Aliesha Porcena, AG21, has seen first-hand the impact of public policy on underrepresented populations, from her experience in the METCO school desegregation program to her internship in then-Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley’s office.
That’s what led her to work in health and economic development, including in her parents’ home country of Haiti, and eventually to Tufts’ Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Master of Public Policy (MPP) program. She shares why she chose Tufts, how her MPP classes contributed to her full-time job, and her gratitude for the support of the MPP community during challenging times.
Why did you choose Tufts for graduate school?
I’m big on vibes. I sat in on an MPP class and learned about the teachers and research and the underlying social justice mission, and realized that’s what I try to do in my work as well. I want to amplify the voices of communities of color, to be part of the change I want to see.
I want to build up systems and the capacity of people to make change, and I needed to learn about policy to have a bigger impact. The part-time option was important to me so I could still work full-time while pursuing my MPP.
How do your classes relate to your current work?
I’m the associate director of national program and operations at Interise, which builds up economies in low- and moderate-income areas by supporting minority-owned businesses.
I was going through hard negotiations with a contractor, and simultaneously, I was in a class with [lecturer] Laurie Goldman on leadership and organizational development. I said, “Laurie, I’m struggling. I’m having these negotiations and we’re not seeing eye to eye.” She told me, “You need to ask questions differently, phrase things differently—see it from their point of view.” And I was able to apply it immediately, coming up with a collaborative solution.
How has the MPP community supported you over the last two years?
I’m getting emotional thinking about this past year, because we’ve been through a lot together. Penn Loh, director of the MPP program, put together this dynamic, awesome group who really uplifts and supports one another.
Earlier in the fall, I was taking two classes with [post-doctoral fellow] Erica Walker. It was a really hard time: my older sister, who has four kids, was hospitalized with COVID. My other sister and I took in her kids while she recovered.
I told Erica, “I think I have to drop my classes.” Her first reaction was, “Are you OK? Who’s taking care of you?” She worked with me through one-on-one calls, and told me to call or text anytime. She provided so much support. Not only did I not drop the class, but I did well.
How have you gotten involved with Tufts outside of class?
As a GSAS Community Fellow, part of what I’m tasked with is building an inclusive environment for underrepresented graduate students. When you create a community where people feel supported and like they belong, they’re more likely to succeed. The idea is that it takes a village to raise a child—if we can take that mentality into underrepresented groups at Tufts, we will have successful graduates.
Profile written by Karen Shih.
For more student profiles and full Commencement coverage, visit commencement.tufts.edu/coverage/gsas2021.