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Advocating community-centered policy to create lasting change

  • Aditya Voleti

For Aditya Voleti, the value of education has been a through line in his career. From an early age, his parents taught him that a quality education was something to be pursued and cherished. Today, he works as Special Advisor to Secretary Pedro Rivera at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), attesting,“The work that I do now comes from that upbringing.”

“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing something related to education, whether it was tutoring in high school, running adult education programs in college or volunteering at various schools in India,” he shares. This foundation remains a chief source of motivation in ensuring that 1.7 million students throughout the state receive a solid education.  

Aditya’s vision for educational equity is rooted in his belief that those most impacted by policy decisions should be invited into and involved in the policymaking process: “I do not believe that systems leaders should be implementing solutions without giving serious design power to those most impacted. You don’t build a solution first, rather clear out your previous ideas and listen with an open mind. I have yet to come across an issue where communities don’t offer valuable insight into a solution.”

Prior to his current endeavors as a Public Policy Fellow, he participated in several LEE workshops and programs, and took advantage of career coaching offered by the organization.

“I have always been impressed by the quality of their training and know-how. They offer amazing career coaching. I would not have been able to get a state level position in Pennsylvania without LEE,” he says.

Getting connected to professionals who share his passion for community-centered policy re-energized him and helped him feel more connected. “I have met many friends through LEE, since they bring together a unique tribe of people who want to talk about the more tedious aspects of governance with great enthusiasm, while weaving in broader themes of equity and identity. It has been this network that has always pushed me to grow and continue to think critically about education,” he shares.

With both, classroom and city level experience, he is now well positioned to explore how to scale those best practices at a state level. Aditya is working on is developing a 3-year workforce development policy agenda for the department, while also adding capacity to the policy office.

One of the first things he did in this role was to manage a $20 million STEM grant to design a new computer program, “It has been incredible bringing together the data and the investment and testing new processes for how to invest funds throughout the state. I have also been working to create a common definition and vision of workforce development throughout PDE, merging all the work we do in career readiness, post-secondary transition, and attainment, STEM and CTE.”

Most recently, Aditya’s skills have led him to a project that may even help to prevent human trafficking in Pennsylvania. Because he currently works to close loopholes that allow some massage therapy schools — which are licensed by the PDE — to run fraudulent operations undetected, he is now looking into red flags that signal potential trafficking. Together with his team, he’s also exploring how to implement virtual programs that could enhance monitoring and quality control and alert officials to cases like these sooner.

His training in building community power has influenced his policy work and approach, “Not all stakeholder engagement has to be formal. When looking for solutions to the massage therapy schools loophole, I just picked up my phone and called many people who worked on the ground to shut down illicit massage businesses or were formerly trafficked themselves, all to understand if we could require additional paperwork in our application or add steps to our audit processes that could aid law enforcement or spark an investigation.”

This perspective aligns with his long-term vision for equity. “I want to transform the work of stakeholder engagement from a ‘check the box’ system to an integral, decision making part of our public systems. I want to bridge the gap between the data we use to make decisions as institutions of power, and the human stories they represent,” he says.

Applications for the 2020 Public Policy Fellowship will open in January 2020. Read more and visit our FAQ section to explore participating and submitting your application to the program.