Hoos in Education #6: Heather Berg

Dreama Johnson

Heather Berg

MBA/MPP Candidate | University of Michigan

B.A. in Public Policy & Leadership (Batten), Class of 2015

Our Education & Youth Development CPE Kirstena talked with UVA alum Heather Berg about her path to working on education issues and her advice for students considering EYD careers.

During her time at UVA, Heather served as a dialogue moderator for Sustained Dialogue, was involved with the University Judiciary Committee, and co-founded a CIO focused on educational programming and advocacy for first-generation and low income students. Heather mentioned that having the opportunity to take a wide variety of classes at UVA helped her gain a deeper understanding of systemic issues and barriers, which solidified her interest in working on education issues.

After graduating from Batten with a B.A. in Public Policy & Leadership, Heather served as a teacher in Nashville for two years through Teach for America. She was able to leverage her TFA network connections to get a policy fellowship with a think tank in Washington, DC. As a part of this fellowship, Heather worked with DC Council member David Grosso, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Education. Heather and the other fellows in her program met with stakeholders in the DC area to craft recommendations for a bill to reduce suspensions in schools. The bill they helped write was eventually passed into law! In addition to her fellowship, Heather’s career path has included exploration of the nonprofit sector, and she has used advocacy and research fields to influence policy in addition to her work within local government. In these positions, Heather learned how to communicate effectively with a broad variety of stakeholders, tailor her writing to frame policy arguments, and conduct targeted research on policy issues.

Throughout her career, Heather’s experience as a teacher has remained a strong influence on her approach to policy work. Even while working to address education issues at the systemic level, she is able to keep her work connected to the challenges that students and teachers face every day. Heather’s interest in the school discipline bill that she worked on stemmed from her experience witnessing inequity manifested through consequences used in schools. She noticed that school discipline practices often fail to take into account a student’s background or history of trauma. Heather’s time in teaching made her passionate about making sure that schools support students as whole beings, and not just in terms of their academic achievement. 

Heather is currently in graduate school at the University of Michigan, simultaneously pursuing MBA and MPP degrees. She was attracted to the dual degree program for the opportunities that it will provide for her to work across sectors in the future. With the toolset she is acquiring through graduate school, Heather is hoping to one day apply her skills to addressing inequities in education policy and community development, alleviating barriers to pathways to economic mobility for marginalized youth. After finishing her master’s degrees, Heather is considering several options for how to make a difference during the next steps of her career and currently plans to start off in social impact consulting before ultimately moving into nonprofit leadership.

For students interested in pursuing teaching, Heather’s advice is to be patient and gracious with yourself in the classroom. Teaching can be incredibly exhausting and challenging, but also rewarding, so it’s important to focus on the small bright spots and improvements along the way! For those interested in policy work, Heather recommends focusing on what naturally energizes you, whether it’s an issue that you want to solve or a skillset that you bring to the policy arena. The field of policy is diverse and needs great advocates at all levels, so think about your strengths and where those might be used to effect change. That can happen in government, nonprofits, think tanks, or even the private sector. So think about your unique value-add and what you might bring to the fight!

If you’re interested in learning more about Heather’s story and the work she does, you can connect with her through Virginia Alumni Mentoring or LinkedIn!