People

Alumni Spotlight: Pat Christmas, MPA '16

May 7, 2018

Pat Christmas, MPA ‘16, is currently the Policy Program Manager at the Committee of Seventy, a 114-year-old, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving governance, elections, and citizen engagement within the City of Philadelphia. In this interview, Pat discusses his work, as well as his time at Fels.

Where are you working now, and what is the mission of your organization?

I currently work at the Committee of Seventy, which is one of only a few nonpartisan civic organizations created during the early 20th century that has persisted through today. Seventy's mission has remained largely unchanged over the past century: to ensure an informed citizenry and advocate for improvements in how politics and government work. The biggest issues we focus on today include elections and voting, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying, government transparency and redistricting.

Could you tell me a bit about the Committee of Seventy Election Program and especially the Digital Ballot Tool?

Sure. The Election Program has been Seventy's signature project since 1904. The first program involved recruiting attorneys to combat rampant voter intimidation and fraud across Philadelphia. We've shifted over the past five years from poll monitoring to a heavy focus on voter engagement and gauging the overall quality of our elections--everything from voter registration to poll worker performance. Seventy's Voter Guide and Digital Ballot Tool are our highest-profile resources, drawing tens of thousands of users every election. The Ballot Tool, in particular, has been a terrific project because it was developed by graduate students who recognized the perennial challenge that voters face in making informed choices on down-ballot offices and ballot questions. Notably, the graduate students who developed it won the Fels Public Policy Challenge in 2016. With Election Day coming up, we urge folks to find these resources on www.seventy.org!

What position do you hold, and what work does it entail?

Our staff is small, so all of us at Seventy wear multiple hats and do a lot of different things. However, I currently hold the position of Policy Program Manager, the duties of which include everything from managing our Election Program to posting on social media sites to directing Seventy's advocacy and lobbying work.

How did you become interested in this work?

My first career was in the classroom, teaching biology and forensic science for five years at Samuel Fels High School. (Fels was also, incidentally, a founding member of the Committee of Seventy!) While there, I found that the challenges around public education were obviously deep and complex, and I became increasingly frustrated in the political system's failure to produce sound policy and funding for young people. I then set out to try and help solve this problem!

How has Fels helped you in your career?

Spending a few years at Fels was an immensely valuable experience. Beyond the emphasis on practical skills, which was amazing, I also was able to learn a great deal from all of my peers. Being surrounded by such a diverse set of people from all around the world truly was a valuable experience. The best part is that the connections that I made with my classmates still persist, and with Fels' focus on local and state government, I very frequently come across many of these old classmates in my work!

What was your favorite Fels course and why?

Several courses--and instructors--will stick with me for the rest of my career. The courses I think about most often are Politics and Public Leadership, and Public Management, formerly taught by Dr. J.J. Mulhern. His curriculum struck a thoughtful balance between real-world scenarios and history. Many of the lessons we covered in class actually come up repeatedly at Seventy. One of our favorites: “Have an exit strategy!” Though I haven't had to deploy that one yet...

What advice do you have for current Fels students?

Meet people and build relationships. Nothing has been more valuable than the growing number of people I can call for guidance and support. Most important, I try to make sure I have something meaningful to offer to anyone I come across; the network that you build now, at Fels, will be something you can always rely on, so build relationships, be helpful, and enjoy the fruits of your friendships and mentorships.

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu