Growing up right outside of DC, Yana Kaplun couldn’t help but be drawn to the field of public policy. As a member of her high school debate team, she was continually challenged to learn about and discuss a wide range of timely, policy-related topics, which “made it much more engaging to read the news each day, and provided me with a foundation that I’ve built upon in my classes ever since,” Yana says. By studying business alongside international affairs through the Huntsman Program at Penn, she was able to “combine the study of politics and public policy with a more quantitative and analytical toolkit, which I found in my finance and statistics concentrations in Wharton.” PPRS added another dimension too. Yana explains that doing the PPRS program felt like the “perfect way to continue to develop the passion for policy, and to find a community at Penn of people not only interested in a variety of fields and professions, but also in how they connected to the world of government.” Yana is one of seven students who will graduate in May as part of the first PPRS cohort.
Yana’s interest in PPRS began when she was interning in DC for a think tank called Third Way, in their Capital Markets Initiative, researching financial regulations such as the Dodd-Frank Act. Working for Third Way showed Yana how policy, macroeconomics, and finance all influence each other in complex ways, and inspired her to pursue further research opportunities when she returned to campus. For Yana’s PPRS capstone, she is “studying infrastructure deficiencies at the U.S.-Mexico border caused by the increased truck volumes post-NAFTA, and identifying whether traditional government structures or public-private partnerships would be the most effective funding schemes for the projects in this area.” Yana feels lucky to be able to learn more about many different things that interest her, and how they intersect: “infrastructure development (a holdover from my policy debate days!), finance, cross-border trade, Spanish and the Latin-American economies, and public policy.”
Yana wanted a practical way to use her policy background while on campus, so she joined the Holistic Education Initiative through the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education (SCUE). Her work there has focused on developing opportunities for experiential learning on campus and trying to help Penn students find balance in their lives. Yana explains, “I’ve loved being a part of SCUE because it allowed me to develop an independent, informed opinion about what a university education should be; and brought me in touch with students, professors, and administrators who challenged and shaped that opinion.” In addition, Yana appreciates the fact that the research and work she did has an impact: “We published our recommendations in a white paper, which has served as the backbone for our discussions with administrators such as President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, and College Dean Paul Sniegowski. Out of this work, we’ve been able to push for changes to the University’s policies surrounding pass/fail courses, discussions of mental wellness and academic accommodations in course syllabi, and a renewed focus on civic engagement opportunities as a core part of the Penn experience.”
Yana’s interests have led her in many directions—not only on campus, but through study abroad as well, in Cuba. Yana found the experience of studying there thought provoking. “Taking philosophy and political economy classes in a communist country, I gained a whole new understanding of political and economic theory, as well as economic relations from the perspective of the developing world.” Yana was excited to have her ideas challenged and to learn about economics and economic policy in a different way. The Penn experience for Yana was defined by this unique “depth and breadth of academic opportunities,” which will continue to inform her goals and outlook as she steps forward as a graduate in May.