Student Profile- Pursuing Her Inner Wonk | Teachers College Columbia University

Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Student Profile- Pursuing Her Inner Wonk

Kristie Kauerz combines policy and research to seek better opportunities for children.

Kristie Kauerz combines policy and research to seek better opportunities for children


When Kristie Kauerz wrote a mock political campaign speech in fifth grade, titled "Promises, Promises, Promises," she knew she'd found her true calling. But this was not, as the movies might have had it, a case of "a candidate is born." For Kauerz, the daughter of middle-class parents in Denver, the revelation was that, more than making promises about how to change the world, she liked the researching and writing of the speech. She had, in other words, discovered her inner policy wonk.


Today, she is making good on that discovery as a student in TC's unique doctoral program in Early Childhood Education/Early Childhood Policy. Founded by Associate Dean for Policy Sharon Lynn Kagan, the program focuses on the intersection of early education and public policy, and is an intensive training ground for those who wish to study-'" and perhaps one day influence-'"policies affecting early education.


Kauerz already has a leg up on the "influencing" part of things. In 1995, after majoring in political science at Colorado College and earning a masters degree in International Development at American University in Washington, she attended a meeting of the Children's Defense Fund in Seattle, where she met Bea Romer, the wife of then-Colorado governor Roy Romer. Impressed with the young woman, Romer invited Kauerz to join the governor's staff as coordinator of Child Watch, a program that brought influential leaders to visit education sites across the state. Kauerz accepted and soon after became one of the governor's policy advisors for children and family issues. In 1997 she became the governor's Director of Community Development for Families & Children, and in 2000, she joined the Education Commission of the States (ECS), which is headquartered in Denver, as Program Director, Early Learning, with a specific focus on birth through third grade.


Why, with such a resume, did she feel a need to return to school?


"My years working in state government in Colorado and with multiple governors and other policymakers at ECS gave me invaluable insights into, and experience with, the politics, people, and strategies that are necessary to craft and implement strong public policies," she says. "As my work became more visible and more influential, I felt that I was not as effective as I could be in understanding research and then infusing it into my policy work." Fortunately for her, the president of ECS at the time, Ted Sanders, a former acting U.S. secretary of education, was a strong believer in linking policy and research, and he encouraged his staff to earn Ph.D.s.


While working for Governor Romer, Kauerz had attended a conference where she heard a speech by Kagan, the author of "Not By Chance," a landmark national study that outlines a holistic system of early care and education designed to respond to family and community conditions outside the classroom. Nearly six years later, Kagan started a new doctoral program at Teachers College that, to Kauerz, seemed as if it had been personally designed for her.


"TC's program provided the closest link between early education and policy," says Kauerz, who left ECS last year to focus full-time on her graduate studies. "I realized that TC was the only place where I could get a degree that specifically said, -'Early Childhood Education and Policy.'"


Kauerz says the program has more than lived up to its billing-'"and she, in turn, has helped make it a success. It's no accident that Kagan tapped her to be the hands-on teaching assistant for the TC Federal Policy Institute's weeklong visit to Washington.


Kauerz says she will continue to be involved in early care and education policy, at both state and federal levels, strengthened by her academic work at TC. That should be a formidable combination indeed.

Published Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006