Young Professionals Summit panel 2016Nicole DuPuis is passionate about transportation and technology – two areas that overlap in some ways, but are generally studied as separate fields. She chose to do her doctoral studies at the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) because she wanted to find a place where you could find synergies between multiple areas of study.

“People get really hung up about training, whether you are an economist, or a planner or whatever other discipline,” she says. “But we’re all trying to solve the same problems, and we all hope that our research is relevant, and that it makes a difference. We are just trained differently, and have different ways of knowing.”

Nicole’s cross-disciplinary mindset and curiosity to solve world issues inspires her work at the National League of Cities, where she manages the urban innovation and infrastructure research portfolios. Most of her research has focused on American cities, but recently she was chosen to attend a prestigious conference in Europe.

An organization called the German Marshall Fund hosts an annual event called the Brussels Forum which brings together world leaders and experts from the United States and European Union to discuss trans-Atlantic policy issues. Nicole applied to attend a co-located program called the Young Professionals Summit and was thrilled to be accepted along with a cohort of other young professionals. Everyone at the event was 33 years old or younger.

“It was a chance to engage in substantive policy discussions with people I would never otherwise have the opportunity to meet, such as state senators or members of parliament,” she says. “Of course, it was only for those state senators or members of parliament who were 33 years old or younger, which made for an interesting dynamic.”

The program created a nice balance of focus on policy issues and discussion and professional development.

“We were in a session on security in the 21st century when it was announced that Salah Abdeslam, a suspected terrorist in the Paris attacks had been captured,” she says. “Everyone’s phones started vibrating from the news alerts. Interestingly, the people on the panel were the people who tackle these issues every day in their jobs.”

Unfortunately, this was not to be the last time on Nicole’s trip that the topic of terrorism would arise. After the conference, she traveled to Amsterdam and then back to the United States. Just as she arrived home, the Brussels terrorist attacks occurred.

“The organizer of the Young Professionals Summit emailed us all to ensure we were okay,” she says. “My family and friends were freaking out on Tuesday morning, calling me to confirm I had arrived home safely. It was so frightening to have this worst-case scenario happen so soon after I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful city.”

On a more positive note, Nicole found the experience inspiring for the next phase of her doctoral studies. She is in her third year honing in on her dissertation topic.

It was the intellectual breath of fresh air that I needed,” she says. “I’m introverted and usually meeting so many new people exhausts me. But in this case, I was energized because it gave me a chance to consider issues that I might not otherwise consider.”

Nicole’s favorite session was on investing in and retaining talent in the changing workplace. One of the panel members, Anne-Marie Slaughter, is known for her article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The article created a huge response in 2012 and Nicole felt fortunate to hear her speak in person.

“To see her speak was a dream come true,” she said. “I am very interested in the changing nature and expectations of work, the ways we think about it and the ways that the role of work in our life is changing. We invest in people and then they walk away because we can’t be flexible in our workplace policies.”

Nicole encourages others to apply to attend the conference in the future as a great experience in policy studies, networking and professional development. SPIA is thrilled that one of our students was chosen to participate in this global event.