Finding Her Passions
An alum considers how her Batten experiences influenced her professional journey 

During my first year at the University of Virginia, I knew that I wanted to apply to the Batten School. At the beginning of my second semester, I attended an information session about Batten. Shortly after, I called my mom and said, “I have found the graduate school for me!” This came as a surprise to her. “How can you possibly know where you want to go to graduate school already?” she said. 

Breanna Gray

But it was true—I knew that the Batten School was the place for me. I knew that I wanted to study economics, statistics, and policy analysis, but I also knew that I didn’t want to study them separately. Instead, I was interested in how these fields interacted and in how they shaped policies—policies that affect the everyday lives of Americans, often in complex, inconspicuous ways. After the information session, I knew that the Batten School was the place that would allow me to pursue this kind of study. 

The session also revealed to me that, in addition to providing me with strong research and data analysis skills, the School could also nurture my love for helping others. Through programs such as Batten Builds and ’Hoos for Public Service Week (an event I conceived to prepare students for public service careers in the federal government), I was able to make a positive impact in the Charlottesville community. 

Batten is a caring, intellectually diverse, and dedicated group of people, and it played a key role in helping me make that impact. 

Following my studies at Batten, I worked for the federal government as an international trade specialist and later on as a congressional liaison at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. I was incredibly grateful that I could make the transition from graduate school to the working world, despite a fragile job market. Without a doubt, Batten helped me find my dream job—not just through the required internship experiences and professionalization workshops, but also through the interpersonal networks and long-lasting friendships I made during my time there. 

As a liaison, I worked with several congressional staffers to help create federal policy solutions to improve some of the operational challenges that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) faced at the time. This included ways to better manage border surges, technology procurement, CBP staffing at U.S. ports of entry, intellectual property rights violations, and cyber threats to national security. I found that in each of these assignments, my research and policy analysis skills acquired through Batten were immensely relevant. I also discovered that conducting research was yet another passion of mine—one that I wanted to further develop and nurture. 

I left the public sector and decided to pursue a doctoral degree three years ago. I am currently in the third year of a five-year Ph.D. program in political science at the University of Pennsylvania. My areas of study include the United States Congress, political representation for marginalized communities, and the ways in which legislative procedures can influence policy outcomes, particularly for those policies affecting communities of color. As a doctoral student, I often reflect on my Batten experiences. From that initial information session through to my graduation in 2012, I know that Batten played a key role in sparking my passion for research and service, ultimately leading me to my current career. 

Breanna Gray is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Gray earned her Bachelor of Arts in French and foreign affairs from UVA in 2011 and graduated from the Batten School’s Accelerated Master of Public Policy program in 2012. She is a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security congressional liaison.