Our researchers at Public Policy Associates understand that good public policy improves people’s lives and strengthens communities. Still, it is exciting to hear the perspective of a bright researcher at the start of her career. Research Associate Veronica Worthington recently joined our team after earning her master’s degree in macro social work, with a focus on leadership and social change, from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She also has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with minors in criminal justice and global international studies, from Winthrop University in South Carolina.

Tell us a little bit about your path to a career in public policy.

As an undergrad studying psychology, I initially thought I was going to do therapies, especially with people involved in the criminal justice system. But through internships and other experiences, I learned that was not the route I wanted to take. I took more classes to explore and expand my interests and learn more about other opportunities. I ended up taking a social work course that was focused on policy. I knew that in general, I wanted to help better society in some way, not necessarily directly working with people, but still implementing changes.

A lot of professors pointed me toward macro social work. Overall, I see public policy as the backbone of society and how it works and operates. As a person who really wants to focus on bettering the world throughout my career, public policy is really a great avenue as I start my journey.

How does racial and social justice fit into your values?

It was important to me to have a social justice perspective on my education. I strongly value equity and human rights, and it was also important for me to find a career path that focused on those values and worked towards equitable systems change. Apart from school, I’ve worked with and volunteered at several nonprofits focused on helping children and families with issues related to health care, criminal justice, and poverty; I’ve assisted with things like program development and client outreach. I am also working part time in the racial justice lab that I joined during my master’s program at the University of Illinois. There we are exploring racial bias among health care providers and how that impacts their verbal and nonverbal empathic communication behaviors and interactions with people of color that are their patients. Exploring barriers to communication helps identify barriers to effective and equitable patient treatment.

What is your early impression of PPA?

I feel like the mission, the services, and the work at PPA directly tie into my past experiences with nonprofits, other past internships, and focusing on my career goals related to areas like health care and racial and criminal justice. PPA is doing amazing work in a variety of areas, and the entire team is dedicated to doing quality, meaningful work. I have felt supported and encouraged since I started, and I am excited to delve into more experiences where I am able to showcase the skills that I have so far, but also continue building my skills related to research and evaluation. I am always wanting to learn more, which hopefully will lead me down the Ph.D. route later in my career.

What are you working on at PPA?

Right now, I have a good mix of projects. Three are focused on child care—two in Michigan and one in Maryland. I have projects related to the needs of people returning home from being incarcerated in Los Angeles and Michigan. And I have two projects in education, one improving access to education in Michigan and the other doing research for a community college in Virginia. It is exciting to be working on projects with people across the nation.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I really like being outside. I love nature and enjoy going on hikes, watching sunsets, taking care of my houseplants and garden, and being near water. I don’t necessarily like to swim much, but I like to be by the ocean or lakes. It is very calming. I am also into yoga and meditation.