The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Raija Vaisanen

photo of Raija Vaisanen
Director of Research
Commonwealth Corporation

Degrees & graduation year: BA in Political Science, 2002; Master of Public Policy & Administration, 2010

What I do: I’m a mix of researcher and project manager. My job is varied. I follow labor market trends—what industries and occupations are growing or declining across Massachusetts and the nation. I partner with academic researchers on research projects like a study of how the health care workforce has changed since the enactment of health care reform and a study modeling the costs of implementing paid family medical leave in Massachusetts. I also work on research projects related to better understanding the challenges workers face in the Commonwealth. For instance, we recently published a report on what it takes to move beyond an entry-level job, which involved surveys and interviews of businesses in the state and focus groups of young adult workers.

How I ended up working there: After graduating from SPP (then CPPA), I spent six-and-a-half years doing economic development-focused research at the UMass Donahue Institute. Then I worked at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, where I got great experience in policy implementation, working on supporting the state’s initiatives to support the manufacturing industry and entrepreneurship in cities outside of Boston and Cambridge. I learned a lot about the constellation of agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations that execute and support the state’s policy goals. It was there that I was introduced to Commonwealth Corporation and their work. It was an organization that combined my research and project management experience with a subject that I care a lot about—lifting up the experiences of workers.

The best part of my job: The best part of my job is working with the community of partners across the state on the shared goal of connecting workers to good jobs that help keep businesses competitive in Massachusetts. In my experience, the workforce development community is very mission-driven, and the people who work in this field care a lot about the people and companies they serve and support.

A recent exciting work experience: My research colleague and I conducted a workshop at a local conference about our research on career advancement and promotability to a packed audience of more than eighty people. They had to bring extra chairs into the room! It was great to feel like our work was of interest to so many practitioners.

How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: My graduate education was a great mix of theory and applied application. From microeconomics and statistics to how to build a website and database, I was given a great set of tools with which to build my career.

Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: Before entering your graduate career, take every opportunity to gain work experience outside of school. Every experience you have, whether waitressing in a restaurant or working in a corporate office, will inform your future and help you to be a better public servant.

Future plans: I’ve stopped trying too hard to predict where I’ll end up! I want to keep learning about how I can put my strengths to use in the world to support workers.