Kaitlyn Steinhiser ’21 knew for a long time that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of Indiana residents. A double-major in political science and communication, with a minor in Spanish, she has recently taken on a role in the state government as the director of policy for Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development. In this role, she drafts policies allowing the Department to innovatively implement core workforce development pillars like unemployment insurance and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs.
A Michigan City native, Kaitlyn did not have Valparaiso University at the top of her list of potential universities to attend after high school.
“Because Michigan City is so close to Valpo, I was originally thinking I didn’t want to be that close, that I wanted to venture out, but my good friend was here studying political science,” Kaitlyn says. “I came and stayed the night with her, attended some political science classes, and got a sneak peek into the student senate.”
Those experiences convinced her that Valparaiso University was not just an institution where she could pursue her interests, but one where she could make an impact in the community and develop her skills in a way that best suited her goals.
“I saw that, at Valpo, students not only have a lot of ownership of their paths, but also of the institution that they’re attending,” Kaitlyn says. “I thought that it was an excellent place to have a positive impact.”
Kaitlyn’s love of civil service and policy stems from her experience with Hoosier Girls State, a camp where high school delegates live the experience of running the Indiana State Government and all that it entails. From that point on, her desire to work with policymakers was set, but she felt there was another piece to that puzzle: communication.
“You can’t have good policy if people don’t know what the policy is,” Kaitlyn says. “So, it’s really important that you are able to communicate that to people.”
While a student at Valpo, Kaitlyn was a member of student senate (of which she served as president her senior year), president of the college democrats organization, a member of the judiciary board, a Pi Sigma Alpha — the national political science honors society— initiate, and, between all of that, found time to be a resident assistant. Far from finding it overwhelming, Kaitlyn found that having a voice in matters as important as COVID-19 policy and the search for a new University president was exactly what she came here to do.
“My favorite thing about being a Valpo student was taking ownership of the community and watching my peers do the same,” Kaitlyn says. “The second I stepped onto Valpo’s campus, even with their first welcome week friend group, everyone was thinking about how they could have an impact and build a community here.”
Likewise, her experience with challenging topics, like the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, was particularly salient to those working in public service.
“We were making policies on-the-fly to keep campus safe for students, while making sure people could still enjoy their time here,” Kaitlyn says. “I’ve learned that in state government, public servants make decisions like that all the time.”
During her senior year, Kaitlyn was the recipient of an Orr Fellowship, which paired her with the digital consultancy firm Resultant for an internship that resulted in a full-time job upon graduation. As a senior associate consultant, Kaitlyn was a vital part of the team’s work with government bodies, having insight into how the growth of technology could impact existing policies.
It was not long before Kaitlyn had the opportunity to pursue her passion for policymaking. She has recently been hired as the director of policy for Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development, which uses state and federal programs to help workers explore opportunities, match with employers, and find the training they need to pursue their goals.
“Working with her over her four years here was simply delightful,” said Jennifer Hora, Ph.D., professor of political science and international relations. “I am thrilled to see that people in charge of hiring in both private industry and the Indiana government see the same things in her as I did: intelligence, dedication to job, curiosity, true leadership, and a pleasant person to work with as well.”
For present and future students, Kaitlyn believes that the experiences and connections they’ll find at Valpo will help lift them to a place where they can make a difference.
“There is nowhere else in the world where you will find a community as supportive and hungry as Valpo,” Kaitlyn says. “Everyone here is ready to help you, and they’re ready to help you find your place, not just in Valpo, but in the world.”