For nine years in the US Marine Corps, Joe Quinn thrived by making a positive impact on the world. As he began to imagine his transition to civilian life, however, he wondered if he would be able to find a similar sense of purpose.
“I was worried that I would not find a way to make a positive difference for others,” Quinn says. “The Marine Corps instills a sense of responsibility to make yourself as useful as possible, both to other people and the organization you’re a part of. Your whole focus revolves around a mission that is meaningful.”
When Quinn learned of the University of Chicago’s SkillBridge internship program, he saw the opportunity to find new meaning. Offered through the University of Chicago’s Office for Military Communities (OMAC), SkillBridge is a Department of Defense program that connects service members to industry partners for the final six months of their military service, providing them with valuable experience through specific industry training, apprenticeships, and internships.
“SkillBridge and the University of Chicago have connected me with life-changing opportunities,” he says.
I come from a background where college, let alone graduate school, was never something I thought would be attainable. When I found out about GSAL, it was a dream come true.Joe Quinn, GSAL Recipient
Quinn, a first-generation college student, had completed his undergraduate studies under the GI Bill while enlisted and had long hoped to continue to graduate school. As part of the SkillBridge program, interns take for-credit undergraduate and graduate-level courses at the University of Chicago through the Graduate Student at-Large (GSAL) program, designed for students to explore different fields and areas of study.
“I come from a background where college, let alone graduate school, was never something I thought would be attainable,” Quinn says. “When I found out about GSAL, it was a dream come true. I had known for years that I was interested in policy, economics, and research, especially around issues like inequality. The ability to go right into graduate classes with professors that I had been reading and hearing about for years—I couldn’t have possibly hoped for something better.”
The Path to Social Policy Research
For his internship, OMAC worked to place Quinn at the University of Chicago Center for the Economics of Human Development (CEHD), an on-campus group researching the conditions that allow people to achieve their fullest potential. The center’s aims matched Quinn’s preexisting interest in social policy research and the placement, he says, has provided an extremely sharp contrast to the Marine Corps.
“I like the internship because I go from one very unique environment to another very unique environment,” he says. “SkillBridge has helped me understand how to balance and navigate things and to understand what’s important and not important from a social and a professional perspective.”
Once his internship at CEHD began, Quinn connected with GSAL program director Esther Pandian-Riske, who guides students as they select and enroll in classes. Given his desire to do social research around inequality, Pandian-Riske recommended he consider the Harris School for Public Policy and put him in contact with a network of Harris students to help him think through what classes he might take, including the Military Affiliated Students of Harris (MASH), who Quinn credits for providing him support throughout his transition.
It is incredible that through GSAL you have the ability to gain access to faculty members who are world-class scholars. These are people I never thought I would be in the same room with, or learning from directly.Joe Quinn, GSAL Recipient
“I had not considered public policy as a graduate degree track before Esther mentioned it,” he says. “But the more I looked into it the more I understood how perfect a fit it was. I’m really interested in the application and implementation of that type of research for crafting policy that helps people’s lives.”
Quinn has also been working with OMAC’s Veteran Restorative Justice Project, an interdisciplinary enterprise that provides resources, referrals, and training to veterans facing criminal charges.
“The project has given me new insights into the criminal justice system and the issues affecting some of our most vulnerable veterans,” Quinn says. “It has deepened my interest and commitment to studying social policy and I am grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community that got me here.”
Finding a New Sense of Purpose
From his first class at Harris, Quinn knew he had found the right fit.
“To jump into a new world like that was an eye-opening experience,” he says. “It is incredible that through GSAL you have the ability to gain access to faculty members who are world-class scholars. These are people I never thought I would be in the same room with, let alone in class with, or getting feedback and learning from directly.”
In addition to confirming his dedication to the field of social policy research, GSAL showed Quinn that he was up to the challenge of graduate work at the University of Chicago. He applied and was accepted into Harris’ Master of Public Policy program. For the next two years, he will develop the analytical skills he needs to take on today's most challenging policy issues. After completing his graduate degree at Harris, Quinn plans on pursuing a PhD in economics to continue researching social policy and inequality.
“What I do not lack now is a clear vision,” Quinn says. “People at Harris have a goal to create a better, more equitable and sustainable world, which is what drives a lot of people who enter the Marine Corps as well. Having found an environment and community at the University of Chicago where I can feel that drive and sense of purpose has made the transition a lot easier.”