Ricky Hurtado MPA ’15 is a graduate alumnus of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. He grew up in a working class, immigrant family in North Carolina. As an undergraduate student, he attended University North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar. He then went on to attend the School’s master’s program in public affairs, where he developed his passion for public policy into a robust set of professional skills.
Hurtado is currently an instructor at UNC Chapel Hill and the co-executive director of LatinxEd, a nonprofit initiative to support first-generation college students and immigrant families break down barriers to educational opportunities. He was recently elected a member of the general assembly for the 63rd District of North Carolina’s House of Representatives.
Q. What is/are the most important policy issue(s) facing us today?
Hurtado: With Covid-19, we’ve seen how important health and well-being are to individuals in our communities. That is something I think about every day as a new legislator in the general assembly. One of the biggest skills is really understanding the role of local, state, and national politics and what role that has in our society today. We see a lot of power being given to local and state actors and how that has interacted with the administration on the national level.
Also, it is important to infuse topics around structural racism and what that means for our society today. We are currently living through a reckoning of racial injustice in our nation and policy students across the country have to ask themselves: what is my role to play in this moment? As policymakers who could potentially have influence on what levers we move in society, how do we incorporate that racial equity lens to the work that we do every day to ensure that we create a more just and equitable future for everyone in our community? Having that nuance and that understanding of policymaking at different levels, but also thinking about the role of race in our work moving forward, is incredibly important.
Q. What are you most passionate about? What current project or initiative are you most excited about?
Hurtado: My passion is education policy and the education ecosystem. That’s what took me to Princeton University and that’s what eventually took me back home to North Carolina. I work in education now at UNC and, about a year ago, I made the decision to run for office to be the next representative for my county, Alamance County, in the general assembly, which I won. That connects all of my passions with the issues that I’m working on and the public policies that I think can really transform the future of North Carolina.
Q. Over the course of your career, what are the most important skills/strategies you’ve learned?
Hurtado: In policymaking, you must consume a lot of information really quickly and make tough decisions about policy. Being able to receive a lot of information and to communication that to the general public has been really useful for me and something that I learned and practiced on a weekly basis at the School.
Q. When it comes to decision-making, what are the most effective strategies? How do you make critical decisions and forge a consensus?
Hurtado: One thing I learned at the School is that you quickly realize that, in a class of brilliant people with some of the world’s most renowned experts on issues, you have a lot to learn. First and foremost, I learned to listen. I think that investigative period in building evidence-based policy was really important for me because I got to hear from others their perspectives and their rationales as to why they do what they do. I think this is very important when it comes to forging a consensus.
Q. In what ways did the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs prepare you for your career? What were the tactical skills you gained while at the School that you still employ today?
Hurtado: I would not have run for office, and I would not be the executive director of an education initiative right now if it wasn’t for the preparation and confidence that the School gave me. It gave me the community support to really know where to seek out help when I needed it, on growing as a professional in the field of policy, and just on life in general. I still talk to my classmates today. They were the biggest support system to my campaign by talking to me about policy and hosting fundraisers for me. That’s been a big part of my School experience. The School also gave me a broad vision of policymaking and the opportunity to really begin to understand multiple lenses through which to see an issue — the psychological, the cultural, the political, the social — and to understand the impacts of a certain policy. I think that’s helped me really think about how I approach public policy making and what my role will be in the general assembly moving forward.
Q. How can young people entering the workforce be successful?
Hurtado: One thing that was really important to me was learning the soft skills of building relationships in my community. I really took advantage of the opportunity to learn from so many incredible individuals — my classmates, my professors, professors outside of the School — and connected that with what was going on in different communities. When I was at Princeton, I worked a lot in Philadelphia. I worked in the mayor’s office and my capstone project was in Philly, so I made a lot of connections there. But it wasn’t necessarily those connections that made the difference, it was exercising that muscle of building a relationship with people in your community. That has been the biggest gift that I have received at Princeton — building that relational social capital. I use those same skills now in North Carolina where I am not afraid to pick up the phone and call fellow Princeton alumni to build a community around a common vision to build something together. A lot of people want to hone in on the classes and the courses they took that helped them become good at their jobs, and that is an important piece of it, but I think for me it was the people that I met that really made the difference.
#Changemakers: Making a Difference is a Q&A series featuring alumni of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.