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Public Policy

The study of literature helps nurture the civic mindedness of our students, some of whom translate social awareness into action, from running political campaigns to entering the field of public health. Since English majors examine literature as a product of its cultural and historic contexts, our alumni often choose professions that allow them to shape policy at the local and national level.

Sarah Beth GehlSarah Beth Gehl, Class of 2002
Doctoral Candidate
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University

Where does a double-major in English and mathematics land? In the social sciences, of course. My path has not been the most logical on its face, but each portion of my education and career has provided valuable skills in a variety of areas, beginning with the strong writing and critical thinking focuses of BSC's English and math programs. I enjoyed the mix of poetry workshop and differential equations, Dante seminar and abstract algebra, but struggled with "what's next" in my final year at BSC. I told a professor I thought I would like to work in a think tank. He asked what I meant by that. I said, I wasn't sure but it sounded interesting. He thoughtfully suggested that I apply for an internship with Operation New Birmingham, a nonprofit focusing on downtown redevelopment and revitalization. The internship sparked my interest in urban development and led to my enrollment in the urban planning and policy program at the University of Illinois at Chicago where I earned a Master's degree with a specialization in economic development.

Hoping to get closer to home upon graduating, I moved to Atlanta and began work as a tax policy analyst for the newly-formed Georgia Budget and Policy Institute—a real-live think tank. I spent the next seven years learning the ins and outs of Georgia tax policy, writing policy briefs, educating citizens on policy proposals, giving interviews, and attempting to convince state legislators that taxes can be a good thing. In 2011, I decided to pursue public policy differently—trading the trenches of the state capitol for the classroom at the university. I am currently in the joint doctoral program in Public Policy at Georgia State University and Georgia Institute of Technology where I am back to analyzing texts and writing papers.

Libby Greer"The narrative is one thing—the real story extends much deeper than the words on the page, and when you've been able to deconstruct the dynamic is when you figure out the political reality."

Libby Greer, Class of 1997
Senior Vice-President at Forbes-Tate
Public Policy Consulting Firm in Washington, DC

Libby Greer can't remember exactly when the thought of entering politics came to her mind, but she knows she was always opinionated. "Politics is all about how your opinions play out in the public arena," says Greer. "Once I realized that, I think I just grabbed hold of the process and got on board."

After graduating from BSC, Greer worked for the Alabama Democratic Party as a fundraiser and was promoted to fundraising director in 1998 when Don Siegelman was elected governor. The following year, she volunteered for the Gore campaign in Alabama. Her next fundraising stint was for a political consulting firm in D.C. where she met U.S. Congressman Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), who surprised her one day with an offer to serve as his chief of staff at the age of 26.

As chief of staff to Congressman Boyd, Greer directed and oversaw hislegislative and political operations, including rallying 17 staff members in Washington, D.C., and Florida. -- 'Southern Magazine, Fall 2008

Working on the Hill showed me that truly effective advocacy was about building coalitions—identifying others' priorities and developing arguments to make those priorities work in our favor, whether or not the various motivations in play seemed to be copacetic. Learning to read and write at Birmingham-Southern taught me that skill. The narrative is one thing—the real story extends much deeper than the words on the page, and when you've been able to deconstruct the dynamic is when you figure out the political reality. Now that I am in private practice, advising clients on ways to advance their policy proposals, I know that discerning the motives of all the players is key, as is distilling every single argument for or against. In our current political system, no policy initiatives will advance without the right environmental conditions, even on the most granular level. The goal is to make my clients' positions safe for lawmakers to embrace.

And I have to say—because it needs to be said—I am stunned at how frequently I run across a bad writer. If I am grateful for nothing else, the professors who tore apart my papers in college top the list.