IGR alum and State Sen. Stephanie Chang given top Ford School alumni honor

Stephanie Chang

February 6, 2023  |  By Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy (adapted by Nick Pfost)

The Ford School of Public Policy is recognizing IGR alum and State Senator Stephanie Chang (MPP/MSW '14) with its top alumni award for dedication to excellence in public service.

Senator Chang will be honored with the Neil Staebler Distinguished Service Award on March 6, during a Policy Talks @ the Ford School event in which she will discuss environmental justice with U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Abdul El-Sayed, former Towsley Policymaker in Residence and newly appointed director of the Wayne County Health, Human & Veterans Services Department.

During both her undergraduate and graduate studies, Chang devoted significant effort to IGR. Here, she peer-facilitated two dialogue courses: an intragroup dialogue for women and an intergroup dialogue on gender. She also conducted qualitative research on CommonGround, IGR’s education and training program for students, and made significant contributions to the program as program manager and facilitator for U-M’s Youth Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity in Detroit, a partnership project between IGR and the School of Social Work.

Chang is the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the Michigan Legislature, and worked as a community organizer in Detroit for nearly a decade before serving two terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. In 2018, she was elected to the Michigan Senate where she served as the Minority Floor Leader. Now in her second term in the Senate, Chang serves as the Caucus Policy and Steering Committee Chair as well as the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety. 

“The Committee had the enviable burden of choosing between several accomplished alumni with outstanding professional achievements in public service,” Ford School alumni board member Sam Geller (MPP ‘17) said. “Senator Chang’s accomplishments were so impressive on their own, but what set her apart was her longtime volunteer service both to the Ford School and Asian-American Community in Michigan. Senator Chang has already demonstrated incredible leadership on public policy issues in Michigan and the ability to recruit people to participate in our democracy.”

“Senator Chang was my ambassador to the world of activism, civic engagement, and public service. However, I am only one of many who were inspired by Senator Chang to pursue careers that fight for the most vulnerable and make an impact,” said Andrew Kim (MPP ‘13), who nominated Chang.

Prior to serving in the state legislature, Chang served as state director for NextGen Climate Michigan, alumni engagement and evaluation coordinator for the Center for Progressive Leadership in Michigan, deputy director for the Campaign for Justice, and as an organizer for Michigan United/One United Michigan. She also worked as a community engagement coordinator for the James and Grace Lee Boggs School and assistant to Grace Lee Boggs, the influential Detroit activist, writer, and speaker.

Chang is a co-founder and past president of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan, a mentor with the Detroit Asian Youth Project, a founder and board member of Rising Voices of Asian American Families, and a board member of the Southwest Detroit Community Justice Center.

In the state legislature, Chang worked on issues that affect vulnerable communities, including air quality protection, education, criminal justice reforms, improving economic opportunities, and affordable, safe drinking water. She passed bipartisan legislation on a range of issues including female genital mutilation, nitrous oxide “whip-its”, reentry services for wrongfully convicted individuals who were exonerated, and more. She was named chair of the Progressive Women’s Caucus in her second term, served on the leadership team for the House Democratic Caucus both terms, and was a co-founder of the Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus.

Chang has introduced more than a half dozen bills on environmental justice, including water affordability. In a 2020 interview with the Ford School, she highlighted the connections between environmental factors—such as access to clean water and air—and the disproportionate effect they have on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Knowing the risk factors for COVID-19, like asthma and respiratory problems, are all things more prevalent in communities with air pollution,” Chang said. “It's making it harder to breathe for already vulnerable communities. We have a lot of work to do.”

Chang earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degrees in public policy and social work from the University of Michigan. She lives in Detroit with her husband, Sean Gray, and two young daughters.

This article was adapted from "State Senator Stephanie Chang (MPP/MSW '14) wins prestigious Ford School alumni award," originally published by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, January 31, 2023.


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