Katie Kalugin, a former Master of Public Policy student and 2018 graduate, recently started working for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) as a Transit Equity Programs Specialist. We touched base with her recently about her new job and how her experiences in SPPUA helped impact her work today.
I’m curious as to why you chose the MPP program in the first place. Any specific reasons?
I chose the MPP program because public policy decisions affect every part of our lives, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of affecting policy change on principles of equity and improving the lives of underprivileged, underserved communities. I am compelled by public policy as a reflection of our values and commitments as a society. The MPP program allowed me to better understand the nuances of policy creation and the factors that prevent or spur policy development.
What sorts of plans and ideas did you have going into the program, and how did those evolve once you left?
I was a young idealist entering the program eager to interrogate the formation of social policy and its consequences on socially marginalized groups. I wanted to comprehend the relationship between democratic policy implementation and the production of social inequalities as a means of getting at how methods of strategic planning and execution could be used toward reform. My goal was to be a civic or nonprofit leader determined to build a more fair and equitable society. Specifically, I wanted to be an advocate for gender equality in the workplace by examining policies that hold women back along with those that support them.
When I graduated from the program, these ideas stayed with me but evolved over time. I was a research associate at a nonprofit focused on helping women and families achieve economic independence. While I believe that the nonprofit sector addresses social inequities with its general ability to fill the gap in services that the government does not provide, I moved on to the public sector to have more of a direct impact on these gaps.
How long have you been working for the MBTA?
I’ve been with the MBTA since August.
What’s your position title and can you describe its objectives?
My position title is Transit Equity Programs Specialist and my role is to increase access to the MBTA’s reduced fare programs that serve those with disabilities, seniors, students, and youth with low-income.
The objectives of my role include collaborating with nonprofits to make sure that the MBTA is meeting the needs of organizations and their participants, such as finding the most ideal MBTA sales channel or program. Another objective is to work with other government agencies (e.g. Department of Transitional Assistance) to increase awareness and direct eligible clientele to the MBTA’s reduced fare programs.
I also manage the Youth Pass, the MBTA’s only means-tested reduced fare program for youth with low-income. The Youth Pass is a partnership with municipalities and the MBTA, and part of my job is communicating and meeting with participating municipalities, as well as bringing additional municipalities onboard. Further, I am in charge of establishing clear and consistent Youth Pass policies that our partners and youth can refer to understand the program’s eligibility criteria and the responsibility of those involved in the partnership.
What excites you about your job?
What excites me about my job is working with MBTA staff and stakeholders to make public transportation more accessible. We know that access to affordable, reliable public transportation is critical to economic and social mobility by connecting riders to jobs, interviews, social services, medical appointments, etc. The MBTA is currently conducting a means-tested feasibility study meant to assess the potential outcomes of creating a reduced fare option to low-income adults between the ages of 18-64. As I work with my colleagues on this study, I have been inspired and humbled by the MBTA’s desire to account for the voices of community advocates to create a program that is far-reaching and impactful.
Can you share some memorable courses, research opportunities, or internship experiences that you source from in your current work?
One course I took at SPPUA and use in my current work is Strategizing Public Policy. This course is essential for anyone in the public sector because it gives you an overview of how to design strategies to advance public policy changes at all levels of government using different tools or leverage points. I remember learning about path dependency as the phenomenon that explains why government institutions can be resistant to change. I am constantly reminded that history matters and systems persist because of factors like past commitments and priorities. With this in mind, I know it is unrealistic to expect swift, large-scale reform within government institutions. Rather, incremental change is likely to be met with less caution and skepticism.
What would you say to college students who want to impact their communities? (I know this is a pretty general question, but the idea here is to help younger students understand that change is possible.)
If you want to have an impact on your community, advocate on behalf of a cause you care about. Join or intern for a community organization dedicated to this cause and if one doesn’t exist, organize your peers to create this network. Aim to get the attention of elected officials and policymakers. The Massachusetts legislature, for example, passed bills to increase the state minimum wage and enact a statewide paid family and medical leave program due, in large part, to the advocacy and coalition-building efforts of groups dedicated to these causes. Federal, state, and local governments are supposed to account for the needs of their constituencies and change is possible by making your community’s priorities known.