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Alumni in Boston Government Disprove Harvard Stereotypes

By Mahnoor B. Ali, Crimson Staff Writer

A Harvard degree, despite the stereotypes that sometimes come with it, is a valuable asset for working in the public sector, according to two alumni and leaders in Boston city government.

Although the Harvard name is sometimes accompanied by negative stereotypes off campus, Michelle Wu ’07, President of Boston’s City Council, said these potential stereotypes have not negatively affected her time in office.

The effect of the “H-Bomb” was something that Wu said she was “primed for.”

“People talk a lot about Harvard in politics,” she said. “Harvard came up in the Romney campaign, it came up in Obama’s campaign. People have different reactions.”

In her own experience, she said, she found her Harvard degree to only be an asset.

“People very much respect the work that goes into a Harvard degree,” she added.

Daniel A. Koh ’07, Chief of Staff in the Boston Mayor’s Office, said Harvard students must be aware of these stereotypes and try to counter them with open-mindedness in the workplace.

Koh said his Harvard degree does not make him feel superior to his colleagues, many of whom have years of experience in certain fields.

“There are many people in a room who know more about a topic than I do,” said Koh.

Wu added that students can disprove these stereotypes through their actions.

“You control the narrative in how you communicate and connect with other people,” she said.

Both Wu and Koh said their liberal arts education prepared them to face a wide range of challenges while working in city government .

“I think what is great about Harvard College is that it really encourages the study of a diversity of different fields. In a job like Chief of Staff in a city like Boston, there is a diversity of issues,” said Koh.

Such an education, he said, equipped him with the right mentality to address different issues.

Koh, who is also a graduate of the Harvard Business School, said he initially planned to choose working in the private sector instead of the public sector. But an opportunity he found during his time in business school—the HBS Leadership Fellows Program—changed the direction of his career path.

The program provided an opportunity to work in the Mayor’s Office, which was an environment that appealed to him with its efficiency and impact.

Aside from holding top positions within Boston city government, both Wu and Koh graduated in the same class and had mutual friends while at the college.

“I just love seeing his leadership in City Hall and having that common connection,” said Wu.

—Staff writer Mahnoor B. Ali can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AliMahnoorbano.

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