Humphrey School Master of Public Policy student Jenna Hoge seems to be balancing it all these days—classes, research, an internship, her upcoming wedding, and even marathon running.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Jenna, like others, began running as a safe way to destress. She was working from home for the Minneapolis Health Department doing contract tracing, a role that took an emotional toll on her. Running became her outlet.
“It got me outside every day; it gave me a goal and a win every day,” she said.
She had hoped to compete in Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, but it was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
So Jenna and her fiance, Sam, came up with a marathon route that followed trails along the Mississippi River. She was hooked. Jenna says she needed to experience the thrill of a real marathon.
“Part of what I love about running is seeing how adaptable the human body is. I was never an athlete,” she said. “It’s been wild and fascinating for me to see how my body is able to go from oscillating between running and walking, to running three miles, to running 26.2! With enough time and consistency, the human body can do anything.”
Jenna ran the Chicago Marathon in 2021 and her finishing time qualified her to compete in the Boston Marathon. She trained for and ran the historic Boston Marathon last month, setting a personal record and finishing faster than her qualifying time, in spite of the grueling course.
Developing the skills to make positive change
Through all the training, Jenna said the time on the trails has given her a way to clear her head, reset, and ruminate on some of the papers she writes for class.
“I always knew I wanted to go to grad school because I love learning,” Jenna said about what led her to the Humphrey School at this point in her life and career. “The combination of the uprising after George Floyd’s murder, the COVID-19 response, and some issues with a landlord in my neighborhood made me realize that I was ready to return to school, and that here in Minnesota was the right place to do it.”
For Jenna, the pandemic and all of the challenges happening during that same time illustrated the need for good policy – how it’s made and who is at the table to ensure positive policy impacts.
“My goal in coming to [the Humphrey School] was to build a toolbox of skills that I could apply to whatever issue I was facing. I’m particularly passionate about housing, economic inequality, transportation, and sustainability,” she said.
In addition to her coursework, Jenna has been a research assistant with the School’s Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy, where she has helped with events like Leading for the 7th Generation and Advocating for Systems Change for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.
Because of her interest in data and using the skills she was learning in class, Jenna has developed a fact sheet analyzing Minnesota’s elected leadership to determine who runs and who is elected across all levels of government in the state.
If that wasn’t enough, Jenna also worked as an intern in the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) in its program evaluation division.
“This was a perfect fit because program evaluation uses the whole toolbox of skills I had hoped to build at Humphrey,” she said. “OLA staff hold themselves to an incredibly high standard in terms of their attention to detail, impeccable organization, and in-depth research. I feel lucky to have been able to apply what I am learning at the Humphrey School to that standard for the betterment of Minnesota.”
Balancing life after graduate school
After graduating with her MPP degree this spring, Jenna and Sam look forward to getting married at Wilderness Canoe Base, at the end of the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Jenna says this a special spot because it was where she went for Boundary Waters trips as a kid and later worked as a canoe guide.
“It’s definitely inconvenient for our family, since our ceremony will be at an outdoor chapel on an island that’s basically in Canada,” she said. “But it’s the only place that felt right for our wedding. The Boundary Waters is such a special place–it’s remote, it’s challenging, it’s beautiful, it’s immersive. We can’t wait to start our marriage there.”
As Jenna’s time at the Humphrey School wraps up and she plans her wedding, as well as some international travel and a cross-country road trip, she is thinking about what’s next and how to keep it all in balance.
“I have just accepted a full-time position with OLA as an intermediate program evaluator,” Jenna said of her after-graduation plans. “It’s been my dream to work in the public sector here in Minnesota. I believe in the power of community and I want to invest here—my home, my community—to make it the best place possible for us to live.”
Learn more about the Master of Public Policy as well as all of the Humphrey School’s master's degree programs.