Virtual Awards Ceremony Honored 95 Students Earning Advanced Degrees

Jul 07 2020
By Sarah M. Binder
Source Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

A virtual awards ceremony on June 1 honored students who earned advanced degrees from the the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (changed on June 27 to the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs). The event highlighted the achievements of an extraordinary class during extraordinary times — underscoring the crucial need for effective and equitable public policy and the value of student activism.

Nearly 100 students earned advanced degrees in 2020, including three PhDs, 21 Master in Public Policy students, and 71 Master in Public Affairs students, including two who earned MPA/J.D. degrees.

Held online due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony came on the heels of the killing of George Floyd and resulting protests and demonstrations across the country showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. In a statement to all 2020 graduates, President Eisgruber urged everyone to “join the graduates in the Class of 2020 in their quest to form a better society, one that confronts racism honestly and strives relentlessly for equality and justice.”

During the virtual awards ceremony, Karen McGuinness, associate dean for graduate education, conveyed appreciation for student-led efforts advocating for reforms to how the School addresses issues related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

“We are grateful for all the time, energy, and positive spirit that many students invested to push us to do better,” McGuinness said. “We share your commitment to a more inclusive curriculum, a more inclusive School environment, and a more inclusive world that celebrates diverse voices and perspectives. We will continue to strive to do better.”

Vice Dean Miguel Centeno emphasized the need to come together to address today’s challenges, particularly during a global pandemic disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities.

“More than ever, we need smart people behaving ethically and working together. We need folks like you, not just to plan, but also to inspire the trust without which planning is useless,” he said.

With students graduating into not just a global pandemic but also a recession, faculty, staff, first-year MPA students, and alumni came together to share words of encouragement and support.

“Having also graduated into the teeth of a global recession and crisis, I can tell you, there is hope,” shared Mark Christopher MPA ’08. Sujata Bhat MPA ’09 offered to lend a hand. “I want to encourage you to lean on each other but also on us; if you move to our city or work in our field, we want to help you,” she said.

Betsy Levy Paluck, professor of psychology and public affairs, noted that the world needs the students’ skills, ingenuity, creativity, and energy now more than ever. “You’re all graduating and going out there to bring all that you have to the situation we’re now in — this is something that is keeping me going and that gives me a lot of hope for our future,” she said.

Before celebrating the achievements of individual students by awarding annual prizes, Acting Dean Mark Watson reminded the graduates that the School aimed to teach them a policy framework that will equip them to address the current moment’s biggest challenges.

“This virtual ceremony, so different from the norm, reminds us that our collective response to big things happening in our world matters, and policy responses are very important. Smart policy requires a framework grounded in science, economics, social science, and psychology; as well as evidence and data that need to be processed in rigorous ways,” Watson said.


Qualifying Examination (QE2) Distinction

The following students achieved high distinction or distinction on the second-year MPA qualifying examination:

High Distinction: John Vrolyk (Vrolyk also achieved high distinction on the QE1 in 2019) and Alexandra Wheatley

Distinction: Michael Lachanski, Jenna Mellor, Emily Romano, Brody Viney, Theo Wilson


Ten MPA students and three MPP students received certificates in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP):

MPA: Ben Brenner, Jordan Burns, Marilu Corona, Joseph DeLaTorre, Katrina McLaughlin, Owen Minott, Sagatom Saha, Manna Selassie, Lindsay Wylie, Yujing Yang

MPP: Thomas Huntley, Anita Pan, Gelila Terrefe

Two MPA students received certificates in Health and Health Policy: Artin Haghshenas and Alex Wheatley

Seven MPA students earned certificates in Urban Policy: Anthony Chase, Matthew Cournoyer, Luciana Debenedetti, Curtis Goos, James Kim, Fionnuala Seiferth, Ryan VanZuylen

One MPA student earned a certificate in Demography: Michael Lachanski

Graduate Prizes

Acting Dean Watson presented the Master in Public Policy Prize to Maisie Anderson-Davis.

“[Maisie] left her mark on the MPP class and the School with her academic excellence and positive energy. Many faculty noted the incredible value brought by her non-U.S. perspective. One noted that ‘Maisie restores one's faith in elected officials’,” Watson said.

Before joining the School, Maisie worked for nearly a decade in politics and policy in her home city of London. From 2014-18, Maisie served as an elected councillor in the London Borough of Southwark, representing the Labour Party. In the second half of her term, she was promoted to a Cabinet position — delivering strategic political leadership for public health, parks and leisure, and social regeneration across an inner London borough of 300,000 people. Most recently, Maisie headed up campaigns and public affairs for a high-profile charity in the UK, shaping and influencing the public policy environment to better respond to Britain’s aging population. She plans to work for progressive causes, probably in the nonprofit sector, and she hopes to again contribute to left wing politics in a meaningful way in the future.

The MPP Prize is given to a student who has achieved both an outstanding academic record and demonstrated a commitment to public service and community building at the School.


Acting Dean Watson presented the Bradford Prize to Katrina McLaughlin.

“In fall 2019, Katrina emerged as a leader in the STEP policy workshop that focused on coastal resilience and promoting a national flood hazards reduction program,” Watson said. “Professors Denise Mauzerall and Michael Oppenheimer agreed that Katrina is among the best STEP students they have worked with in the past 15 years.”

Katrina graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014 with a joint major in environmental economics and policy and political science. She then worked for two years on energy policy at Resources for the Future, an environmental economics think tank in D.C. Looking to get out from behind a desk, she then spent two seasons serving with AmeriCorps on public lands across Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming. Immediately before starting at School, where she served as a Field III representative for the graduate student government, Katrina worked at an environmental law organization. She spent summer 2019 interning at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where she focused on affordability analysis and tracking wildfire issues. Katrina’s professional interests lie at the intersection of energy, climate, and public lands policy.

The Bradford Prize is given to a STEP student who has achieved both a distinguished academic record and a record of service in the School. The award was created and named for the late Associate Dean David Bradford, who played a key role in the creation and administration of the STEP program.


Acting Dean Watson presented the Somers Prize to Natalie Kotkin.

“Natalie served as one of two curriculum representatives for our graduate student government, along with Emily Apple, and she ardently and effectively advocated for relevant policy workshops for her cohort and for curricular reforms to benefit her classmates and future cohorts of MPAs. A faculty member predicted that ‘Natalie will make important contributions in the policy arena in the years ahead’,” Watson said.

Born and raised in central Connecticut, Natalie graduated from Yale in 2011, with a bachelor’s degree in French and international studies. Before joining the School, she had served as special adviser to Philadelphia’s health commissioner, where she worked to improve outcomes for children by reducing lead poisoning, removing environmental asthma triggers, and addressing social determinants of health. Prior to that, she spent two years developing and implementing health care access programs at the mayor’s office in New York City. She began her career as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. Natalie interned in summer 2019 with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services supporting policy development and implementation of its Flexible Services Program, which will use Medicaid funding to connect residents with housing and nutrition services.

The Somers Prize — established by the late Anne Somers to honor the memory of her husband, the late Herman M. “Red” Somers, a former faculty member — is awarded to a student with domestic policy interests who has a distinguished academic and public service record.


Acting Dean Watson presented the Stokes Prize to Eric Parolin and Ashley Semanskee.

“Eric took a very challenging course load and consistently excelled. He also served as the career services representative for our graduate student government, providing regular input from his cohort to the Office of Career Development and Alumni Relations. Eric helped to re-define this role for future cohorts, and he continued to represent the Class of 2020 after his official term ended, throughout the spring semester,” Watson said.

Eric is from Amherst, New Hampshire and earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics at Boston College in 2013. After college, Eric moved to D.C. and spent more than three years working at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in the Office of Financial Stability Policy and Research. After the Fed, Eric joined the U.S. Department of the Treasury in the Office of Financial Research, where he spent a year and a half assessing financial stability and constructed a public, quantitative tool to assess financial system vulnerabilities. Eric plans to pursue a career addressing domestic inequality and promoting economic development. He will be starting a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan in the fall.

“Ashley epitomized a commitment and passion for service. She was one of two community service representatives for the graduate student government. Along with co-rep Stephanie Dimos, she organized service opportunities for classmates and co-chaired the annual Service Auction in December 2019, which raised more than $19,000 for the Isles Youth Institute in Trenton.

A native of Washington state, Ashley attended Stanford University where she majored in human biology and economics. Upon graduation, she worked in San Francisco as a research assistant at Kaiser Family Foundation, studying health reform and the Affordable Care Act. In summer 2019, she worked on Capitol Hill at the Senate Committee on Finance, focused on the reform of prescription drug pricing. After graduation, Ashley plans to continue to work in health policy. She hopes to help build a better health care system – one that provides affordable, high-quality care to all Americans.

The Stokes Prize recognizes both academic achievement and public service leadership and is awarded to the graduating MPA student/s whose achievements best exemplify the life and work of the late Donald E. Stokes, former dean of the School (1974-1992).