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Helen Ladd Fellowship Fund Video

Helen Ladd photo
Professor Emerita Helen Ladd

Professor Emerita Helen Ladd believes in the value of Sanford’s MPP program. As one of the first directors of the program, she helped build it into a top-ranked professional program. Today, she is continuing to build the program through her gift to create the Helen F. Ladd Fellowship Fund.

When Ladd came to Duke as a full tenured professor in 1986 from Harvard University, Sanford was not yet a school; it was the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs. In the fall of 1987, she became director of its master’s program, which was at that time a master of arts in public policy.

“It was important to me as director of the master’s program to convert it to a master of public policy program because an MPP is the professional degree offered by public policy schools around the country,” Ladd said.

Fast forward to today: Sanford’s MPP program is ranked consistently among the top programs nationwide.

Ladd has long been passionate about Sanford and the MPP program. When she retired from the faculty in 2017, she chose to continue supporting the program by providing funding for MPP fellowship support   for several years.

When she heard about The Duke Endowment investment and challenge, she saw a new opportunity for a more permanent gift by setting up an endowment fellowship fund. Her new gift is matched by The Duke Endowment, doubling her investment.

“I love the MPP program,” she said. “I feel a special relationship with the MPP program because I was part of the program for years. The career trajectories of the graduates have been excellent, and I’m proud of the graduates who are making a difference in North Carolina and around the country. Anything I can do to help more students to get training to help government work well is fully consistent with my values.”

Ladd is the Susan B. King Professor Emerita of Public Policy and Professor Emerita of Economics. She is the co-author or co-editor of 12 books and is known as one of the best researchers in education policy in the country. For the past eight years, she and faculty member Charles Clotfelter have been ranked among the top 100 most influential scholars in education. In 2011, she was elected to membership in the National Academy of Education.

“I love the Sanford School; my career grew with the school,” she said. “I hope this fellowship stimulates   interest in the MPP program, particularly among those interested in education policy or other aspects of social policy.”

Ladd emphasizes that public policy matters, and MPP graduates are making a difference.

“In today’s environment, it is important to have students who understand ethics, statistics, economics, politics, values and more – all of these areas that are taught in the MPP program. MPPs have an opportunity to put their skill sets together for good public policy,” she said. 

Learn more about Sanford's MPP program.

Video Music: "Soft Inspiration" courtesy of Scott Holmes Music/FreeMusicArchive


Ladd Fellow: Maria Castrillon MPP'23

I vividly remember the evening I found out I received the Ladd Fellowship. I received a call from a Durham number, and oddly enough I had this positive and hopeful feeling that this was the call. Jessica Pan was on the other line and after she congratulated me on my acceptance to Duke, she notified me that I was selected to receive the Ladd Fellowship! Despite having imagined this moment, it was very surreal. I definitely had to hold back tears while I spoke with her. Immediately after, I called one of my best friends who is a dual-degree student at Sanford and that is when it hit me. 

I am incredibly thankful to Dr. Ladd and the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy for providing me with this opportunity. As a first-generation student from a low-income home, I was never sure what my pursuit of higher education would look like given the financial barriers I knew I’d be up against. I ultimately knew I would pursue higher education but I never knew how I would pay for school. The Ladd fellowship has relieved the financial burden associated with graduate studies and it gives me the freedom to fully commit myself to my studies and school community. 

After graduation, I plan to work as a public sector consultant so I can help nonprofit education organizations improve their strategic planning and program evaluation capacities as they relate to educational equity and student achievement. ​In the long term, I hope to become the director of an organization that advocates for state-level education policies in support of students of color. 


Ladd Fellow: Alena Antonowich MPP'23

The Ladd Fellowship made choosing Sanford a no-brainer (though I would have after the admitted students’ days regardless!) Most importantly for me, the fellowship allows me to explore my policy interests during school and follow my passion for public service after graduation. I am immensely grateful for this investment in me that will help me pursue my goals without feeling compelled to sacrifice them for higher paying jobs right out of school.

I would like to work in early education and childcare policy after graduation. High-quality early education is critical for children’s growth and for their parents to pursue education and training or participate in the workforce and improve their family’s well-being. 

I thank Professor Ladd for her commitment to education policy through this fellowship and her illustrious career. She has been a trailblazer in education and local government research, my two main areas of interest.


Ladd Fellow: Lee Foster MPP/MBA '21

Receiving the Ladd Fellowship eliminated the financial pressure of grad school, making it possible to pursue internships and jobs that aligned fully with my career interests and passions. 

I was incredibly lucky to take a practicum course with Professor Ladd in my first year at Sanford. It was an honor to have her guidance on the project and get to know her better as a person. As an added bonus, the project used North Carolina student data – during the time I taught in Charlotte – allowing me to come full circle from practitioner to policy analyst. Her legacy at Sanford goes beyond the fellowship, having taught and mentored so many leaders in the education field. In addition to expressing my deepest gratitude, I would tell her that knowing Sanford has a specific education policy fellowship sent me a broader message about importance placed on education policy at Sanford, regardless of whether or not I was the recipient.