Inside Academic Policy: Working for the NYC Department of Education

As I was working in New York City for the NYC Connect Employer Treks this January, I decided to meet up with my sister Katie Hansen, Executive Director of Academic Policy and Systems for the NYC Department of Education, to do an informational interview with her in order to get some insider knowledge about what it’s like to work in policy. If you have interest in careers related to policy, government, or nonprofits, keep reading to learn more!


  1. How did you get into working in policy?

Katie earned her Bachelor’s in Biological and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University, then proceeded to teach math through Teach for America, which she says is a common pathway for people looking to work in government. After her teaching experience, she continued on to get her MPA at NYU Wagner in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy and landed an internship at the NYC Department of Education, an opportunity that she had discovered in a college newsletter. She has been working for the NYC Department of Education since then. 

  1. What does a typical workday look like?

As the Executive Director, Katie explains that her work days usually involve meetings to discuss strategy and goals for initiatives, memo-writing, researching the history of policies, policy analysis, and communication with stakeholders such as the superintendents of schools. Some responsibilities of other workers in her office include writing policy documents to reflect changes in state regulations for schools, maintaining an organizational system for these documents, providing trainings, and performing data analysis for the policy team.

  1. What do you find most rewarding about your work? 

Katie enjoys that her work has a direct impact on the NYC population and that it is mission-focused; no matter how small the mission may seem, the work is still rewarding. She also highlights that her work is a great combination of qualitative and quantitative work. 

  1. What are the toughest problems that you encounter at your job? Any big-picture challenges for this field of work in general?

Work in policy is largely affected by the political leadership currently in office; the nature of the work could change depending on the political agenda. Katie explains that, in general, work in government often means a lower salary, but on the other hand, it can provide more job security and benefits. That said, some positions may be subject to budget cuts. She adds that nonprofit jobs are often less secure and typically involve less pay, but they may allow for working more directly with the mission you’re interested in, which could be more personally rewarding. 

  1. What skills or talents are essential for effectiveness in this job? 

Strong written and verbal communication skills are the skills Katie emphasizes the most, as well as the ability to synthesize complex information in a simple way and explain why the topic at hand matters in order to influence the targeted audience. Data literacy and project management are also crucial skills. 

  1. What tips do you have for someone trying to enter a career in policy?

Katie recommends that people who are new to the field research the civil service requirements for the jobs that they are considering. Some jobs have requirements such as passing the civil service exam, and some do not. She also points out the large variety of work that exists in policy: you can be involved in the executive branch, work for a legislator, volunteer for campaigns, or support a nonprofit, just to name a few possible avenues.  

  1. How would you describe the work-life balance in this type of work?

According to Katie, people in her office enjoy a strong work-life balance, with workers leaving on time and generally not bringing work home. They are unionized as well, and can be paid for overtime work if necessary. There may be circumstantial exceptions that require overtime work, such as the period of time during the height of the pandemic in which school policies required constant updating. 

  1. What majors do people going into policy often study?

Though not required, Katie says it does help to have an MPA in order to find a job in policy. That said, she and her coworkers pursued a variety of majors and degrees in their college years, not all of which were overtly related to policy. Many majors foster the development of transferable skills that can support a successful career in policy. 


To explore the career paths that Katie referenced throughout our discussion and more, check out Candid Career or connect with Binghamton alumni on Mentor Match for industry insights from other professionals who are active in the field. Take assessments on Focus 2 to discover what field of policy work may align most with your personal mission and values. Once you learn more about your own career goals and interests, go to O*Net to see what jobs are awaiting you!

Image by katemangostar on Freepik

By Erin Hansen
Erin Hansen Career Education and Outreach Specialist