment. (Although I suspect that to be fairly typical graduate student experience.) The MPP program has been a very rewarding experience thus far. I am (or feel) a bit older than most of the students in the MUAPP program who I’ve met so far, and I’m learning quite a bit from them in terms of how they view issues and potential solutions. I’m also finding that my work experience is valuable in helping me decipher assignments and course material.

One thing that I’ve been reminded of is how much people at Loyola really care about social justice; they may not all agree on how to go about it, or define and measure it, but students, faculty, and staff all care about making a positive impact in their communities. The most unique aspect of a Loyola education continues to be how much professors invest in their students’ growth and development. This was true for my time as an undergrad, and it continues to be even more valuable as a graduate students.

I have not yet completed an internship, but my hope is to do one in summer 2018 if my work schedule allows. Alternatively, I’m brainstorming ideas for a research practicum that would meet that requirement.

Honestly, I know this is kitschy to say, but all my courses have been insightful. I really enjoyed learning more about data and statistics because I know how easily numbers can be manipulated. I think the Urban Affairs class was challenging in terms of framing issues that cities deal with in real ways. The Political Feasibility class was a crash course in getting policies passed—not whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ just getting them passed—and that was very eye-opening. Even the one-credit Professional Development course was helpful. I’ll admit, as a working professional, I was skeptical about how valuable that class would be to me. But the class was very much tailored for our specific group and for us as individual students. I learned a great deal in terms of how to plot out possible career trajectories to help me figure out my immediate next steps and longer term plans.

As a part-time student, I am about midway through the MPP program at this point, so immediate future plans entail getting through the next two years! After that, I’d like to continue pursuing a career in development, because I think it’s a good blend of my writing skills and interest in policy. As one MUAPP alum said to me, “Everyone needs people who know how to raise money.”

The most fascinating thing I’ve learned about fundraising is how much of an impact public-private partnerships can have, especially in urban areas. Since I currently work with corporations and foundations, I’ve found that I enjoy learning about projects that faculty across the university are spearheading, as well as developing relationships with foundations. Working with one of the many foundations or think tanks here in Chicago that are trying to make an impact would be an amazing opportunity. But interestingly enough, I’ve found that life seems to have its own plans for us, so I’m trying to stay open and see where the opportunities lead me.


Moriah Johnson

  I am originally from Michigan, but I have always wanted to live in Chicago. I completed my Bachelor in Biology and Philosophy at The University of North Carolina. When I decided to pursue my Masters, Chicago was the first place that I looked.‌ I was drawn to Loyola’s MUAPP program because there seemed to be a huge outreach and community engagement focus. My experience at Loyola has been very positive so far; the professors are kind, engaging and excited about their field. I have enjoyed every moment of getting to know Loyola and Chicago. Outside of school, I am a Policy Research Analyst Intern for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR). Being an intern with ICPR has really helped me become engaged and informed in Illinois politics, which will benefit me in the long run as I intend to run for local office here in Illinois.

I am the founder and the photographer for a digital storytelling platform called, Things Black Bodies Do (TBBD). I use photography and prose to highlight people of color and issues that are important to us. The goal is to use positive imagery to combat negative stereotypes that do not tell the full story of blackness in America. You can check out some of the stories at ThingsBlackBodiesDo.com.


Alicia Jarrett

  I am from Trinidad and Tobago, but I live in Racine, Wisconsin and I chose Loyola University because it has a reputation for excellence. One major interest of mine has been to be a part of a program or organization that moves the needle on improving life for people who have grown up in poverty or find themselves impoverished at some point in their lives. The Community Leadership and Development Program I completed at Alverno College in Milwaukee, my experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA and my former job as Outreach Coordinator at John XXIII Educational Center have inspired me to be an agent of change. I wanted to design programs that would alleviate poverty in urban and rural communities, in places similar to the one where I was born and grew up. I realized, however, that I could have immense ambition to change the world, but if I do not understand the policies that shape poverty, then I would not be able to move that needle.

‌I applied to Loyola University after doing some research on great Public Policy programs in the Midwest.  I chose Loyola because of its reputation, high graduation rate and the marketability of the alumni who attended Loyola. I wanted to attend a university that will integrate theory with real world experience and I have found that here.

My future aspiration is to run for office. I will be declaring in 2020 for local county board or city council and I plan to eventually advance to the bigger stage of State politics. I completed Emerge Wisconsin in July and the program gave me the tools to run a successful campaign. Loyola University will give me the tools to be an effective political leader.

I believe anyone planning to change their career path or start a new one should look at the Master of Urban Affairs and Public Policy Program because their approach of theory and practical application will get you to the level where you can be comfortable in analyzing and crafting policy that can change the lives of many people.

The one thing I wished I would have known before coming to Loyola is the ridiculous price of parking in downtown Chicago. I love this city, it’s a living, breathing organism, but I dislike driving downtown. Luckily, Loyola offers an intercampus shuttle from the Lakeshore campus to downtown, that has made it so much easier getting to my classes.