People

Student Profile: Theodora "Theo" Okiro, MPA '18

November 6, 2017

Theo Okiro spent the last summer at the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in Washington, DC. In this interview, Theo discusses her life before Fels, her ongoing Fels experience, and her summer internship.

What professional/academic work were you engaged in before you came to Fels?

Prior to Fels, I worked in city government. I was the Director of Communications for a City Council member in Chicago. My primary responsibility was spearheading community engagement across his district. I also assisted in the research, drafting and introduction of legislative agenda in policy areas such as economic development and affordable housing. 

Why did you choose Fels to pursue your MPA?

I selected Fels for several reasons. First and foremost, I appreciated how multi-disciplinary it was. The idea of being able to balance my coursework by taking classes at other schools in the University appealed to me. And sure enough, I am taking a class at Penn Law this semester. Secondly, I didn’t want my graduate school experience to be in anonymity. I preferred something more meaningful and liked the idea of a small cohort coupled with a small administrative staff that I am on first name basis with. Thirdly, the emphasis on building practical and technical skills was also very enticing to me.  

How do you seek to use your Fels degree post-graduation?

Primarily, I intend to utilize the quantitative skills I have improved while at Fels. Specifically, in statistical data collection and analysis. It is increasingly important to apply an analytical approach to formulating policies. At Fels, I have gained the quantitative tools that will enable me to do that. Additionally, I have sharpened my management skills so that I am able to better communicate ideas and results of data analysis either to colleagues or the public at large. 

What is your favorite aspect of the Fels experience?

My favorite aspect of the Fels experience is how small the cohort is. I have been able to gain and nurture meaningful friendships with my classmates that I know will endure for many years to come. 

How has Fels influenced your understanding of public service?

Thanks to Fels, my understanding of public service has been reinforced in that public service crucially consists of equity and inclusion. It is important to consider the perspectives of people that are affected by whatever policies one is researching or working to implement. Especially populations that have been historically marginalized. Even though the field is increasingly more data informed, we cannot lose sight of the people we are serving. The data cannot supersede the people. 

Please describe your internship role:

I worked at the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in D.C. The Office of Fair Lending works to ensure nondiscriminatory access to credit for Americans. As a government agency, it is vital for the CFPB to get buy-in from stakeholders when conducting its regulatory authority. My primary role as an intern involved coordinating such outreach to community groups and other government agencies. For instance, during the release of new data submission federal guidelines for financial institutions this past summer. I was tasked with drafting an online blog for the CFPB website that announced the new guidelines, and coordinating with advocacy groups to get their input into the guidelines. 

What was the most challenging aspect of your internship?

The most challenging aspect of my internship was in the first two weeks. As opposed to the relative flexibility of school, getting back into a 40-hour work week was quite strenuous. Additionally, the CFPB is a huge government office and I had never been in such a setting so navigating my way through the office was daunting. I was later able to find my footing. 

What was most interesting about the work you performed?

The most interesting thing about the work was witnessing how data and innovation can help improve public policies. For instance, the Office of Research at the CFPB conducted a study into the access of Americans to financial services and products. The report found that Black consumers, Hispanic consumers, and consumers in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to have no credit history or not enough current credit history to produce a credit score. The Bureau coined the term ‘credit invisibles’ to describe this population. Due to this research, I worked on a team that is developing policies seeking to promote much needed access to credit for these consumers. 

 

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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