If you ask John Casey about why he’s interested in public policy, he’d credit his upbringing. By dint of his father’s military service, John grew up overseas—elementary school in South Korea, middle school in Italy, and high school in Germany—but no matter where John and his family were located, their lives were defined by government institutions and priorities. John lived on U.S. military bases, where he went to schools funded by the Department of Defense and received the fully subsidized healthcare offered to military families. And the government of course dictated when and where his father would be sent. “Since changes in U.S. policy usually meant my dad would be deployed, I wanted to understand the forces and foreign policy objectives that made my dad have to leave for months on end,” John recalls. “For many people, policy is simply the ideas and issues they see when they open up the politics section of a newspaper; for me, policy affected my home life.” As he describes it, though, his mother played a formative role too, engaging him in conversations where her more conservative voice intermingled with his increasingly liberal one. “She gave me the confidence to believe people cared about what I had to say on matters of policy. Those conversations I had with her were defining moments in my political development.”
Although John entered Wharton set on pursuing a concentration in Finance, he was equally determined to keep public policy integral to his academic experience. During his freshman year, he joined the Penn Political Review and became part of the Trade and Foreign Policy team of the PPI Student Group, which maintains a blog on the Penn Wharton PPI website. “Through these organizations, I have had the opportunity to share my thoughts with other passionate individuals, hear their thoughts, concerns, and critiques, and produce research-based pieces that attempt to explain the issues, dynamics, and trends at play today.” He also was selected at the end of his freshman year to join the Public Policy Research Scholars (PPRS) program, to more fully integrate the study of U.S. public policy into his academic curriculum. Especially given his experiences living overseas as part of a military family, John aspires to use his time in PPRS to explore the intersection of foreign affairs and economic policy—“to look at how America couples military force with economic incentives to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives.”
At the same time, John has been active in political campaign work, including the re-election campaign of Pennsylvania Senator John Casey (no family relation). As a research intern, John was responsible primarily for finding stories of people who had been helped by Sen. Casey’s actions in office. “My work with the Casey campaign reminded me just how much is at stake in the realm of policy,” John says. “The decisions made in the halls of government affect real people. When policy succeeds, we make people’s lives better. When policy yields unintended consequences, we can devastate communities.” It’s this knowledge that animates his perspective on his future work. “As I pursue this public policy path further,” he asserts, “I will try to keep my experience with the Casey campaign in mind: policy isn’t a game; it’s people’s livelihoods. Actions and decisions have ripple effects. As a student of public policy, I am learning how to make sure those ripple effects lead to positive changes and better outcomes.”
John is getting some taste of that as a member of Penn’s Undergraduate Assembly, where he sits on the Student and Campus Life Committee. John had been part of his high school’s student council, but that mostly entailed planning social activities and fundraisers, which didn’t necessarily impact his fellow students’ quality of life. “Conversely at Penn with the UA, I am actively working with campus leaders and members of the University administration, and listening to my peers’ concerns, to make Penn’s student life a little better,” he says. Currently, his UA work has focused on the issue of club recruitment, to make that process less stressful and more transparent, especially for new students. “As I begin my second year as an Associate Member on the UA, I hope to address other issues facing students, such as free speech and mental health.”
More generally, John looks forward to tapping into those things that he feels really passionate about. To his surprise, that now includes running, which is something he did as a member of his high school’s cross country and track teams, but which he had come to dislike as an organized obligation. But then, on a bit of a lark, John decided to register last year for the Philadelphia Marathon, which happened to fall on his 19th birthday. “Not six months after I had completely sworn off running, I found myself standing at the starting line, just waiting for the pain to begin,” John recollects. “But the race gun went off, and as the miles flew by, I found that I was actually enjoying it. I finished the race, beat my goal by 10 minutes, and had completely fallen in love with running again.” Since then, John also ran in the LOVE half marathon in March and the Broad Street Ten Miler this past May.
Training for a future in public policy is kind of a long distance race too. As John observes: “In today’s media and political environment, where short sound bites have taken the place of complicated, nuanced policy answers, I think there is a great need for individuals who know how to create effective policy. To me, effective policy means achieving desired ends while preventing unintended side effects that either diminish the objective or create a new problem entirely. It’s the opportunity to study policy that helped bring me to Penn, encouraged me to apply for PPRS, and is hopefully the way I can make a positive impact on those around me.”