Degree from Michigan: A.B. English and History
Current location: Chicago, IL
Year graduated: 2008
Student Organization Involvement: Michigan Pops Orchestra, Sweetland Writing Center, Alternative Spring Break, North American Summer Service Team, Residence Staff at East Quad, Michigan Community Scholars Program
Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: AmeriCorps Volunteer; Mayoral Fellow at City of Chicago; Master of Public Administration, Public Finance and Policy Analysis at Indiana University Bloomington; Senior Associate at Grant Thornton LLP
CM: I am the budget manager for the Chicago Public Schools. CPS has roughly 400,000 students – we’re the third largest school district in the United States with 520 district schools and roughly 115 charter/contract schools. Within the budget office, I work with school budgets; my team does all of the allocations to determine what funding school principals are going to get, both internally and grant-funded. We also oversee day-to-day management and handle any adjustments due to situations that arise throughout the year. The overall operating budget of CPS is $5.6 billion, around $3 billion of this is out in schools and under my team’s management.
KC: What are the discrepancies from one school to another that would affect differences in budget allocations?
CM: There is a multitude of factors, but typically the major drivers are enrollment, poverty levels (my team collects all of this data), and school type. Schools with a magnet or gifted program will have more resources allocated there. Principals can also apply for grants, however that’s typically managed through another department.
KC: What other professional experiences have you had since graduating from U of M?
CM: I graduated in 2008, which was a rough year to hit the job market. I did AmeriCorps for a year in Philadelphia doing health education and crib safety and then worked at a university there for a year. I then attended Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, where I received a Master’s degree in Public Affairs, focusing on Policy Analysis and Public Finance. I was recruited out of Indiana to work for a big consulting firm in D.C. doing federal consulting. After doing that for two years, I wanted to come back to Chicago, so I ended up getting my current job.
KC: What made you decide to pursue your current career?
CM: I went into graduate school thinking I wanted to do non-profit management, but during my first semester, I took a public finance and budgeting class, and I completely fell in love with it. I had never been a math person; I was an English and History major at Michigan, and I took exactly one math class (MATH 105) in undergrad to satisfy the quantitative reasoning requirement. It’s confusing for my family knowing the type of work that I do now. For whatever reason, it clicked once I got to graduate school. That was my turning point.
KC: How did your experiences at Michigan influence your career path?
CM: I wouldn’t have ended up in AmeriCorps if I didn’t care about service and being a part of a community. During my freshman and sophomore year at Michigan, I lived in Couzens and was in the Michigan Community Scholars program. Between that and being a part of Alternative Spring Break, North American Summer Service Team, and even ResStaff (Residential Staff), I was able to surround myself with a lot of other people who cared about their community and wanted their careers to impact other people.
KC: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of your job?
CM: My two favorite things about my job are 1. The people that I work with, and 2. The opportunity to have the amount of impact that I do. I don’t know many other jobs where your day-to-day work directly has an impact on 400,000 students.
My least favorite aspect would probably be that this is a time of scarce resources, so I have to be the “bearer of bad news” at times. That is a very difficult part of my job. I have to tell people that they aren’t going to get the resources one year that they’ve had previously. Sometimes we have to deny principals something that they really feel that they need.
KC: What advice would you give to current students hoping to follow in a similar career path?
CM: It’s been incredibly valuable that I have a liberal arts background with my graduate degree; it means I can talk to people. I can explain how things work in language that makes sense to other people. You don’t need to be in Ross to be in a job like this. You really don’t even have to go to graduate school… if you’re able to communicate and you feel competent with numbers and can make other people understand them, there are a lot of careers in this world that are open to you. You don’t need the word “finance” on your resume.
Use your extracurriculars and your summers to try to gain experience for specific kinds of training. You can go online and take an Excel class or learn how to code. Pick up a skillset, be the leader in a student organization, or even manage the budget for something; there are lots of opportunities to get professional skillsets that do not involve sitting in a classroom. Be open to those experiences when they come up and don’t be scared of them!