Starting a Student Group at HKS

Starting a Student Group at HKS

By Tara Burchmore MPP 2023

In my time at Harvard Kennedy

School, I’ve learned to manage crises and to code in R. I’ve studied game

theory and learned about the history of American religious influences on politics.

I’ve traveled to the United Arab Emirates and to Greece to meet leaders and

learn about running a country. I’ve taken courses at Harvard Law School,

Harvard Business School, and MIT. I interned with the United Nations Foundation

and worked as a Public Policy Fellow at Google.

But one of my most memorable

experiences at HKS was starting a student group that’s a little closer to home

– the Rural America Caucus.

From left: Shannen Maxwell MPP

2023, Marlee Stark MPP 2023, Tara Burchmore MPP 2023, Rozalyn Mock MPP 2023. Photo courtesy of Tara Burchmore.

Part of the excitement of my MPP Orientation

was getting to know my classmates. The MPP class, and my cohort specifically,

contained people from different places, backgrounds, and lived experiences. A

particular surprise, however, was not related to difference, but to an

unexpected sameness. In my cohort of 60 people, I was shocked to learn there

were three from my home state of Idaho!

Throughout MPP1, I found myself

connecting with other MPPs who grew up or worked in rural places. Despite being

from various parts of the country, we bonded over shared experiences while acclimating

to Harvard.

I realized that despite having a

student population with the shared experience of being from rural America, HKS

lacked a formal mechanism to bring rural students together. I saw a need for a Rural America

Caucus. I reached out to a few classmates I knew were also passionate about elevating

the voices and perspectives of rural students.

HKS invites students to apply to

start new student organizations at the start of every term. The application

process required our leadership team to describe our organization’s purpose and

focus, how the organization differed from established HKS student

organizations, how the organization would positively affect the HKS community,

and to create a strategic plan for events and activities. Additionally, we had to solicit

10 signatures from other HKS students who recognized the importance of

launching the Rural America Caucus on campus.

A few weeks following our

application, we were officially recognized as a student group at Harvard

Kennedy School. At our kickoff social event, the energy was infectious.

Students from across Harvard had heard about how we’d formed a space

specifically designed to draw attention to rural aspects of policymaking and brought

unanticipated enthusiasm.

The Rural America Caucus has hosted

speakers on campus, organized panels, and facilitated engagement with Fellows at the Institute of Politics with rural experience.

It’s a space for students of any background to learn more about rural

policy and politics.

My clever, interesting, brilliant

classmates are the future of transformative policymaking. The presence of the

Rural America Caucus at HKS ensures that our future policymakers are conscious

of the issues of rural policy and will take Rural American voices into account.