Alumni Profile: Michael Hughes Murakami

Michael Hughes Murakami (CFP 2007-2008) is Senior Director of Research and Insights at Latinum Network. Previously, he was a Survey Research Scientist at Google, and an Assistant Professor at Georgetown and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He holds a Ph.D from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Murakami spent his fellowship year with Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT).

Why did you apply to the Congressional Fellowship Program?
I applied to the program for a few reasons. My mentor and legendary Congressional scholar, Nelson Polsby, highly recommended it as a way to gain valuable insights, classroom credibility, and hypotheses for the ways Congress and policy making in Washington take place. At the time, I had never worked on the Hill (indeed I had no experience in working for a political or public office) nor been to DC, so it was a great way to round out the "book learning" that I had accumulated with practical experience. 

What issues did you cover and what types of work did you do for your host office during your fellowship year?
I was a Legislative Fellow in the office of Senator Lieberman and worked on issues related to education, social security & pensions, labor, and children & media. My day-to-day responsibilities included summarizing issues/bills, making co-sponsorship recommendations, helping draft legislation, propose hearings topics (he was chair of Government Affairs), meeting with key stakeholders, and serving constituent needs.

What was a typical day in the office like?
One of the exciting things about the fellowship was that there really wasn't a "typical day": each work day was different. Some days there might be a hearing to prepare for, other days I might have to meet with a lot of constituents, still others I might have to write a lot of memos to the Senator. It was also not uncommon for there to be special events: Senator Lieberman making a speech, an important bill coming to the floor for a vote, a hearing, a committee meeting, or even fun social gatherings for staff and lawmakers. The varied tasks and fast pace definitely keeps you on your toes!

What were some of the highlights of the fellowship year?
The top highlight for me was being able to help create a bill to improve education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. I got to participate in the whole process, from researching the challenges involved, proposing solutions, enlisting co-authors of the bill, helping to draft the actual legislation, and rallying support both on the House side and the Senate side. It was really an issue I believed in, and it felt great to try to build solutions with so many others to try to make it happen.

What impact has the CFP experience had on your subsequent career? 
First and foremost, I think it greatly improved the quality of my research and teaching on Congress and policymaking. There's no substitute for hands-on-experience when it comes to generating hypotheses, building relationships with other Congressional scholars and experts, and being able to illustrate key points with vivid anecdotes in the classroom. More broadly, it revealed to me the value that expertise can bring to policy makers as they confront the many institutional and social challenges to practical problem-solving.