“I got a job from the Fels Institute of Government network and found the best mentor of my life,” reflects Sara Autori (Master of Public Administration/Master of Science in Social Policy ’19). By the time she concluded the first of her two internships as a legislative intern at a Philadelphia City Councilmember’s office, she had not only gained a supporter but acquired hands-on experience designing policy solutions to address racial disparities in home lending—and found her calling. “Housing inequality is very clearly one of the biggest issues today,” she says with feeling, listing the ways housing insecurity can impact an individual’s health, finances, and social connections. “After realizing what housing can do for wealth accumulation, I decided I wanted to continue working in housing and community development,” she adds.
With guidance from her mentor, Sara secured her second internship in the City of Philadelphia’s Division of Housing and Community Development, where her responsibilities ranged from program evaluation to stakeholder engagement to GIS mapping. In her new role, she found opportunities to apply the data analysis and programming skills she learned in her MPA coursework: for example, her datasets about home-buyers and settlement grants “reframed math completely” for her by putting data into a social justice context. She also discovered a passion for working in local government. “Being integrated into City Council and the City of Philadelphia has been fundamental to my Fels experience,” says Sara. “Truly the best part of Fels is the expectation for me to be a partner with the city.”
As she balanced the requirements of dual-degree coursework and planning her next steps in consultation with her professional network, Sara came to value the sense that her partnership with the City creates meaningful change. “Since I’ve been at Fels, I’ve seen the difference that local government makes,” she reflects. “If you want to feel like you’ve spent eight hours of your day impacting the lives of residents, local government is the best tool for doing that.”