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Scrivner Institute Community Profiles: Kalysta Holder (MPP/MSW '25)

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Scrivner Institute of Public Policy

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Kalysta Holder (MPP/MSW '25)


  1. You’re in both the graduate public policy and social work programs. What made you choose to pursue both a MPP and a MSW? 

I graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2020 with a B.S. in Psychology and Brain Sciences as well as with a minor in Applied Psychology. I knew, at the time, that I wanted to work in the mental health sector and had the opportunity to work as a Behavioral Health Tech for Alsana, an eating disorder treatment center, in Santa Barbara. Three months into that role, I was promoted to Program Manager and in June 2022 when I left Alsana I was their Sr. Program Director. In that role I managed the operations of two treatment locations encompassing three different program levels. I bring this up not only because of how impactful this experience was but also because it catapulted the direction of my career. I was originally interested in pursuing clinical work however, this experience allowed me a comprehensive understanding of behavioral healthcare and insight into the many systems at work. I realized my passions and interests lay within understanding and impacting systems. As I researched different career paths relating to macro social change, I realized that an MPP and MSW would allow me to effectively combine my interests of social justice, systems work, and policy and eventually pursue a career in social policy. It was important to me that my education takes both a logistical and human rights approach to this work.  

  1. Which classes have been the most interesting or impactful so far?  

I feel extremely lucky to have been able to take classes with such incredible professors at both schools. While I am only in my second quarter of the MPP program, I found Dr. Barma’s Intro to Policy Analysis course to be incredibly impactful. Not only did it provide a great foundation to begin the MPP, but Dr. Barma provided the space to challenge and think critically about the content which cultivated thought-provoking meaningful conversations in class. For me, that class solidified that I am pursuing the right degree and made me excited about the rest of the program. Within the MSW program, I am currently taking The Prison Industrial Complex and Abolition course with Dr. Sarantakos. He designed this course to center the voices of people impacted by the carceral state which has been incredibly impactful. The course forces me and the class to sit in the discomfort of the many human rights violations of the prison system. I feel lucky to participate in classes like these where I get to analyze issues from both a policy and grassroots lens.  

  1. What are your career goals? How is the dual degree program helping to prepare you for this? 

I am currently exploring my career goals and am open to a variety of opportunities. My main priority is ensuring that the work I do is meaningful and impactful. One topic that especially interests me is healthcare policy. I would be very excited to work in that field. The dual degree has been great not only in terms of skillset development for my future career but also in exposing me to different organizations and role possibilities because of doing research for classes and talking to professors.  

  1. What differences do you notice between the MPP and MSW programs? What do you learn particularly from the combination of classes?  

Given that many students in the MSW program are pursuing clinical or micro-social work roles, the first year of the program attempted to cover a vast variety of introductory topics in social work. Comparatively, I have found the first year of the MPP program to be more focused to ensure students have a strong basic understanding of policy. Both programs have taught a lot; however, in my experience, there is a greater focus on theory in the MSW vs. a greater focus on skills in the MPP. The programs and classes have felt compatible and, as a result, have allowed me to deepen my understanding and approach topics from a variety of perspectives. For example, my Cost-Benefit Analysis course at Korbel and my Prison Industrial Complex and Abolition course at GSSW discuss issue analysis in vastly different ways which has given me a great basis for my Cost-Benefit Analysis quarter-long project for which I’ve chosen a topic relating to sentencing.  

  1. Are you involved in any clubs, organizations, or other opportunities outside of your program? Can you tell us more about those experiences and how they have impacted your experience in the MPP program? 

Outside of school I work part-time for the Denver Public School system as their Operations Coordinator for their Exceptional Student Services Department. This department includes student services including nursing, social work, psych, substance abuse prevention, section 504, special education, and more. I support these sub-departments with logistics and project management. This work has given me greater insight into the challenges and benefits of working in large, bureaucratic institutions.  

  1. What do you like most about Denver? Any favorite place or activity in town you want to share with the audience? 

I love finding great places to eat. I would highly recommend Taste of Thailand on Broadway and Lucky Noodles on Colfax for great Thai. My absolute favorite restaurant in Denver is called Q House – I can’t recommend it enough.