Public Policy Associate’s new Project Manager Alissa Parks brings decades of experience managing complex projects. Much of her work has focused on early childhood systems. She held a variety of leadership roles at the Early Childhood Investment Corporation. She led the development of the Great Start Collaboratives and Parent Coalitions across Michigan and was director of operations and innovation. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Saginaw Valley State University and a master’s in public policy and administration from Michigan State University.
Your bachelor’s degree is in criminal justice, but much of your career has focused on early childhood. How did that come about?
I studied criminal justice because I was interested in working with juvenile offenders and youth. In graduate school, I was still very interested in how to prevent criminal behavior, as well as how to help families and youth. I pursued an internship with the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund because I was interested in child abuse and neglect prevention. I found myself drawn to the new research about brain development and the impact of the earliest years on children’s lives. That set my course.
What drew you to public policy work?
When I was starting out in the ‘90s, there was a lot of work related to a systems approach. If we want to solve problems that are causing families and youth to have poor outcomes, we can’t just look at individual programs. We need to look at policies, funding, and programs, as well as the coordination of those programs.
The themes in my career have been helping individuals and groups be more intentional in their work, and helping projects move forward to achieve their intended outcomes. I’m probably best known for my facilitation and project management work to help teams and organizations be more effective.
What drew you to PPA?
Colleen Graber (PPA’s chief operating officer) and I worked together on an Early Childhood Investment Corporation evaluation many years ago. PPA is growing, and she reached out to me and asked if I had any interest in taking on some project management work. I met with Colleen and Rob Fowler (PPA CEO). I grew very excited about the work PPA is doing across a variety of issues as well as the vision that PPA’s leadership has for expanding their reach not only in research and evaluation but also helping with capacity building and helping nonprofits and other groups be successful.
What projects are you working on?
I have three research/evaluation projects—two on early childhood and one on out-of-school time programs. I am also helping a regional child care coalition that is working on an action plan. Early childhood is my emphasis given my history and background, but it may expand depending on need and capacity.
How do you spend your time outside of work?
I prefer to be outside. My husband and I are very active in the outdoors. We like to fish and camp and travel. I, myself, do a lot of hiking and kayaking. I also do a lot of yoga. We have two sons, one at Michigan State University and the other a junior in high school, so that keeps us busy.