The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Krista Solie

headshot of Krista Solie
Early Learning Services Program Monitor
Minnesota Department of Education

Degree & graduation year: Master of Public Policy & Administration 2013

What I do: I support the implementation of a variety of early-learning funding streams including scholarships, school-based prekindergarten, Head Start, and others for the State of Minnesota. I conduct monitoring reviews to ensure programs are correctly meeting all of the requirements, provide technical assistance to ensure they are maximizing their funding, and gather and analyze data so we can evaluate and improve our processes. I also lead application processes for programs across the state to apply for different funding. Overall, my team’s primary goals are to increase access to early learning in the state and support quality improvement across all early childhood settings.

How I ended up working there: After UMass, I worked for the City of San Antonio at their city-run prekindergarten initiative for four years. While I loved San Antonio, I decided to move back to my home state of Minnesota and wanted to continue my career in early education policy. I actually used what I learned in our professional development class at SPP and conducted informational interviews with a few staff members at the Department of Education. When this position opened, I already knew it would be a good fit and having those prior conversations helped to get me in the door for the interview.

The best part of my job: I really enjoy creating new systems and resources for school districts, Head Start programs, and child care centers across the state. There is a lot of funding and attention on early learning in Minnesota, but the funding streams are complex and are often challenging to implement. I work to streamline our systems and provide technical assistance to help programs spend less time navigating the administrative systems and more time focusing on children in the classroom. I love working through challenges with districts and seeing their confidence grow when they better understand how to implement their funds and can create efficiencies and improvements in their program.   

A recent exciting work experience: I recently completed my first year of monitoring reviews where I have evaluated more than 125 school districts and programs across the state. We now have data in a consolidated way that we have never had about program implementation and challenging areas in the field, so we can make direct improvements to our processes and resources. It is exciting to see a plan that I created come to life and know that it is helping individual programs and gives the state new information to assist with decision-making.

How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: One of the biggest skills I learned is to gather, synthesize, and succinctly present information on a wide variety of topics. I pull together a lot of one-pagers and proposals for leadership where they need information to make decisions quickly. Writing memos and doing quick research and analysis while at SPP prepared me to be agile and pull together a cohesive, final product in a short amount of time. Also, the opportunities to practice networking helped give me the confidence to seek out organizations that I’m interested in and try to build personal connections while learning about their work and culture. I have gotten both of my jobs from networking and having informational meetings, so practicing to build those relationships really helped me.

Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: A degree in public policy is so versatile, which gives you a strong foundation to work in a wide variety of fields—and fill a lot of roles within one organization. While this helps you to build a well-rounded skill set, it doesn’t automatically give you expertise in a specific policy area. I took classes in the College of Education, which helped give me some of the technical knowledge I’ve needed in my jobs, so I would recommend taking classes outside of SPP.  Also, I would recommend getting involved with professional organizations and/or doing research or assistantships on campus. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I went to UMass, but I had an assistantship that helped me figure out that I liked project management much more than a research or analysis-intensive role. I also volunteered at a local elementary school, which helped me connect what I was learning with real life experiences and gave me the opportunity to do qualitative research for my capstone.

Future plans: With the spotlight on early learning in Minnesota and across the country, it’s an exciting time to be involved at the state level. I don’t know what changes will be coming down the pipeline, but it’s a fast-paced field and I am looking forwarding to working with new programs and funding streams as we work to serve all children in Minnesota.