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CDA Student Spotlight: Allie Mikels

Posted by on Friday, November 10, 2017 in Current Students, .

Allie Mikels

B.S. Public Policy Studies and Economics

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“For me, CDA was a great fit because of its focus on preparing people to be local change agents – which means something different to each of us, and yet unites us all.” 

Q: To begin, where are you from originally at what did you do before coming to CDA? 

I am originally from Stroudsburg, PA. I first came to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt as an undergraduate, and earned a degree in Public Policy Studies and Economics. After graduating in 2014, I began my career at Project Return doing workforce development for the formerly incarcerated. Since then, I have led and participated in several program development initiatives there. Now, I’m back at Vanderbilt while continuing my full-time employment.

Q: What made you interested working with Project Return?

My undergraduate education motivated me to seek a career in community change; but in order to enact change on a higher level, I knew I’d need the knowledge that comes from engaging with people’s lived experiences at the individual level. That’s what motivated me to find a job at a local nonprofit.

I was originally drawn to Project Return because my older sister was incarcerated. I saw firsthand the effects that substance abuse and mental health issues can have on a person and a family. I’m proud to say that my sister is doing great now, and has moved forward with her life, but not everyone is afforded the same opportunities or has the same level of support. I wanted the chance to help motivated individuals who have served their time reconnect with the workforce and their community.

Q: Can you tell me a little more about your current work with Project Return?

I’ve recently moved into a position managing the Retention Services team (which works with employed individuals to overcome the challenges of working and achieving longer-term goals). I am also spearheading the implementation of our newly-acquired U.S. Department of Labor grant! Never a dull moment!

Q: What are some of your interest areas within the CDA program?

My area of focus while I’m here at Peabody is understanding how those leaving incarceration can have a successful return to society. My thesis examines how adults released from incarceration understand and navigate their search for permanent housing, specifically, how they avoid or cope with the barriers associated with having a criminal background. More generally, I’m interested in understanding how nonprofits can become more effective in order to maximize their meaningful community impact. For me, CDA was a great fit because of its focus on preparing people to be local change agents – which means something different to each of us, and yet unites us all. I hope to use what I learn through CDA in a career in program evaluation and/or nonprofit management.

Q: Do you have any advice for new or prospective students?

My biggest piece of advice would be to find hobbies or interests that take you away from the stress of your regular work. I love what I do, both at work and in school, but the challenges that people face in this world can weigh on you. That’s why I make the time to volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and anyone in my cohort knows that if I’m not at work and not on campus, I’m at the CrossFit gym. These activities help me lead a balanced, healthy life!



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