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Alumni Spotlight:

Alissa Ellis

Alissa Ellis graduated with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) minor from UNC Chapel Hill in 2011. Following this, she became interested in criminal justice reform and indigent criminal defense, interning for several organizations including the Fair Trial Initiative, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, and the North Carolina Indigent Defense Services. In 2015, Alissa graduated from UNC Law while working with various public defenders offices and private practice attorneys. After law school, she briefly worked for IBM before returning to work in the nonprofit sector to follow her passion for social justice, organizing, and policy advocacy.

Alissa is currently the Strategic Partnerships Manager at national nonprofit American Oversight where she works on a variety of issues spanning from voting rights, to corporate capture, to policing and immigration. Her career path has been largely defined by a strong interest in supporting small nonprofit organizations and communities that are often overlooked, seeking to provide mentorship while gaining new skills. In addition to her work with American Oversight, Alissa is also a board member for several organizations, including La Fuerza, Equality NC, and the UNC Undergraduate Honors Advisory Council for Law & Policy.

A Conversation with Alissa

(1) What led you to minor in PPE at UNC?

I was drawn to PPE because it offers an interdisciplinary approach to understanding political issues. I enjoyed the theoretical and practical aspects of the coursework and the ability to complete a capstone project on an issue of my choosing.

(2) How has what you learned from the PPE Program helped you in your career?

The PPE Program expanded my understanding of economic principles that I had only learned at a very surface level in introductory courses and in very limited contexts within political science, which was my major. In addition, to be frank, the conservative (and I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense) nature of some of the theories and associated coursework helped me to define my political perspective and theoretical approach to solving social issues throughout my career. The PPE Program, my peers, faculty, and the coursework itself made me a more capable advocate with those who have opposing viewpoints.

(3) What is your greatest professional accomplishment so far? 

My greatest accomplishment was defeating an extremely regressive anti-immigrant bill (HB 370) that would have increased immigrant detention and deportations by requiring local law enforcement to collaborate with ICE in North Carolina.

(4) What professor or course influenced you the most during your time in the PPE Program?

  • the PPE Capstone Course where we developed our final papers
  • The following cross-listed courses were also phenomenal:
    • Modern Political Thought: Philosophy of Work
    • Coursework on U.S. Congress

(5) What was your favorite PPE extracurricular programming  (e.g., reading groups, weekend seminars, speaker series, etc.)?

I did not participate in many extracurricular programs while an undergraduate (single mom and RA), but did engage in an alumni reading group that I enjoyed immensely!

(6) What advice do you have for prospective PPE students?

Don’t be afraid to explore! Try different courses that pique your interest. Intern at different organizations, if you can. Also, engage with those who have different perspectives and values than you; do not be afraid to be wrong, learn something new, and to change your position or perspective.

(7) What advice do you have for recent PPE graduates?

Two pieces of advice:

(1) Mentorship! Do not hesitate to reach out to alumni, to professors, and to people whose work or careers you admire. I rarely receive requests to connect with students and young professionals. Asking to chat briefly is low risk! The worst response you can get is “no.”

(2) Your first job will likely not be your last job! The skills that you gain will likely be transferable to other jobs. Focus on building a strong network and skillset, so you can follow a career path that makes sense for you.

(8) Where do you see yourself in five years? 

I hope to be in a position where I can help effect social change and support young people in the nonprofit and social justice sector(s).


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