Alum Spotlight: Saha Khaterzai (MPP '14)

Last summer, I completed the Presidential Management Fellowship at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In my current position at OMB, I work on implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other health reform initiatives. In particular, I develop legislative and regulatory health policy for the President’s Budget and implement Administrative priorities.

I credit the knowledge and skills I gained at Batten for preparing me for my current role. My job entails having to conduct analysis of the health insurance market, providing policy advice to senior leadership and managing multi-billion dollar Federal programs. At Batten, I gained a systematic understanding of how polices work and how to influence policy to change outcomes. Batten’s rigorous analytical and quantitative training provided me with the necessary skills to formulate evidence-based policy recommendations and made me a more effective analyst. 

My greatest professional achievement was working on President Obama’s community based initiatives. I spent my PMF rotation as part of the White House’s Community Solutions team. We worked on advancing a new approach to Federal engagement with high-need communities that face steep poverty as well as lower capacity to respond to both challenges and opportunities. This new approach was based on building a Federal government that was responsive to locally-identified needs and goals with reliance on data to guide what works. In particular, I assisted in helping struggling communities navigate Federal assistance. I also worked on bringing together Federal agencies that were operating in silos in order to achieve more innovative, collaborative and data-driven partnership. It was humbling to play a supporting role in making the Federal government more effective and accessible to local communities.

At Batten, I learned that leadership is about solving problems in a way that positively impacts the lives of others. Batten also taught me a greater appreciation for the interconnection of various policy problems. Prior to joining Batten, I was only interested in global health policy. However, Batten taught me to analyze issues through a series of lenses and helped me focus on tackling policy problems in a holistic way. For instance, a community that struggles with poor health outcomes may also be struggling with underperforming schools, rundown infrastructure and neighborhood violence. Batten taught me how to approach these interconnected challenges and offer comprehensive solutions.

My advice to Batten students: Do not take the easy route, and be open to new opportunities even if it is not part of your plan. My experience growing up as an Afghan refugee shaped my desire to pursue a career in international development.  While at Batten, I interned at the United States Mission to the United Nations. Leading up to graduation, I was again determined to work with an international organization focusing on global health. However, I received an unexpected offer to work in the Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution focusing on domestic health policy. Brookings gave me the opportunity to work with the leading policymakers in health and economics. Brookings also helped pave the way to my current positon. In both roles, I have been challenged intellectually and pushed beyond what I thought I was capable of. I encourage students to go where you can learn the most and pursue opportunities that you find fulfilling yet terrifying. Those are the type of experiences that will allow you to grow professionally and make the most impact. 

Batten alum Saha Khaterzai graduated from the Accelerated Master of Public Policy program in 2014. She is a double Hoo, having received a Bachelor of Arts degree from UVA in 2013. Khaterzai was born in Afghanistan and grew up as a refugee in Pakistan prior to moving to Charlottesville with her family in 2001. She has advised on policy for the White House Office of Management and Budget, served as a research assistant at The Brookings Institution, and interned at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, among other positions.