As a research assistant at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, Betsy Broaddus PPS’20 has the type of policy research job she had hoped for. But like many people, and especially those in the class of 2020, the pandemic made the job search more protracted and difficult.
Based on the advice of Elise Goldwasser and Suzanne Valdivia of the Sanford Career Service Office, Broaddus had intended to start her job search after spring break last March. “There were trials and tribulations,” she said. “Elise and Suzanne helped keep me sane.”
Many of the organizations she was interested in suspended hiring last spring. “Several times, I went through the whole interview process and then the position lost its funding,” she said.
She took some temporary positions to fill the gap. During the summer of 2020, she worked as an intern with the Durham County Cooperative Extensions on an Early Action Childhood Plan. The county was the first municipality to develop a plan to leverage all local early childhood resources, based on the North Carolina plan.
Broaddus then worked as a mobilization associate for Congresswoman Lauren Underwood’s reelection campaign to represent the 14th District of Illinois. Even though Underwood was the incumbent, she had been elected in the 2018 “blue wave,” in a district that encompasses a C-shaped ring of suburbs around Chicago that had traditionally been Republican. “As a public policy student, it just felt wrong not to be involved in the 2020 election,” Broaddus said. Underwood won her campaign.
Soon after the election, Broaddus began working at the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The center conducts surveys and polls on public opinion and provides the data for public and nonprofit organizations to use. Associated Press journalist also use the data for their reporting.
“I feel so engaged, like I have my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the U.S.,” she said. She has worked on public opinion surveys on voting reform, school reopenings and financial challenges that remain despite signs of economic recovery.
“Surprisingly, there are areas of agreement, even though the partisan divide is still strong,” she said. People widely agree on the need for voting reform, and both Republicans and Democrats agree that gerrymandering is a problem. There is also broad support on child policy issues raised by the pandemic, such as 81 percent support for government-funded summer school or tutoring for students falling behind and 66 percent support for paid parental leave.
The job pulls together several threads of her experience at the Sanford School.
“The class of 2020 started college in the fall of 2016,” Broaddus points out. “When Trump was elected, it was a shock, and a lot of young people wanted to do something, to be engaged.” She had been considering majoring in English or writing, but the election led her to want to understand how government worked and to major in public policy. She also earned a media studies certificate.
Broaddus had two communications internships. One was with the mayor’s office in her hometown of Houston, Texas, in 2018, and the other at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. in 2019. She saw how policy-makers made decisions and how those decisions could be informed by issue experts.
“The Brookings internship was a catalyzing experience,” she said. It made her realize she wanted to do policy research. During her senior year, she worked for Professor Ken Rogerson as a research assistant.
Even though she was working virtually at NORC, Broaddus moved to Chicago in January, as the department wants all new employees to be based there eventually. “I grew up in Texas, I never knew what winter was,” she said, but she has adapted. “I’m not bothered by the temperature, but more by the lack of mobility due to the snow.” She lives in a neighborhood called Ukrainian Village, which is walkable and full of families. She is happy “to spend my days here.”
“It’s been a crazy year, especially for the class of 2020. It’s been nomadic and uncertain at times, but certainly not boring,” she said.