Where does good public policy begin? At Northeastern, and this graduate is making a difference as Massachusetts’ secretary of labor and workforce development

Headshot of Lauren E. Jones.
Lauren E. Jones, Massachusetts secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. Photo by Matthew Modoono/ Northeastern University

If there is one thing Lauren Jones remembers while learning under former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis as a Northeastern University student it’s the importance of making lists. 

Jones was a student in Dukakis’ “Institutional Leadership and the Public Manager” class, and was learning the ins and outs of good public policy while pursuing her master’s degree in public administration.

And where does good public policy begin? It starts by writing down a list of all the stakeholders who have an interest in the issue at hand, including public officials, advocates, local residents and the media.  

“He [Dukakis] really pushed me to make sure I was diving deeper into the issues, not just thinking about public policy on the surface level,” she says. 

Jones knows well that the best politicians don’t operate in a vacuum and community engagement is essential in any good public policy process. As the secretary of labor and workforce development for Massachusetts, she practices that creed every day. 

And Northeastern, she says, served as a great foundation to help her build her public management and strategic planning skills.

While Jones had plenty of political experience before coming to Northeastern, having served in roles in both Boston City Hall and the Massachusetts State House, she wanted to elevate her skillset. 

“During my time in state government, a lot of the roles I took on, I was learning as I was doing, which was a tremendous way of gaining experience, but I realized I could really enhance my skills by complementing my work experience with my studies,” Jones says.

One of the biggest reasons she chose to attend Northeastern was because it allowed her to have the flexibility to continue to do her day job. When she started at the university in 2014, she was also working as a policy director of health and human services in the mayor’s office in Boston.

“For me, I was really able to have that opportunity to find time to separate from work to be able to stay on top of my studies,” Jones says.

And the work she did at Northeastern has had a real-world impact. One highlight was her capstone project she completed under the advisement of Alicia Modestino, associate professor of public policy and urban affairs and economics. 

Jones served as team leader for the project and was tasked with helping the city of Boston develop the next iteration of its tuition-free community college program. 

Modestino built off the team’s work in the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, and that research was cited by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu earlier this year when she announced that the city was investing $4 million to expand the program.

During my time in state government, a lot of the roles I took on, I was learning as I was doing, which was a tremendous way of gaining experience.

Lauren E. Jones, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Modestino said Jones’ career trajectory makes total sense, noting that her passion for public service was evident through her work ethic and drive. 

“One of the things that’s always very humbling to me as a professor in the School of Public Policy is that many of our students are working during the day in state government and nonprofit agencies and they do this program at night, and Lauren was no exception to that,” Modestino says. 

“One of the things that’s truly amazing is that every year when we graduate another class of master’s students from the program, they are typically going right into those public agencies and getting promoted up through the chain of public service.” 

Jones graduated from the university in 2017, and since then has served in various high-profile positions. Most recently, before she was appointed to be secretary of labor by Gov. Maura Healy in 2023, she served as the executive vice president of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. In that role, she worked to enact public policies that help elevate the state’s economy and competitiveness

Jones appreciates the responsibilities that come with her new position. She recently attended a National Science Foundation event hosted at Northeastern centered around technology and the future of work where she talked about the work being done in the state. 

And guess who was sitting in the front row? That’s right, Modestino, who she made sure to acknowledge.

“Not only did she acknowledge having received her degree here, she said, ‘That’s my capstone professor in the front row,’ Modestino says. “We reconnected, and now I’m helping advise her on rewriting the state’s workforce plan as it pertains to youth workforce.” 

When looking at Northeastern, specifically, Jones believes students are well positioned to succeed, just like herself, given the university’s focus on real-world experience.

“Northeastern is known for having an amazing co-op program,” she says. “I think that’s a perfect opportunity for students that are studying at Northeastern to connect with leading companies to gain that on-the-job experience.” 

Cesareo Contreras is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at c.contreras@northeastern.edu. Follow him on X @cesareo_r and Threads @cesareor.