Alum Spotlight: Evelyn Immonen (MPP '18)

Working on issues related to rural poverty may not be as glamorous as other high-profile policy issues, but for Evelyn Immonen (MPP ’18), the margin of good that can be done in just one small town is worth the effort and commitment.

Immonen, who works as a research and policy assistant at the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) in Washington, D.C., credits the Batten School with allowing her to land her dream job and pursue her passion.

“I was always interested in issues related to rural poverty, especially those involving Native American lands. I have family in the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Standing Rock tribes so it’s always been close to my heart,” said Immonen. “I joined HAC last September following graduation from the Accelerated Masters in Public Policy program.”

Immonen who had initially interned at HAC as part of her Batten graduation requirement, says she found the organization by accident.

“During my 48-hour project, I was panicking because I still had not found an internship. While I was researching rural dental health care, I came across HAC’s website, which had a lot of specifics on rural poverty. I emailed them cold and said that I loved what they were doing, which then led to an internship and now my current job.”

During her time at Batten, Immonen served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for Professor Daniel Player’s Introduction to Policy Analysis course and worked closely with Professor Andrew Pennock as a grader for his Leadership in the Public Arena course. She loved both roles which gave her the chance to leverage her writing skills acquired during her undergraduate English studies at UVA.

“I enjoyed being able to take my writing skills to the next level for policy analysis which is something that I do a lot in my current work at HAC,” said Immonen. “I think that you have to be a good writer if you’re going to be in this world.”

Prior to her time at HAC, she interned at CapitolWorks, a D.C.-based advocacy organization run by Professor Brooke Lehman, who will teach Introduction to Policy & the Legislative Process to Batten undergraduate students this fall.

“I took Lehman’s policy course, which inspired me to intern at CapitolWorks,” said Immonen. “As an intern with CapitolWorks and student of Prof. Lehman, I was able to get hands-on experience with lobbying in health and child welfare issues. Her firm really works on the cutting edge of policy innovation—the issues that Congressmembers are talking about right now—and combined with hands-on mentorship I wouldn’t have asked for any other introduction to legislative policy making.”

Learning to write a bill is just one of the many skills Immonen mastered during her MPP studies and cites learning how to write a request for proposal (RFP) as one of her favorite MPP assignments.

“[Writing RFPs] is a lot of what I do now at HAC,” said Immonen. “Recently, I was able to receive an RFP for the National Congress of American Indians, which I am now turning into a white paper. Batten taught me how to refine questions surrounding problem statements and to think critically about what unmet need I may have to address a given case. For example: How do Low Income Housing Tax Credits work in tribal areas and how does that tie into the bigger picture of improving the lives of Native families?”

As Immonen approaches her first work anniversary at HAC, she reflects on her current role and how she got there.

“I am really lucky that the first job I landed out of graduate school is one that I love. I had always imagined that I would have one or two jobs before I was able to fully pursue my passion,” said Immonen.

For Immonen, the Batten School is unique in that helps students to develop a strong background in their areas of interest while also helping them navigate a career path in those areas.

“I had a variety of different assignments that allowed me to hone my interests and develop a stronger background on an issue that I cared about,” which in her case, was rural poverty and particularly Native American lands.

From the Introduction to Policy Analysis course to her APP on the opioid epidemic in Native American communities, Immonen was able to strike a balance between policy and passion.

“I know that I would not have been able to get this job or succeed in it without Batten as a strong foundation.”

Evelyn Immonen is a Research and Policy Associate at the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), where she works with the Research and Information team to prepare research reports on rural housing and bridge the gap to real-world policy issues. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2018 where she earned a Bachelors in English and a Master of Public Policy (MPP) from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. During her time in graduate school she served as the Teaching Assistant for a graduate-level policy writing course and wrote her Applied Policy Project on the opioid crisis in Indian Country.