Suniya Farooqui is Public Policy Associates’ newest senior researcher with extensive experience in program evaluation. She has a strong background in mixed-methods research, quantitative analysis, survey design, and community-based participatory research. Suniya previously worked at Social IMPACT Research Center, rising to the position of director of data analytics. She has created a multitude of data dashboards, including the Chicago Community Data Portal assessing community health, education, and economic opportunity. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago.

How did you first get interested in public policy?

As an undergraduate, my focus was pre-law, but by my senior year, I changed my mind. I spent a year between undergraduate and graduate school figuring out what direction to go in. I volunteered at a workers’ rights clinic where we did expungement work. We helped people with criminal records who faced obstacles during employment background checks to expunge their records.

We also helped workers with wage claims and filing for unemployment benefits. We would hear their story, fill out their forms, document their experiences, and guide them through the process. It made me realize how complicated the system was. The experiences opened my eyes to how policy can be great on paper, but implementation may not be. I decided to study public policy at the University of Chicago.

What happened after that?

After graduate school, I worked at an applied research institute housed within a direct-service organization that assisted vulnerable populations, including individuals experiencing homelessness, families at risk of falling into poverty, immigrants, and refugees. The institute helped their internal programs evaluate how they were doing and measure their impact, but our research could also help change policies for Illinois residents. Over time, my work focused increasingly on program evaluation.

What policy areas most interest you?

Because I’ve done research and program evaluation in so many different areas, I am more a generalist. I like learning about new topic areas. I like the variety of work at PPA. I will be working on one policy in the morning and another in the afternoon.

But I definitely have core interests geared toward issues such as alleviating poverty and supportive housing. I am interested in unrestricted cash programs because of my research involving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and CTC (child tax credit). There’s growing evidence of unrestricted cash programs being an evidence-based practice to lift people out of poverty. I am also interested in anything involving youth policies, for example transitioning out of foster care or juvenile systems.

Would you describe yourself as a quantitative or qualitative researcher?

I’m definitely quantitative. I love data and being in the weeds. I have done primary data analysis with surveys and assessments and secondary data analysis with Census data and administrative data like TANF or Medicaid. But I have a great appreciation for qualitative work. Any project with a mixed-methods approach, where quantitative data is contextualized with the qualitative research is the best product you can come up with. That is especially true if the qualitative data includes participants’ voices.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I have four kids who keep me pretty busy. I’m more on their schedule than my own. But in the evenings, I usually watch dramas or read cozy murder mysteries. I love Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. And I also like running as another activity.