PPLC Alumni Profile: Rashawn Davis


The Public Policy and Leadership Conference offered at HKS is designed for first and second year undergraduate students who are U.S. Citizens or permanent residents. Applicants to the program must have at least a 3.5 GPA and an interest in public service. The deadline to apply this year is November 12 and the application can be accessed here. All expenses for the conference are paid by HKS. 

Previous participants have agreed to share about their experience and in this post we featured Rashawn Davis. For our PPLC announcement blog post with links to more interviews and information, please click here

 Rashawn Davis

Harvard PPLC Year: 2012

Undergraduate School: Georgetown University

Personal History:

Rashawn Davis attended PPLC his sophomore year while at Georgetown University.  Rashawn often cites the PPLC program as being a defining experience in his collegiate career that not only solidified his passion for service, but set that passion on fire. Since PPLC, Rashawn has graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in Government, where he was the winner of the prestigious Slevin Award for his commitment to community service.

As President of the NAACP Chapter of Georgetown University, Rashawn used the skills from PPLC to organize, inspire, and mobilize his peers around issues that matter. After the 2012 events surrounding Trayvon Martin, Rashawn helped to organize a rally on the steps of Washington D.C. City Hall; nearly 5,000 people came out to attend. For his efforts, Rashawn was named the 2013 awardee of the Unilever Legacy of Leadership Award. Rashawn was also named a 2013 PPIA Fellow, spending a summer learning at Carnegie Mellon University.

During his senior year at Georgetown, Rashawn announced that he was running for City Council in his home city of Newark, NJ. Campaigning on weekends, and returning to school during the week, Rashawn mounted a competitive campaign that attracted the attention of national press such as USA Today and MTV.  In March, of his senior year, Rashawn became the youngest person in Newark history to be a certified candidate on the ballot. Although, he ultimately fell 700 votes short of a victory, Rashawn’s efforts were admirable. He has since given a TED talk and a host of guest lectures on his experiences.

Rashawn now woks as an organizer at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, where he works on urban policy such as “Stop and Frisk” reform.

What does PPLC mean to you?

My PPLC experience is something that I truly hold close. For me it is not an afterthought, or something I remember; the inspiration and audacity to dream big that I learned from guest speakers such as Ayanna Pressley and Julian Castro, are still very much active tenets in my life. They are motivators that I use during the bad days, during the times when I feel cynical or doubtful about the future of our nation and the world. The powerful lessons that I reflect on during these days, keeps me moving forward.

How did you find out about PPLC?

A mentor of mine, who understood my need to be immersed in a program like PPLC, suggested that I apply, even when I wasn’t really thinking about it. I am incredibly grateful that she pushed me to apply; my life has not been the same since I started the program.

What was the most enjoyable part of your PPLC experience?

First, the program is as powerful as it is because of the people it consists of. Program leaders such as Marny Mitchell and Gabrielle Wyatt, really helped me feel at home on day one, and remained sources of encouragement throughout the program. My peers as well, the lifeblood of the program were all incredible. We were all from very diverse backgrounds, and I loved learning from them and growing with them. Many of us still remain friends, long after PPLC. Another unforgettable moment was when we were able to meet then-Mayor Julian Castro. His story was so profound and reminded me of myself, and my own ambitions. Getting a chance to hear him speak, and meet him after, is a memory that I will always cherish, especially as he continues to ascend to national prominence.

What is the thing that surprised you most?

For me it was really Harvard, as an institution. There are so many stereotypes of privilege, ostentation, and arrogance that is sometimes associated with Harvard. It really wasn’t until I stepped on the campus myself, chatted with students, discussed with professors, and experienced Harvard that I understood what makes this place great isn’t just all the awards, esteem, and it’s storied history, its really the students and faculty, the actual people, who get up everyday and strive to be better than yesterday. There is a culture that that is always trying to push the envelope forward and never settles for the status quo. I came back to Washington, D.C., not only surprised by Harvard, but convinced that it is where I wanted to continue my post-graduate education.

Before PPLC, did you have a solid idea of what public policy education is all about?

 I had already done a ton of research on what a great public policy education looks like, but it was an entirely different experience hearing it from folks who have committed their lives to this field.  Of course, hearing the stats and admissions policies were informative, but I think the most rewarding information was about the passion of service, and why people should commit themselves to public service.

What sorts of things did you learn or experience that might have an impact on your immediate and long-term future?

Something that I have reiterated throughout this blog post, is really the passion and inspiration that PPLC gives students. I left the program believing I can achieve the impossible and that has fueled much of my success thus far in my life. Reflecting back, in the short term, PPLC gave me the energy and the knowledge to navigate course selections for the remainder of my college career, as well as the tools to start planning for my post-graduate education long before my peers were thinking about it.

What advice would you give to prospective PPLC participants?

One Word: Apply. You will not regret it.

Tags: pplc

2014 Summer Student Series — Post 21: Amandla Ooko-Ombaka (second post), MPA/ID ‘15

A native of Nairobi, Kenya, Amandla is a joint degree student at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School pursuing an MPA-ID and MBA. Her work focuses on how eco-nomic growth can build capabilities and institutions for governance in Africa. At HKS, she is a Dubin Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership (CPL), and a board member of the Africa Business Club at HBS. Through her work, various non-profits she has co-founded and boards she serves on including Smart Citizens-Kenya, Amandla is constantly seeking to develop her “public sector heart and private sector mind”. Before starting graduate school, Amandla spent several years at McKinsey & Co (US and Nigeria offices) focused on performance management in the public sector. She graduated from Yale College with distinction in Economics & International Studies

Click here for Amandla’s first post in this series.


Where did the summer go? Come back, I was having such a good time…what an incredible set of experiences. It is going to be impossible to do them justice here, but allow me to share some highlights:

Internship #1, African Leadership Network (ALN); non-profit foundation

  • Location(s):Nairobi - homebase (KEN), Dakar (SEN), Abidjan (CIV,  Accra (GHA)
  • Challenge: Design the public sector engagement strategy for the premiere network in Africa. ALN’s 1,400+ members from 47+ Africa countries are predominately private sector. 2 weeks into my internship, my French came in handy and I also assumed recruitment responsibilities for the West-Africa Regional Director.
  • Work highlights:Being completely blown away by the vision, aspiration, and impact of young, dynamic and influential African’s across the continent who believe in business and enterprise as the surest way to drive growth. It was my job to meet them, share my perspectives on how the public sector could be part of the aspiration, and figure out how to tactically make it happen (e.g., creating a Public Sector Innovation award category for the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship)
  • Fun, Fun, Fun:Going to Bali for one of my best friend’s weddings 3 days after starting work; I spent more time traveling than at the wedding and it was totally worth it! Eating the most delicious kebabs in the world at 1am with potential ALN members in Accra, an unexpected market adventure with the ALN CEO - Isaac - that created a lot of value for local vendors


Internship #2, Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative (AGI); non-profit organization, working directly with the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA) in Rwanda

  • Location(s): Kigali - homebase (RWA), London (UK), Cambridge (UK)
  • Challenge: Conduct a survey of 50+ State Owned Enterprise (SOE) Boards across the globe and glean lessons for Rwanda. Use this background and interactions with Sr. government officials to create tools, routines & processes for the new 100% Rwanda SOE Power & Water Boards. By 2017, these Boards aspire to lead their constituent corporations to more than double water access to 100%, and quadruple power access to 70%.
  • Work highlights: Preparing for a meeting with H.E. Paul Kagame my second day at work, a full cabinet reshuffle - the most efficient I have ever seen - my second week, the Boards of the new Power & Water thanking me and referring to my work as “essential” in the first Board meeting, AGI’s away-week in Cambridge (UK)
  • Fun, Fun Fun: Hosting a Floating Dance Party my first night in Kigali with a fellow MPA-ID and one of my favorite people - Iris, running 76km/47miles along the Congo-Nile Border from Gisenyi to Kibuye with a fearless team of ladies (#TeamLikeaGirl) - including Iris. Literally chasing after the bus to our weekend get away on Lake Kivu - with Iris.


Here are some of the lessons I’m taking forward, and open questions as I start the next adventure at HBS in less than a week! In retrospect, many of these learnings align strongly with the values at AGI, and reiterate the importance of working with organizations that share my values:

  1. A focus on impact requires a focus on a specific area. I’ve struggled with this one for a while; my greatest strengths lie in seeing the connections between different companies and sectors to get to the heart of what makes organizations successful. But being a strong generalist has its limits at this stage in my career. I’m getting really antsy to deliver sustainable impact in 1-2 areas; most importantly because that is what I want to do with my life…make a difference outside my own sphere of influence in development. But also, being an “expert” or in one area of development lends credibility to dabble in others. This summer revealed the need for me to think in “career horizons” - what is my deep content focus for the next ~5 years, and how can I optimize for experience here? Right now, I believe these spaces to be energy and agribusiness at the intersection of the public & private sectors.
  2. Lead with hearts, then the minds i.e., connect with people, then support with facts and data. What a treat it was to hear Martin Kalungu-Banda speak at the AGI ‘away-week’. Sharing his experience coming into government from the private sector to advise the President of Zambia sounded like something out of a movie. He challenged us to really connect with people where it matters most - that is what makes the difference. I am guilty of being too solution oriented at times, and focused on establishing my right to be at the table - all young, bright eyed and bushy tailed - armed with all the facts, ready to share at lightning speech. But this approach can only get so far. Hearts, then minds…
  3. Take a step back and ‘un-plug’. Following directly from #1, I felt most invigorated this summer after weekends where I left my laptop in Kigali/Nairobi, and travelled far far away with only a pen, a notebook and a good novel. This allowed me to take a step back and just think, away from the madness of doing 2 internships and ground work for my start-up (with two HBS/HKS colleagues), Soko LLC Ltd. I was beginning to find the right balance while engagement managing at McKinsey, but let it go somewhere between Spring Break and mid-summer this year. I need to get back more of this “down-time-think-time” at HBS.
  4. Be bold! The level of inspiration I gleaned meeting young and dynamic leaders across the continent is just wow. The single most common thread in all their experiences - having the courage taking the path less travelled, and often forging new ones. In many ways I created my own summer experience - ALN did not have an internship program, I wrote my own contract. I worked some gymnastics with AGI to make 2 internships possible, and was fortunate enough to get funding to make this happen through CPL at HKS and the Dubin Fellowship. More and more, I believe that I will need to create my “best-fit” post graduate role - and not limit myself to what is already out there
  5. Do not underestimate the value of the political savvy: Reform is always political, and knowing the “right” technical answer is never enough (sound familiar?). When the cabinet was reshuffled in Rwanda and the new Boards of the public utilities were announced I did a quick analysis on strengths of the new arrangement vis-a-vis the old one based on core competencies. But in taking a step back and asking why the President selected this new line-up, a different story emerged…one of focusing on results for 2017.


Let’s see if I can take all these learnings on board. For everyone starting at HKS this fall, you are in for such a magical time. Go forth and be awesome! For everyone else, have a great time wrapping up summer, and we hope to see you on campus soon! 

2014 Summer Series Links

Post 1Post 2Post 3Post 4Post 5Post 6Post 7Post 8Post 9Post 10Post 11Post 12Post 13Post 14Post 15Post 16Post 17Post 18, Post 19, Post 20

2014 New Student Information Post 2: MPA2

This is the second in a series of posts on some of the biographical and background information of those starting this year. We continue with the MPA2 program. We use MPA and MPA2 interchangeably when referring to this program. I prefer MPA2 because it emphasizes the fact that it is a two-year program. Series links are at the bottom of the entry. 

Previous Employment Sector


Average Age: 28.8

Male: 61%

Female: 39%

Countries of Citizenship (29)


Undergraduate Institutions (55)

American University Of Beirut
Amherst College
Athens University Of Economics And Business
Bilkent University
Boston College
Brown University
California State University, Fullerton
Chulalongkorn University
Diplomatic Academy Of Vienna
Georg-August Universitat Gottingen
George Washington University
Georgetown University
Harvard University
Indian Institute Of Tourism And Travel Management (Iittm)
Indiana University-Bloomington
Institut D’Etudes Politiques De Paris (Sciences Po)
Jaypee Institute Of Information Technology
Johns Hopkins University
Kinnaird College
Massachusetts Institute Of Technology
Mcgill University
Middle East Technical University
Morehouse College
Nanyang Technological University
New York University, Leonard N. Stern School Of Business
Northeastern University
Northwestern University
Pontificia Universidad Catolica De Chile
Princeton University
Queen’S University
Seoul National University
Stanford University
The University Of Texas At Austin
Tokyo University
Trinity College Ct
Tufts University
Union College
Universidad De Buenos Aires
Universidad De Los Andes
Universidad Panamericana
Universidad Pontificia Comillas
Universidad Torcuato Di Tella
University Of Bremen
University Of California, Berkeley
University Of California-Berkeley
University Of Cambridge
University Of Chicago
University Of Delhi
University Of Leeds
University Of Maryland College Park
University Of New South Wales
University Of North Carolina At Chapel Hill
University Of Washington
Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute
Wesleyan University

Series Links

Post 1 

Tags: MPA2 MPA

HKS Virtual Information Sessions

Please note that we are offering a number of upcoming opportunities to engage with HKS staff in a live, virtual session. Some sessions are more general, while others are program-specific. Sessions will consist of a brief presentation by staff, followed by an opportunity for participants to pose questions.

Monday, October 20

HKS Master’s Degree Programs Virtual Session
6–7 pm EDT
Click here to register.

Tuesday, October 21
APSIA Virtual Fair
11 am – 2pm EDT
Click here to register.

Wednesday, October 29
HKS MPA/MC Mason Program Virtual Session
9–10 am EDT
Click here to register.

Thursday, November 6
HKS MPP Program Virtual Session
6–7 pm EST
Click here to register.

Monday, November 17

HKS Master’s Degree Programs Virtual Session
6–7 pm EST

Click here
to register.

The Perfect Applicant Email

This post is meant to assist applicants who contact our office via email. Our goal is to respond as quickly as we are able and thus I offer the following advice.

When sending an email message to our office, always send the email from the same email account that is used on the admission application. Twice in the past week I was unable to find an application record for a candidate because the email message was not sent from the same account that was used on the application. Not using the same address will impede our ability to offer assistance as quickly as possible.

Whenever sending an email to our office we strongly encourage that the following be included in the signature of the email message:

  • The full legal name used on the application – do not use nicknames
  • The email address used on your application 
  • Your Application ID#
  • Include the degree program you are applying to (e.g. MPP, MPA2, MPA/ID, MC/MPA, or MC/MPA Mason)

Here is an example of the “perfect” signature to use in your email:

Josiah Bartlet
Application ID: 1111111111
Program: MC/MPA

Tags: application

Harvard University Graduate School Information Session at the University of New Orleans

Please join members of the admission staff from three Harvard graduate schools as they discuss degree programs, admissions procedures, and financial aid opportunities.


Please click here to register.

Monterrey Information Session

HKS and HBS will be hosting an information session in Monterrey this week. Details are as follows.

Se complace en invitarte a su

Sesión Informativa con la Oficina de Admisiones

Fecha: Jueves 9 de octubre a las 7:00 de la tarde
Lugar: Sala IMAX Planetario Alfa

Entrada Gratuita - Cupo Limitado - Favor de confirmar asistencia
Lucy Martínez: lmartinez@harvardmonterrey.org
o al tel. 1477-5656

2014 Inbox Notes - Post 1

Each application season we monitor our email inbox for common questions and this the first entry in a series focused on frequently asked questions about the application process.

Question: Is there any advantage to submitting my application early?

Quite honestly, no. Our admission committees do not start to review applications until after the December 2 deadline has passed. However, there is nothing wrong with getting your application in early. If you have all of your documents and are happy with your essays and other information, go ahead and submit. 

Question: Can I receive a decision prior to the date you are scheduled to release decisions?

No, we will not release individual admission decisions. We try to release all decisions for all applicants at the same time. If we cannot release all decisions for all programs at the same time, we will at a minimum release all decisions for individual degree programs at the same time. We also do not have a set date when we will release decisions. We typically will release decisions in early March. Updates as we progress are posted to this blog. 

Question: Should I wait to submit my application until all of my letters of recommendation have been submitted?

No, it is not necessary to wait for letters of recommendation to be submitted to submit your application. It is perfectly fine to submit your application while letter are still pending submission. However, all letters should be submitted by the December 2, 11:59:59 EST deadline. 

Do you admit MPP students according to the Policy Area of Concentration (PAC) selection on the application?

No, we do not admit students according to the PAC selection on the application. We certainly wish for applicants to identify areas of interest in the application, but we do not have PAC targets, nor are students required to stick with the PAC they select on the admission application once enrolled.  

Can I combine a degree I am pursuing with an HKS program?

HKS offers joint and concurrent degrees only with certain schools. A list of these schools can be found on page 3 of our brochure. If the school is not listed, it is not possible to combine a degree with HKS. 

Can I combine an HKS degree with another program that offers an executive degree program?

No, HKS does not have any partnerships with schools that offer executive degree programs. Executive degree programs are typically part-time programs that allow an individual to work full-time while pursuing a degree. Our programs mandate that candidates be pursuing a full-time degree at both schools. 

Can I combine an LLM degree with an HKS degree?

No, we do not have any joint or concurrent LLM option. 

Tags: application

Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellowship



The following message was submitted to us by Barbara Best, Director of Student and Fellows Programs at the HKS Center for Public Leadership.

                                 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

The Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) has just welcomed to campus the first recipients of the Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellowship, a fellowship for emerging leaders committed to addressing disparities in African-American and other underserved domestic communities.
We are looking to recruit diverse and talented people passionate about working with underserved American communities to apply to HKS by December 2, 2014. These fellows will come to Harvard and immerse themselves in discussions about the challenges and opportunities facing these communities, they will learn from Harvard faculty and from each other, and will emerge with new skills and ideas to apply to the world.
The Sheila C. Johnson Fellowship provides a full tuition scholarship, health insurance, a $10,000 living stipend, and a comprehensive co-curricular program for up to ten admitted HKS degree candidates each year. Domestic students from underrepresented groups are encouraged to apply, as are students from joint-or concurrent-degree programs.
To apply for the 2015-2016 academic year, prospective degree candidates will have to complete two steps:
First, apply to HKS by December 2, 2014.

Second, apply for the fellowship by February 26, 2015.
To learn more about the Sheila C. Johnson Fellowship, click here.
If you—or anyone interested in applying—have any questions about the fellowship, please contact our program manager, Sharon Watson Fluker, at Sharon_Watson_Fluker@hks.harvard.edu or (617) 496-3744.

2014 Essay Notes - Post 3

This post is the third in a series on my review of application essays (and other documents in the application) from last year. The goal is not to provide a specific template for how to write an effective essay, my hope is that my thoughts will help applicants reflect on ways to highlight their own personal motivations and experiences in unique ways.

As stated in the first post, I am not going to adhere to standard grammar rules as I type, I am going to try to capture my thoughts at the time I am reading. Please note that not all programs use the same essays. To access the essays used in the 2015 admission application, click here. I hope my comments will help provide guidance as applicants consider the essay topics for this year. The comments in this post are focused on an MC/MPA application. Links to to the full series are at the bottom of this entry.

The Resume

Very easy to read which is nice. There is white space - everything is not crammed together. However, none of achievements are quantified in any way. Writes about leading teams, how many were on the team? Writes about involvement at “various conferences” - what are the names and how many were there? Mentions managing a budget, but not the amount of the budget. Lack of details leads me to have to guess at the level of responsibility (not good).

"References available upon request" statement in a resume is pretty useless for the purpose of an admission application.

Essay Question - MC/MPA

Submit a statement that discusses your career goals, as well as the factors that led you to select the Mid-Career MPA program as a means of furthering your personal and professional goals. Be as specific as possible in describing how your expected course of study will enable you to build on your prior professional experience and achieve these goals (750 word limit).

My Notes

Opening paragraph is a bit awkward due to words that seem to have been picked by using the thesauraus function of Microsoft Word. Writes of “passion for public good” with no reference to a cause, population, policy issue, or region.

Second paragraph is stronger, mentions being one of many voices in an organization and expresses frustration over not having voice heard. Hints at seeking ways at HKS to make voice known.

Spends an entire paragraph on stating what an HKS alumnus shared about the program. Nice to mention I guess, but dwells on it a bit too much in my estimation - broad statements without much relevancy to his goals. Paragraph seems out of place. 

Pet peeves crop up in the next paragraph … uses the phrase “world renowned” when referencing our program … and in the next sentence uses “world-class” when referencing our faculty. Sounds like is writing a marketing brochure for HKS rather than a personal essay. Point is not to remind us of who we are, it’s what you want to get from us.

Continues to be vague - notes wants to be public servant with decision making power, but has yet to identify an issue.

In the final paragraph notes hope to return to current job after completing program, finally mentions policy area/interest - but only in a general way. Little in the essay directly addresses personal/professional goals - the whole point of this essay. Too much time setting the stage, something already done in the resume.  

Essay Question - MC/MPA

Describe your most substantial professional and/or public service contribution in which you exercised a significant leadership role in furthering the public good (750 word limit).

This essay starts off like an English 101 paper. There is a vivid, too vivid if you ask me, description of a city setting that is overly dramatic. Reads like the first paragraph of a fiction novel.

Next paragraph hits on the point of the first paragraph, I guess, a study abroad experience that was transformative. 

Third paragraph gets to the actual point - a bit too late starts to explore the achievements is most proud of - the first two paragraphs were not complimentary, could have tossed them out and the essay would have read better.

Next paragraph is stronger - should have been the first. Notes a project was in charge of as well as the complications and challenges. Notes some reports drafted … but then fails to deliver anything about what was in the reports.

Great job in the next paragraph of noting an actual resolution he drafted that was approved and breaks down what he actually did to deal with issues on the table. Strong finish, quantifies an increase in budget dollars for a cause based upon a report he produced.


Overall the essays suffer from both lack of specificity and awkward word usage. Many parts of the essays read like our web site rather than a personal essay. Several paragraphs were flowery descriptions of surrounding environments which added little to no value. If one is not specific in the essays, this does not bode well for the ability to make difficult/wise choices about class selections in the program.

For someone with this much experience, beating around the bush in essays, not quantifying accomplishments, and not providing a clear sense of the issues he wishes to make a difference does not get me excited. While it is okay to highlight some things about HKS in the essays, stating objective facts as if going through a check list of things you think you should say is not a wise idea.

Advice: Don’t write what you think we want to hear, write what about what makes you tick - it will be more authentic and “real.” Anyone can state objective facts - it is the subjective/passionate/personal nature of who an applicant is that I want to read about. 

Series Entries

Post 1, Post 2