Here’s to Morgan & Todd

Lots of people change the trajectory of our lives – teachers, parents, children, bosses – but it’s rare we can focus on one moment where our lives are altered for the better because of someone else’s actions.

It’s not hard for me to remember how Morgan Miller changed my world in Jackson, Mississippi for the better. Five years ago, through a dinner invitation to a mexican restaurant, Morgan tied me to some of the most valuable, important friendships of my adult life. That night, with chips, salsa, huge mugs of beer and margaritas, I started to put together my own Jackson family. Today, Morgan and those friends are the reason that no matter where Tom and I are – Boston, Vermont (or in Tom’s case this week, South Africa) – we want to be back in JXN.

This weekend those friends will come together to celebrate the marriage of Morgan and Todd – two of the most important people in our Jackson lives. Maybe it’s because Tom is out of the country and I’ve communicated more with my dogScreenshot 2016-03-14 18.34.35s this week than human beings, but I’ve been particularly reflective on what Morgan and Todd have meant to us over the five years since that dinner at the mexican restaurant.

It’s not just because we can consistently count on Todd for a high quality magic trick, fancy napkin folding, or a quick, dry comment. Or because we know Morgan is always ready to provide yoga guidance, talk Gilmore Girls and tornados, or open up her endless supply of fingernail polish for you to try.

It’s not just because we can count on them to stand by our side during a session in the wedding photo booth. Or to make others laugh by appearing in unexpected places.

All of these quirky, endearing characteristics about them are things we treasure. Our lives, whether in Jackson or outside of it, have moved along in concert with their’s. When Morgan and Todd got their first dog, Copper, we weren’t too far behind with a pup of our own. Morgan and Todd’s leap into dog number two started the soft and incessant pressure I put on Tom that led to our own second dog. We have seen each other get married, move from place to place, start carriers, change carriers, and become semi-responsible adults.

Throughout all these changes, we’ve also looked to Morgan and Todd as another couple building a life together filled with love, compromises, and respect for one another’s individuality. Morgan and I are both married to native Mississippians. We came to Mississippi523548_10100979484162708_1773149968_n without deep roots and built community, lives, and careers more meaningful than I ever anticipated. I’ve found Morgan’s ability to adapt to and enjoy a world very different from her Philadelphia/Atlantic City roots quite remarkable. Her feeling of connection to Mississippi (and its stellar potential partners in Todd and Tom) affirmed my own sense of pull to the place and still does. It’s not that Morgan is my only friend that fuels these sense of commitment to the place, but she and Todd are certainly central to it.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to see two people we love build a life together. And sometimes we are lucky to be a part of it as it happens. I can’t wait to be back in Jackson and a more active part of the world Todd and Morgan are building together. But for now, I’ll settle for a weekend to celebrate them and all they have given to us.

Here’s to Morgan & Todd.

A Thank You and Reflection for Veteran’s Day

Over the last few months as I have transitioned away from being a graduate student, I have thought about my time at the Kennedy School. And – while many students shaped my experience – three, in particular, left a mark on me.

At first it may seem a bit odd to group these three men together, because in many ways they are quite different from one another, but Will, Caleb and Dave were the three members of the US Army in my smaller cohort of students. Often, they were  first to class – strategically positioned in the back row – secretly, or not so secretly, judging all of us for not having our act together well enough to get to class on time.

I was drawn to each of them for things that were distinct from their service – Caleb for his value on family and his faith, Dave for his fascination and frustration with the political balance at the school (and our shared love of trying new beers), and Will for the value he placed on cultivating friendship and sharing a meal around a table together.

IMG_6699Each of these men left a mark on my heart in some way – though, they will laugh at my civilian ways and perspective and perhaps my mushy way of putting it. But even more importantly, they were my first close connection to active duty servicemen and servicewomen in a long while. And, as Will reminded me last Veteran’s Day, that connection with veterans and active duty members of the military may be more important now than ever before. I’m incredibly proud to know each of them, and knowing that they serve our nation through the Armed Forces gives me greater faith in our military and the future leaders of this country.

I’m grateful for Caleb, Dave, Will and the many other members of our military this Veteran’s Day.

To close, I’ll share an excerpt from a letter I sent on Will’s behalf last spring, and I hope it shows what an important role he – and other members of our military – play in inspiring my own drive to serve in a civilian role:

“I’ve been reflecting on the past two years as my time at the Kennedy School draws to a close. While there are many classes and people who have shaped my experience here, Will is one of the few classmates who has both shaped my worldview and become a friend whom my husband, Tom, and I will keep for life.

The entirety of Will’s career has been dedicated to serving our nation. After graduating from West Point, Will served two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and took on additional responsibilities as a Company Executive Officer—and later an Intelligence Officer and Company Commander—at Fort Carson in Colorado.

Will’s sense of civic responsibility and leadership, however, extend beyond active duty. During his time at HKS, Will has worked to build stronger civilian-army relationships and has advocated on behalf of our nation’s servicemen and women. Last Veteran’s Day he authored an op-ed in the Boston Herald calling on all our citizens to engage in deeper conversations with military members. He wrote: “Our country shares a moral responsibility for what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, for good and bad. The weight should not be something that our veterans carry alone—sharing this load is the greatest thanks we can give them.”

[…] Will has also pushed me to think more deeply about my own commitment to this country and how I might fully—and successfully— lead a life of public service. I am proud to call him a fellow soon-to-be HKS alum, a fellow world citizen, and, most importantly, a friend. Will’s generosity and kindness has meant much to my family these past two years, and we are better for knowing him.


Happy Veteran’s Day.

A New Route in Vermont

Walking the poodle – it’s something we do almost every day, and since we recently moved to Vermont, we needed to map out a new daily route.

Walks here are very different than in Somerville. Instead of navigating cars, stoplights and crosswalks, we now adjust our path for deer and haggard, cheerful hikers on the Appalachian Trail (which runs down our road). It’s hard to imagine two places with more different than the Boston metro and Norwich, Vermont – where we now live and where Tom starts Dartmouth’s MBA program in T-minus 9 days. We live in a large, converted barn, next door to a home built in 1805…on a street filled with homes situated on lots the size that Boston residents can only dream of.

More updates to come soon, but for now, here are some shots from our walking route. It features barns, omens of the winter soon to come (read: wood piles), and fields full of green. It takes us 25 minutes to do the loop from our house down Hopson Road and through Main Street, Norwich. Charlie the poodle and I will soon be on our own to do the route when Tom starts orientation this Monday.

So, come visitors and join us on our walks before the weather hides the green and covers us with snow! And finally, we got a new neighbor today. Her name is Nell, and she is an 8-week-old black lab. Charlie, Tom and I are smitten as are her owners.

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More to come!

Ralph Otis Welker (1928-2015)

“Leave the world better than you found it.” In many ways, it is a simple concept, but it is also a way of living that requires intentional, consistent action to fulfill. In different ways our grandfather left the members of our family “better than he found us.” And I’d like to share how his values and passions live on in us with the hope that it helps explain the exceptional example he set and the deep love we feel for him.View More:

Mark, Our Dad

One of grandpa’s lasting gifts to our family is the furniture he built. We have tables, side tables, buffets, jewelry boxes, bird houses and, perhaps most importantly to me, a six room, two story doll house complete with electrical wiring, matching upholstery and miniature yogurts in a small, wooden fridge.

Grandpa illustrated love through building things for his family. But not just any things. He was intolerant of subpar quality—a trait I suspect he got from his own father—and he wanted only the best in the furniture he constructed—which is why he ordered his kits from Bartley and spent hours on each piece in his garage on Woodbrook Drive.

Today, his son Mark, our dad, has inherited and carried on that same love of building. He shows love through the things he creates for others. When I was moving away after college, dad spent several days with me building adirondack chairs for my new home. He built mom bookshelves with only a magazine image on hand, and, today, volunteers with the Shepherd’s Center in Winston-Salem—traveling to the homes of the elderly and helping them with home improvement projects.

Our grandfather took pride in what he built and conveyed his love and appreciation for others through what he constructed. What wasn’t always said with words was articulated through the energy and deliberateness through which he created things for others. That tradition and way of showing love now lives on in our own dad. And some day, when Emily and I have enough money for a circular saw, a workbench and a garage, we hope he passes it on to us as well.

Mike, Our Uncle

While grandpa had the hands for building, he also had the eyes and the head for numbers. And not just any numbers—money and investments. This interest flooded the heart and life of his son Mike as well, but I’ll come back to Mike.

Grandpa’s love for numbers started early in his life. He majored in economics at Guilford College and went on to build a career with Jefferson Pilot Insurance Company here in Greensboro, eventually becoming the company’s treasurer. He also loved his stocks and monitored the stock market closely. I can remember watching the stock ticker scroll on the bottom of the TV after the closing bell while Grandpa instructed me on which company abbreviations to look out for.

Next to finances, grandpa deeply believed in the value of higher education. In his 80s, he could still recall his professors at Guilford College and the subjects they taught. He also believed in supporting the education of his children and grandchildren. He saw both of his sons and two of his granddaughters graduate from UNC Chapel Hill, and when his granddaughters got master’s degrees, he asked questions about our coursework and challenged us to consider how we would apply what we’d learned toward a better world.IMG_1697

That interest and passion for finance and higher education has made it into each of us in some way. But without question, it is most the part of our Uncle Mike. Mike took both further than any of us by earning his PhD in Accounting and becoming an accounting professor. Like our grandfather, both Mike and Mark believe in supporting others in their path through higher education. When you listen to Mike talk about his students, you can feel that he cares deeply about their learning and engagement, and makes a great effort to have classroom learning apply to the current accounting world. Through Mike, I can see two of our grandfather’s great passions living on and spreading into the lives of others outside our family.


Emily took on the education values of our grandfather, but hasn’t spent enough years as a working woman to fully develop her appreciation for his investment prowess. However, neither of these are what she takes most fully from our grandfather. Emily, while the youngest in our family, may have the fullest heart and deepest love for others. My grandfather filled her with his love and pride for our family.

I experienced the way my grandfather loved his family in many ways. He and my grandmother together created an example of how two people live their lives together, supporting one another and those around them. Since marrying my husband, Tom, two years ago, grandpa has emphasized one idea to both of us regularly: Be patient with one another. For Tom, it was to be patient with me when I was in graduate school. For me, it was to be patient with Tom as he transitioned to a new life for my graduate school journey.

Patience has become an ideal I hold close to my heart and make an effort to exercise daily. And patience as a message in a relationship, I think, spans beyond just a simple idea. Patience also means to appreciate the sacrifices others are making for you. Patience means to appreciate the effort of a loved one even if they don’t get it right the first, or second, or third time (Tom’s habit of leaving dirty socks on the floor comes to mind). Patience lifts up the idea that people can change or that a situation can improve and, with that, patience brings hope. And that is one of the great lessons about family that my grandfather has given to me.

filename-1The relevance of my grandfather’s reflections on relationships and family have also not been lost on Emily. Over the last several years, my grandfather and Emily have formed, what I find to be, a beautiful and special connection. That a man born in the 1920s and his granddaughter born in 1990 could be such kindred spirits is something to be treasured. Together they explored the inner workings of the I-Pad and its apps, so that grandpa could send us pictures of his car or plants and email with us about our days. Emily met his friends and dinner table group at Friends Home, and in return, Grandpa rode with her to Durham to explore her new home.

Together, they developed a friendship and a mutual appreciation for one another that exceeds most granddaughter-grandfather bonds. I know that Emily will someday seek to share that love and those memories with her own children and grandchildren (and hopefully mine too). And in that way, grandpa will teach our future family members about the richness that comes from connecting with your loved ones.

Sandi, Our Mom

If Emily and grandpa connected through their value of family, mom and grandpa connected in their love of having family together around one table. In a different way than the rest of our family, mom and grandpa shared a distinct, often unspoken bond. She loved a reason for a well done holiday meal, and grandpa loved to be that reason.

At each holiday there were special treats mom would prepare just because grandpa was joining us. Warm apple cider with cinnamon, orange peel and clove for Thanksgiving, rack of lamb for Easter, and maybe some sweeter than normal wine at Christmas. At the end of our family meals he would share his appreciation for how good her cooking was, and later in life he would tease her that he “could not get anything nearly as good at Friends Home.” The delight he took in her effort and meals gave me pride and happiness for my mom, as I’m sure it did for her as well.

He delighted in what she shared with him, and she was glad to have an appreciative audience (especially when her normal audience was two teenage girls). They were quite the dynamic holiday duo, and the special things he loved are foods I will forever associate with both grandpa and my mom. Cider, pumpkin pie, and rack of lamb will be things we continue to fix, so he will be a part of our holidays in spirit. And as new family members join the Welker ranks, the tradition of mom preparing dishes that she knows they enjoy lives on… most recently in the Spinach Madeline she fixes for my husband, Tom.


And so while grandpa cannot be with us here today, I feel him closely through each of member of my family: In dad’s expression of love through doing and building, in Mike’s love of teaching and accounting, in Emily’s tight hold of our family and its tradition, and in my Mom’s love of preparing the things that others love. He left each of member of my family better than he found them, and, in that way, he is all around me and will continue to be for many years to come.

Poodle and Our Park Make The Paper

As part of a column writing class I’m taking this semester, I’ve written several op-eds on different topics (from Wikipedia to technical education). My favorite is a piece on our local park and the importance of parks for building our community here in Somerville. You can read the piece here. But pieces are always better with a visual, so here are a few of my favorites of Charlie, our park and our friends over the last year.

Mississippi Madness

IMG_4703It has been a week full of attention on Mississippi. With two big wins for Mississippi State (the Allin favorite) v. Texas A&M and Auburn,  and Ole Miss beating Bama, both have cracked the top 5 in the national football rankings. College Gameday took over Oxford last Saturday and Starkville this Saturday. And while it is lonely being a State fan up in Boston, we haven’t missed watching a game, even if we have to watch in the half empty Thirsty Scholar.

We’ve loved watching both teams succeed, but it has been a big Mississippi week in the Allin household for another important reason. This week, the Gleitsman and Zuckerman fellows through Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership decided we would travel to Jackson, Mississippi for a week in January. Tom played a huge role in helping collect the perspectives of Jacksonians for the presentation to the fellows – asking  friends back home to make a 5-second video of “Why the fellows should come to Jackson.”

The 3-minute video he created from their voices made for a terrific bookend to the pitch to the fellows. It also made me feel like many of the people who made our lives so full in Jackson were there in the room with me when I spoke to the fellows. Having fellows share their support of heading south was a really amazing experience, one I won’t forget for a very long time.

So between the football success and the future trek  to Jackson, it has been a great week for Mississippi here in Boston. Here are a few shots from the video and presentation made to the fellows:

We also had a visit from one of our most treasured temporary Jacksonians, Amarillys Rodriguez. Amarillys worked with me at the Mississippi Economic Policy Center for five months when she was placed there by the Congressional Hunger Center. Amarillys got to IMG_4697attend both my column writing and urban policy classes and had a scrumptious dinner with us at Cambridge One. This was one of her many stops looking at different masters programs as she thinks about the next steps in her professional career. We loved seeing her and hearing about he thoughts for the future.

Finally, the Kennedy School Review, whereIMG_4592 I’m a team member, is in full recruitment phase. Friday was the deadline for applications for Associate Editors, and November 10th is our deadline for pitches to 2015 print journal. We are really excited to meet all the applicants and put together our full team for the year.

It’s been a good one. Hopefully next week will be too.


More Bad News with Kousha

Early this summer I mentioned a fellow Kennedy School student, Kousha, who is doing awesome work to create his own weekly show, Bad News. Kousha is still on a roll and has continued to refine his episodes. Lately, Kousha has adjusted the show to focus on one topic of interest. Recent topics include Ferguson, student loans, and ISL. He’s also doing more dancing at the end of each episode, and my mission is to have him teach me how to moonwalk this semester.

I wanted to share a few as a follow up to the first post on the show. Hope you enjoy as much as I do.  And if you do, subscribe to his YouTube channel to see each Friday’s episode.

Let it Snow?

Now I get it. Our sweet friend, Hannah Orlansky, warned us before we moved up North that we would tire of winter and the hassle of snow. I didn’t believe her.

This week we got over 16 inches of snow in Cambridge. Now I believe her. The snow is beautiful and exciting when it is coming down fast and furious, but bundling up, stepping in slush and shoveling out your car … not so much. However ,what IS fun is Charlie in the snow, and Charlie wearing booties in the snow. We have gone on many walks, and he has probably ingested more snow that regular dog food over the last few days.

In addition to our snow adventures, we also celebrated Tom’s 27th Birthday! Hooray! We fixed Betty Allin’s red velvet cake, went to one of our favorite cocktail bars, Drink, and had dinner at Sportello with Nick and Becca. Drink (which we’ve written about before) is a really neat spot in Fort Point that sits just underground…though you can still see people walking down the street. Drink does not have a menu, but instead encourages you to share characteristics of drinks you like (‘Whiskey and Citrus’ or ‘I like a Vieux Carre’), and they whip up a lovely, often unfamiliar cocktail for you.

Sportello, which is right above Drink and overseen by the same chef, is a wonderfully yummy place for an Italian dinner full of fresh pastas and soups and…octopus. Nick, Tom and I had gotten the octopus appetizer at Kirkland Tap and Trotter a few weeks before and decided to brave Sportello’s octopus appetizer. We were not disappointed (well, Nick decided one bite was a enough), but it was definitely the first time I’ve eaten something with a suction cup still visible! Tom had a wonderful bowl of bolognese, and I had gnocchi with a cream sauce, mushroom ragou, and peas.

Tom also received two exceptional videos from down South to warm up his birthday – one from many of our friends in Jackson performing their recently composed lyrics to a one-of-a-kind birthday song, and one from our nephew, Maury, and niece, Sarah, performing ‘Happy Birthday’ with a very enthusiastic ‘Ta Da!’ at the end.

Now that the celebrating of Tom’s birth has passed, we are looking forward to our holiday trips to NC and MS even more. Tom has been making nut fingers – a Allin/Biggs winter dessert tradition – and I’ve been painting ceramic Christmas ornaments that have turned out far uglier than I expected. Who knows, maybe I’ll decide to give them to our friends and force them to hang them on their Christmas trees for many years to come.

Happy Holidays everyone! Stay warm out there.


Parties, Practice Tests and Pugs

Last week I blogged on the 5 Reasons I love Somerville dog parks. And for those of you who are not as avid about your dog love as me, I’ll keep my dog references more limited this time. However, today was the day of pugs at the dog park. There were 5 to be exact, and they were struttin their stuff with the best of the big dogs – under bites and all.

Charlie and Tom also fell in love with a miniature doodle puppy. Unfortunately, as Tom has pointed out to me, Charlie has no game with the girl poodles in the area, so he expressed his love by nibbling on her ears and barking in her face.

Although I rarely mention school, I am, in fact, still enrolled at HKS and have been a diligent student. This week brought our second statistics midterm, so many hours were spent in the library or at review sessions. I now know more about hypothesis testing and chi square distributions than I ever thought I would. That said, the teaching team works hard to connect our course content with real world applications, and its been one of my favorite classes at the Kennedy School so far.

To celebrate the end of a busy school week, Tom and I went to the HKS Dean’s Reception at the Court House in downtown Boston. There was a great view of the city skyline and a chance to see other students outside the classroom. The photos below show Tom and me and a great bunch of gals from my cohort (the group of about 60 students I take all my HKS courses with each day). This picture alone as amazing women from the UK, Lebanon, Germany, Venezuela and Nigeria. It speaks to the rich diversity of my HKS experience for which I’m so grateful.

Finally, outside of class one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had so far has been my work with the Kennedy School Review – a policy journal run by HKS students. This week we welcomed 10 new associate editors that will be helping us with both blog articles and print journal pieces. We also started a new effort to regularly email people that sign up through our website, so we are better connecting them with the pieces students are writing. I’m really proud to be a part of the team that is managing the KSR’s work – particularly because it connects me with ‘real world’ issues and allows me to help promote other students’ work.

Tom and I also were really lucky to have Brian, our KSR editor in chief, and his wife and another managing editor, Patrick, for dinner. With true Southern love, we amde Frank Stitt’s seasoned pecans and Parlor Market Vieux Carres. Charlie expressed his happiness about having company by trying to eat Brian. Overall, a great dinner success.

It’s been a long, full week for all the members of the Allin fam. So we’ll leave you with an image that sums up how we plan to spend our Saturday.

Until next time!


Final Project: Wikipedia and Remedial Education

Note: This post is an assignment for Nicco Mele’s Course – Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age – it summarizes a proposal for my final project.

Throughout our semester in MPP Digital course, I’ve been really interested in Nicco Mele’s assertion that (paraphrased) if you care about a policy issue, you better also care a lot about what it says on that issue’s Wikipedia page. More people go to a Wikipedia page on a topic on any given day than a report you write, a blog you draft or a think-tank’s website.

Earlier in the semester I did a blog analyzing Wikipedia’s page on remedial education. Remedial education is the broad label for courses that students on community college or university campuses take when they enter with ACT or SAT scores below a certain pre-determined threshold.

In 2011, over 22,000 Mississippi community college students took a remedial course in math or english or both subjects. We know that students that start college under-prepared, and that as a result need remedial courses, are substantially less likely to graduate than their college-ready counterparts.

For my final project, I would really like to focus on expanding the current scope of the remedial education writing on Wikipedia. So far, I’ve been interacting on the talk page of the WikiEducation Project to ask questions about making additions to the current page. However, the current page on remedial education deliberately has a worldwide focus and a narrow subsection for the United States. A czar for the Wikipedia Education project asked me last week if I was planning to edit the current remediation page or start a new Wikipedia page just about remediation in the US. I certainly think that given the current research and investment in remedial programs across the country, there would be enough to talk about remedial education specific to the US, but starting a new page feels a bit daunting.

Below is my interaction (as AllinCharlie) with the czar and others about adapting the current remedial education page on Wikipedia. This discussion also shifts to the question about creating a new US-specific page:

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Following the czar’s request, I also posted the question on the talk page for the current remedial education page on November 3rd and haven’t yet received any responses:

Screenshot 2013-11-12 20.48.47I have tried to be very sensitive and conscious of the other users of the Wikipedia community as I move forward with the additions. Ideally, I would like to create a new, US remedial education page that is structured with information about many of the issues I outline on the WikiProject Education talk page. For example:

  1. What remedial courses are typically taught and through what class environment,
  2. Background on the portion of students needing remedial support at colleges/universities.
  3. Research on persistence/graduation rates of remedial students,
  4. The differences between remedial education at community colleges and universities,
  5. Philanthropic (and federal) efforts to strengthen remedial education, and
  6. Research on various interventions with remedial students and their outcomes.

Some of the resources I plan to tap for drafting the entry/entries include: the Community College Research Center, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Kresge Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the National Governor’s Association, the Harvard Kennedy School Online Journal Subscriptions, and resources from Complete College America.

I welcome any thoughts on next steps given my current vision and current interaction with the Wikipedia community! I’ve already made several additions to the current remedial education page, and it has been a fun process. Looking forward to moving ahead and working on beefing up the content on an area I feel is very important to the success of students in higher education.

Until Next Time!