First-gen MPA student brings passion for positive change back to her roots

Tracy Jo Ingram
Tracy Jo Ingram (MPA Candidate 2019)

“It’s so important to develop a civic identity and feel a sense of responsibility for your neighbor, and to this world,” says Tracy Jo Ingram (MPA Candidate 2019).

A native of Louisville, Tracy has embodied this motto through her early career and into her studies at NYU Wagner, where she hopes to build a skill set based on equity and inclusion that she can bring home to Kentucky.

Tracy is a first-generation college student who grew up in Louisville’s south end—home to many low-income families and a diverse population.

“As a first-generation college student, we often don’t have access and resources to know how to navigate a new world that you feel like you don’t belong to yet. Being first-gen takes a lot more wherewithal and strength to find your place as you transition,” she says. “But as I walk into this new world, I haven’t forgotten where I’ve come from. And that gives me the opportunity to advocate for my own community, which is the most important part of being first-generation to me.”

Following her undergraduate years at Western Kentucky University, Tracy joined AmeriCorps and worked with Rebuilding Together San Francisco, an organization that helped preserve neighborhoods that were experiencing rapid gentrification by doing work that would keep low-income homeowners in their homes.

But her passion to help communities in Kentucky brought her back home, where she was offered a position working with 10,000+ teens from all 120 counties. As Program Director and Director of Social Responsibility, she directed and developed civic leadership and public policy programming at the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association, an organization she grew up with.

Tracy’s enthusiasm for working with youth was shaped by her many roles at the YMCA, including a fellowship running alumni programs focused on international diplomacy in Israel, Palestine, and South Africa, amongst other countries. These programs created a space where students from Kentucky could experience the ways in which they were able to help serve others.


Tracy Jo Ingram with a student at the YMCA

“There’s nothing more important or beautiful than watching a child go through the process of understanding their own agency and the democratic process, and feeling empowered and inspired by their own potential to create change in their own communities,” she says. “Our students are defying generational stereotypes. They’re defying geographical stereotypes, racial stereotypes, and religious stereotypes.”

Tracy came to NYU Wagner to grow her experience beyond nonprofits and create more institutional and systemic change by working in city or state government.

“I felt like having a master’s degree focused on policy and management was the perfect way for me to translate my personal and professional experience, and elevate it,” she says. “I picked Wagner in particular because of its focus on equity and inclusion within the policy making process and in everything we do.”

She has appreciated the chance to learn from innovative policies in New York City that can be applied elsewhere. With the help of the Ellen Schall Experience Fund, this summer Tracy is the Policy and Research Fellow at the Greater Louisville Project, an organization that leverages data to help city agencies and nonprofits innovate and collaborate.

“My vocabulary for how to talk about these issues has expanded tremendously,” she says. “Being at Wagner has enhanced my ability to take these numbers and graphs and turn it into a story that means something to someone so that it lights a fire in the city government’s belly to not make excuses anymore.”

The Greater Louisville Project is at the crux of city government, philanthropy, and nonprofit work—an intersection at which Tracy hopes she can make the greatest impact.

“They essentially act as a check on the city government to determine whether there is economic and racial equity within the policies our city is making or where the philanthropy dollars are going,” she says. “That is exactly at the heart of what drives my passion. It is exciting to be doing that work because that was my past, and that’s where I envision my future.”