Students Forge Stronger New Haven Ties Through Ludwig Program Series

Professor Cristina Rodriguez and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker seated at a table speaking to students
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker spoke to students as part of a conversation about public interest careers with Professor Cristina Rodríguez.

Throughout October, students participated in a series of events focused on public sector leadership in and around New Haven, organized under the Carol and Gene Ludwig Program in Public Sector Leadership, part of Yale Law School’s Tsai Leadership Program. Headlining the events as speakers were several Yale alumni who have established careers that serve the public interest across various professional sectors. 

The New Haven Leadership series, which spanned Oct. 12 to Oct. 23, featured three separate events that were curated to connect students with public sector leadership role models in government, community organizations, nonprofits, and the arts — all in the Law School’s home city.

Balancing the demands of law school can make it difficult to develop a connection with the New Haven community. According to Margie Adler, executive director of the Ludwig Program, the idea behind the event series was to bring students closer to local leaders contributing to New Haven while showcasing various types of public-serving career pathways that help support the city’s different communities. 

With the school’s relationship with New Haven in mind, each event was carefully organized to “highlight organizations and career paths that students may be interested in learning about, to allow students to become a bit more connected to the community that they’re living in,” Adler said.

The first event in the series featured a panel focused on social entrepreneurship. Jennifer McTiernan ’15, co-founder of CitySeed, and Jessica Sager ’99, co-founder and CEO of All Our Kin, shared the ups and downs of their journeys as social entrepreneurs in a conversation moderated by Ludwig Program Faculty Co-Director, Professor Jacob Hacker.

a room of students attending a conversation with New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker
The event with New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker was one of several events focused on public interest leadership in New Haven.

McTiernan, who co-founded the New Haven-based CitySeed in 2004, spoke about her time leading the nonprofit from its infancy to becoming a nationally recognized organization that bridges the gap between local farms and underserved communities through agriculture and food. In 2022, CitySeed’s programs generated $1.5 million in economic value for stakeholders involved in the organization’s nationwide networks, including farmers and chefs. Since her time leading CitySeed, McTiernan has infused the values that undergird the organization’s foundation into her recent work as a strategic advisor for a mission-driven financial startup serving Latinx and immigrant communities. 

Similarly, Sager took her interest in public service and pursued an entrepreneurial career as a social startup founder when she launched the nonprofit All Our Kin. Going on 25 years of service, Sager currently leads her organization in providing support for 1,100 childcare providers across the country through educational and business training and other services. McTiernan and Sager proved that building an unconventional yet successful career path after law school was possible for students, according to Hacker, who moderated the event. 

“What I think the students enjoyed was that they realized this was something that didn’t require some special set of skills or prior experiences,” said Hacker. “What it really required was understanding the law and a commitment to making a difference and working to do that over the long term.”

The following day, on Oct. 13, Law School students had the opportunity to meet the team behind local arts fellowship program and incubator NXTHVN. During the two-hour visit, students got a behind-the-scenes tour of the NXTHVN facilities located in the historic neighborhood of Dixwell, just northwest of Yale. 

NXTHVN was co-founded in 2019 by Yale alumnus Titus Kaphar ’06 MFA, who developed the 20,000-square-foot former manufacturing space into a hub to nurture talent and equip artists with mentorship and support to enter the arts market as professionals. The NXTHVN visit was another chance for students to imagine how they could leverage their ideas and leadership skills to serve their community.

The tour included viewings of the center’s event space, artist studios, as well as the live-in area in the “tower” where NXTHVN’s artistic fellows reside during the duration of its fellowship program. The space itself was designed by TenBerke, a New York-based architecture firm founded and led by Deborah Berke, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. 

Brianna Yang ’24, who participated in the excursion, described the NXTHVN campus as “absolutely gorgeous.”

“It was a really amazing opportunity,” said Yang, a current Ludwig Fellow. “YLS can sometimes feel a bit distant from the surrounding New Haven communities, so this was a really cool opportunity to visit what is very clearly a really important and impactful community and civic organization.” 

As a Law School student interested in public service as a way to serve local communities, Yang found the NXTHVN visit especially appealing for its immersive nature.

“I think it was a great chance to see how a community organization can serve that surrounding community,” said Yang, who happens to reside in the Dixwell neighborhood where NXTHVN is based. “I think, for that reason, it’s important to actually go to the space and see the space, and how it’s actually embedded within a community.”

Rounding out the Ludwig Program’s New Haven Leadership series was a fireside chat with New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, who was first elected in 2020. Elicker is also a Yale graduate, having received dual master’s degrees from the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of the Environment. The conversation with Elicker was led by Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law and Ludwig Program Faculty Co-Director Cristina Rodríguez ’00.

During the one-hour conversation with students, Elicker spoke candidly about the demands he faced during his tenure as mayor, which began right around the time of the initial COVID-19 outbreak, and shared his efforts as a leader to overcome those challenges. During his first year as mayor, Elicker’s administration utilized federal pandemic relief aid to launch several new programs including New Haven’s Coronavirus Assistance and Security Tenant Landlord Emergency, otherwise known as the CASTLE program, to assist residents struggling with housing insecurity.

Nia Moore ’25, a Ludwig Fellow who attended the event, said the event helped her reexamine her relationship with the New Haven community, and challenge herself in the process.

“I was interested in attending that event to kind of break down that barrier between me as a student and New Haven as a larger community and hear about the mayor’s experience being a leader in the community,” Moore said. 

For her, the events also served as a reminder that leadership career paths don’t just exist at the national level, but also closer to home.

“I think if you are someone who’s interested in progressive change and justice and serving communities, there’s a lot of work to be done at the state and local level,” said Moore. “So I thought [the mayor’s] conversation was great for building upon that focus outside of a federal perspective.”

Adler said that she hoped the events would help build a deeper relationship to New Haven for the students.

“My hope is that they end up feeling a little bit more connected to the city that they live in,” Adler said.