The Path to Public Service

By Christine Schmidt, AB'17

Between an academic-year internship, Resident Assistant duties, and volunteer commitments, Brock Huebner, AB'16, didn’t have a lot of free time for schoolwork. Get this: he actually encouraged people to leave the library and explore.

“Break out of the Hyde Park bubble. There are so many interesting (and often free) things going on in the city every weekend. Take advantage of your new UPass [allowing unlimited rides for UChicago students on public transit] and make friends with the CTA,” he advised.

Huebner took his own advice. And this informal education, coupled with on-campus experiences, helped Huebner prepare for work as an analyst at the Civic Consulting Alliance, a public-private partnership in Chicago aimed at finding solutions for governments. Now, just weeks after accepting his diploma, he’s conducting informational interviews with some of the brightest minds in criminal justice and researching best practices to help with the post-election transition for the new Cook County State’s Attorney.

His passion for public education and his undergraduate coursework ultimately drove him toward  working in the public sector.

“My parents, both of whom are public school teachers, nurtured a belief in the importance of public service and a strong interest in education policy,” he said.

He noted that his volunteer experiences and his interactions with professors pushed this interest further: “The acknowledgement that there are no silver bullet solutions in education (and public policy in general) helped me to broaden my career aims, as I felt I could not effectively work to directly address educational policy challenges without first gaining a better understanding of the root causes affecting educational attainment.”

At UChicago, Huebner became involved with the Institute of Politics as the Student Civic Engagement intern, taught civics lessons to middle school students as part of Citizen Schools, and shared philosophical discussions with local elementary school students through the Winning Words program—not to mention baking weekly study breaks and frequent house trips as the RA of Henderson House.

But he also dedicated time to professional development. He regularly participated in the Office of Career Advancement’s programming for the UChicago Careers in Education Professions (UCIEP) group  landing a summer internship as a Jeff Metcalf Policy Intern with the Chicago Foundation for Education. Huebner spent the summer after his second year in China as a Wanxiang Ambassador Fellow, studying green technology and the Chinese language.

He said that some of his greatest mentors on campus came from UCIEP, the Institute of Politics , and especially his professors.

“Professor Sara Stoelinga's ‘Urban Schools and Communities’ class helped to illustrate the symbiotic relationship between schools and their surrounding community,” Huebner said,

“Through reading and discussing groundbreaking works such as William Julius Wilson’s When Work Disappears, I was exposed to a multitude of examples of declining neighborhoods sapping the vitality from their schools, the weakening of which further accelerates the community’s decay,” Huebner said.

Classes like these helped to bring his diverse experiences together.

“The academic discussions on the detrimental effects of poverty, race, and social isolation lent support to the first-hand observations I made while volunteer teaching in some of Chicago’s schools through the Winning Words and Citizen Schools programs,” he said. “I later applied these ideas to a rural setting while writing my Public Policy BA about a place-based charter school in my home town community.”

Now, Huebner plans to apply to law or public policy school once he has gained a greater understanding of the widespread issues that affect education policy, with the hopes of creating or researching those improved policies in the future. And the Wisconsin native will continue exploring the city outside of the office and the classroom.

“Chicago has countless adventures waiting to happen,” he said. “Homework can wait.”

For more stories about the accomplishemnts of UChicago students and alumni, visit the College's Uniquely Chicago archive.