The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Learning to be a bridge, communicating between two different worlds

By Daniella Fernandes, MA SID'19

As a child, growing up with a large Korean immigrant population in the outskirts of Philadelphia, Kristen Whited Beals was curious about the backgrounds of some of her closest friends and neighbors. This developed into an interest in post-communist conflicts and international relations.  

Her curiosities and interests began to intersect when she sought to learn about ethnic propaganda in college. “To me, if there was an extreme case study of ethnic nationalism to learn about, it was North Korea,” says Whited Beals, who packed her bags and moved to Seoul, South Korea after earning her undergraduate degree. Her goal was to work directly with North Korean refugees to learn without being influenced by external perspectives. “I didn’t want to read newspapers. I wanted to know what other people thought about their own news.”

However, once she got there, she realized there were major discrepancies in public opinion between the South Korean population and the North Korean refugees on key issues like the Korean War, North Korean human rights and nationalist issues. “The degree of separation between the frontline of social work and decision makers was frustrating. I wanted to learn how to translate these groups to one another and decided to go to grad school,” says Whited Beals.

“I chose Heller because it had the unique business emphasis that could help me navigate the priorities and languages of American economic institutions I was unfamiliar with.”

Graduating with a dual MBA/MPP degree in 2015, Whited Beals attributes the growth in her career to the technical, writing and research skills she learned at Heller. “I probably used accounting classes right away. My organizational theory, political history and strategic management classes helped me in the long run to finally get a job I wanted,” says Whited Beals, now an asylum officer at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“When we were taught to write memos and policy briefs by (MPP Program Director) Michael Doonan without emotions, I thought at the time it was so dry. I remember him repeatedly saying, ‘You can write this more condensed,’” she says. “There’s a huge backlog in asylum. You must have the ability to do research, interview the asylee, assess legal documents and write conclusions, several times a day. My writing and research skills make me an asset here even though I might not have the legal background of my colleagues.” 

To Whited Beals, Heller provided a unique environment where students could learn to communicate between the worlds of social justice and implementation. Students must take advantage of this, she says. “Heller is a great place for people who would like to be bridges. To get the tools you need to better communicate in an area you’re already passionate about. So, save all your research papers, your TCP (Team Consulting Project) paper and proposal writing projects.”