Bringing the Personal to the Public

“I envision my role here at Pepperdine as not only a researcher or teacher, but also as a mentor to help train and prepare the group of next-generation policy makers who will become competent and thoughtful leaders.”

November 1, 2018  | 3 min read

By Anna Choi
James Q. Wilson Visiting Professor of Public Policy
Pepperdine School of Public Policy


When I received the phone call offering me the opportunity to join the School of Public Policy as the inaugural James Q. Wilson Visiting Professor of Public Policy, I nearly dropped my phone. It could have been too much excitement, joy, sweat, or all of the above. Many things happen in life that can be called fate or coincidence, but I saw this as a calling to train the next generation of leaders—not just capable leaders, but those with a caring heart and motivation to serve the public and the community.

As cliché as it sounds, I am most driven by the potential to make a difference by combining what I enjoy doing with what I’m good at doing. The intersection of these elements led me to study economics and public policy, particularly the different economic approaches and quantitative methods for policy analysis, tools that help us understand how policy changes and interventions can affect both individuals’ outcomes or behaviors and our society.

After completing my PhD studies at Cornell University, I started working as a policy analyst at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) headquartered in Paris, France. Its mission, “Better policies for better lives,” is lived out through the production and analysis of data, publications, and research reports that draw upon best practices and challenges for various policy issues. I was excited to work on projects focused on skills development in the context of education with many policy makers, leaders, and experts from around the world. Throughout my three years working at the OECD, I gained  firsthand experience in how policies are developed and analyzed in different countries.

“I envision my role here at Pepperdine as not only a researcher or teacher, but also as a mentor to help train and prepare the group of next-generation policy makers who will become competent and thoughtful leaders.”

I also observed that what we learn in class may not always work in the real world due to factors beyond data, statistics, economic indicators, and academic research when it comes to policy making and evaluation.

The first project I worked on involved the development of social and emotional skills (or noncognitive skills) in education to improve the well-being and long-term outcomes of children and adolescents. Improving levels of social and emotional skills, such as perseverance, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and self-esteem, plays a crucial role in children’s success later in life. Research has shown that students who are motivated, resilient, collegial, and goal-driven are more likely to cope better with difficulties and overcome setbacks in life and also perform well in school and the labor market. Social and emotional skills are malleable and learnable and also interact with cognitive skills development, as skills beget skills.

Now I have the opportunity to practice and apply what I learned through my studies and work experience at the OECD and help students to become more motivated, resilient, and responsible. I will use my training and experience at the OECD to study pertinent issues affecting not only California, but also the world, incorporating various elements of social- and emotional-skills development in and out of classroom settings. My ultimate goal is to train students to think like real policy makers through different assignments, discussions, and interactions. Along with the practical knowledge I gained at the OECD, particularly how to manage the delicate details of policy making and analysis, I plan to teach them how to communicate effectively, focusing on professional writing and presentation.

Engaging in policy research myself is one way of using my skills and expertise to influence Pepperdine and the local community. I envision my role here at Pepperdine not only as a researcher or teacher, but also as a mentor to help train and prepare the group of next-generation policy makers who will become competent and thoughtful leaders. I firmly believe that the opportunity to put my OECD background to work at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy is not a coincidence, but a calling.