Leila Quinn, MBA/MPP'19

Leila Quinn

“Heller people are my people,” declares Leila Quinn, MBA/MPP’19. “Everybody here has done such interesting things with their lives to affect positive change.”

That includes Quinn, who’s gone from trying to be “the next Jane Goodall” in college to serving as the director of policy and performance for a Boston City Council member at just 25 years old.

Now, at Heller, she’s pursuing dual MBA and MPP degrees to learn how to most effectively advocate for underserved communities through her concentration in poverty alleviation, which brings together her myriad interests in housing, gender, food insecurity and more.

Quinn first felt the real-world impact of inequality as a child when her family moved from New York City to Westchester, New York. Priced out of rentals in the Big Apple but lucky enough to have a small inheritance for a down payment in the suburbs, they transitioned from a diverse but resource-poor neighborhood to a majority-white community with some of the best public schools in the state.

“I realized my elementary school friends lived such different lives,” she says. “They faced traumas from drug addiction and gang violence, and the school didn’t have the resources to help. For my family, that intergenerational transfer of wealth made such a tremendous difference.”

Throughout the years, her passion for social justice never wavered, but her interests took her down different paths. From middle school through college, she focused on the environment, organizing fellow students to challenge local power plants and lobby legislators. She studied conservation biology at Mount Holyoke College, but when she graduated in 2012, a fellowship from the Real Food Challenge turned her focus to food justice. Then, a role with Generation Citizen, a nonprofit civics organization, introduced her to lawmakers and other policy makers, including Heller alumni.  

“That’s when I discovered public policy was a field,” Quinn says. “I liked knowing there was a degree to make people better advocates.”

She spent six months in the field as campaign manager for a Cambridge City Council candidate before applying to Heller. But when she was admitted, she was also offered a position as the director of policy and performance for Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell—an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. She deferred her admission to Heller for a year to work on issues like solitary confinement in prisons, police body cameras and community preservation.

When Quinn started at Heller in fall 2017, she knew she wanted to maximize her experience with outside-the-classroom pursuits. She immediately applied for the Eli J. and Phyllis N. Segal Citizen Leadership Program and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston’s public policy summer fellowship, which supported her summer internship at the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

“People often don’t think of the government as mission-driven,” she says. “But agencies are built to deliver services. It’s the people there that make it mission-driven. Everybody’s heart is in the right place.”   

To enhance her MBA experience, Quinn also joined a team of students organizing Heller’s fall social entrepreneurship series. She served as the student leader for the Hult Prize at Brandeis, a pitch competition where students compete regionally, then globally, for a $1 million prize.

When she graduates in December 2019, she’s hoping to return the public sector before one day starting her own organization, merging her skill sets from both programs.

“I’m so glad to be able to straddle these different circles at Heller,” she says. “My interests are so intersectional, so here, it all coalesces.”