Jessica Sizer, a graduate student in the School of Public Policy (SPP), has been elected to serve on the town council in her hometown of Palmer, Massachusetts.
Sizer, a student in SPP’s Master of Public Policy program, will serve a three-year term as an at-large councilor after defeating the incumbent with 80 percent of the vote.
Sizer has been interested in local government since her days at Palmer High School, when she served as the student representative to the school committee. “I loved my school,” she says. “From a young age I knew that community is very important.”
As an undergraduate at UMass, Sizer initially studied education, then realized that her interest lay more in public policy. She majored in political science, receiving her degree this spring, and interned with the Palmer town manager's office and with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal in Springfield. As a senior, she entered the School of Public Policy’s 4+1 Master of Public Policy program, which lets undergraduates begin work toward their MPP during their senior year.
“I looked at the courses and professional development opportunities SPP offered, and it was just kind of a no-brainer,” Sizer said of her decision to apply. She’s especially enjoyed taking part in the program’s trips to Boston and Washington and helping establish a new UMass Amherst student chapter of the International City/County Management Association, which is hosted by SPP.
“What happens in the classroom is at the core of the degree, but being able to pair that with real work experience and being able to interact with professionals already in the field are features that will be helpful when I transition into full-time employment,” she said. “I’ve made so many connections through SPP already.”
As an undergraduate, Sizer also participated in UMass Women into Leadership, or UWiL, a competitive leadership training and professional development program. This fall, she will serve as UWiL’s graduate assistant.
“Jessica is officially the first UWiL alum to be elected to public office,” noted Michelle Goncalves, UWiL’s executive director (and herself a School of Public Policy alumna). “Since day one in UWiL, Jessica has said she wants to give back to her hometown. What better way than stepping up and running for office?
“She’s an inspiration to so many young women who want to make a difference in their communities, and we could not be prouder of and more excited for her,” Goncalves continued. “We can’t wait to see what initiatives she’ll pursue as a member of the Town Council.”
One of Sizer’s top priorities is economic development, including creative reuse of Palmer’s vacant former mills and strategies for dealing with blighted buildings in the town. “It really drags on the overall community mood to see these old, rundown properties,” she said. “My constituents really want things to do in our downtown, whether that be new restaurants or shops or whatever developers can put in these empty buildings.”
The development of east-west rail is also important for Palmer’s economic future, said Sizer, who looks forward to working with state Sen. Eric Lesser, a lead proponent of that plan. “It’s an issue that a lot of people have gotten involved with,” she said. “It’s a great example of the town coming together around an issue.”
Sizer will be sworn onto the Palmer town council on July 1. Her busy summer also includes an internship at the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, where she’s working on a workforce development initiative, and SPP courses in local government administration and public budgeting and finance.