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Capstone Chronicles, Part 1

February 19 Friday 10:22 AM

"What's fun about research is it can take you in directions you aren't expecting. As you uncover things in your lit review, you learn so much you never knew. I love to learn!" - Maddy Oritt, MPA class of 2016

When you think about the spring, what comes to mind? For many students, March Madness, spring break, and balmier weather are at the top of the list. For the Martin School, spring brings something special-- Capstone Projects. A cornerstone of the MPA and MPP programs, the Capstone Project is the culmination of 4 semesters of learning. This semester, we will follow the MPA and MPP class of 2016 through their journey in a blog series.

What's a Capstone?

The Capstone is not just a master's thesis. Using the skills and knowledge developed in the classroom and in internships, students select a research question of interest to them that assesses a policy problem. The finished product is a research paper that provides quantitative and qualitative analysis. These papers are then presented to a panel of practitioners from the community.

Class of 2016

Dr. Petrovsky is working with this year's cohort of students on their projects. At this time, most students have defined their research question. Many have chosen issues of equity and education to study. We spoke with MPA students Maddy Oritt and Lauren Kesselring about their projects focusing on finance. Maddy will be graduating with concentrations in healthcare and financial management, and Lauren with a concentration in financial management. Both are being advised by Dr. Denison on their projects.

Asking the Right Question

Maddy is researching the financial implications of Medicaid expansion, especially on hospital revenues. "The ACA is a big topic right now. But because there's a lag on data, and since the expansion just went in to effect in 2014, I am doing a preliminary analysis," she explains. As a highly politicized and complex policy area, she is excited to further her knowledge through her research. Maddy started thinking about her Capstone Project last summer when she interned at a hospital. Like Maddy, Lauren also developed her Capstone Project based on her experiences outside the classroom. Put simply, Lauren's research question centers around the optimal contingency fund size for a municipality. This very question came up at the mayor's office, where Lauren works, for the city of Lexington.

The To Do List

Now that they've done the heavy lifting of defining the scope of their projects, both ladies are busy with their next steps. Lauren says she's currently "doing data collection, pulling information from CAFRs, and contacting people from other municipalities to fill in missing data." Maddy is juggling finishing up her literature review, finalizing her methodology, and collecting data.

Bumps in the Road

It's rare that worthwhile projects are easy. Each Capstone presents its own unique challenges. Data lag is at the top of the list for Maddy with Medicaid expansion. "It's easy to get excited about current issues, but if data isn't available yet, it's hard to dive in. Figuring out the controls will be interesting, too," Maddy says. Lauren's biggest mountain to climb is the opposite-- comparing changing government standards over decades. "How do you make 15 - 20 years' worth of data conform to one standard?" she asks. She plans on working closely with her Capstone advisor, Dr. Denison, to address that.

Passion Motivates

Although they have a lot of work ahead of them, both students are looking forward to it. Maddy finds it rewarding to do research in such a relevant policy area that affects people today. Lauren expressed a similar sentiment-- "Literature has a void in municipal contingency fund research. No one has addressed question in my scope. It's something that policy makers at work don't really have a good answer to, and it can impact everyone in the county." We look forward to their contributions to public administration!

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Becky Bromley-Trujillo

February 18 Thursday 04:09 PM

We are excited to kick off our faculty spotlight series by featuring Dr. Becky Bromley-Trujillo! Hailing from Texas, she joined our faculty the fall of 2011. We sat down with Dr. Bromley-Trujillo to talk about her interests.

What is your favorite topic to teach? Why?
While I enjoy teaching generally, my favorite topic to teach is state policy-making. I grew up traveling the US and have been to about 40 states; I have always appreciated the diversity of policy making across the US. While most people are somewhat aware of what is happening on the national stage, states get overlooked despite their abundant policy making efforts. I simply love to share this kind of information with our students and hear their thoughts as well.

What research are you currently working on?
I have a variety of research projects going on right now concerning how public opinion and issue salience influence environmental policymaking in the states, how the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is shaping state policy adoption, and considering the ways in which scientific news coverage of policy issues affects policy diffusion.

What is the "hot topic" in your field right now? 
Because my work covers a variety of subfields (environment, policy process and state politics) it is somewhat difficult to pin down one “hot topic.” That being said, all of these fields are currently using very advanced methodology to answer important questions about how the democratic process works and whether policy efforts are having their desired impact.

What is your favorite thing about the Martin School? 
I could spend a day writing up great things about the Martin School, and still not cover it all. The faculty and students are highly engaged and excited about what they are doing. There is a feeling of family- we are all in this together and support each other, push each other to do great and seek out challenges. There is a level of collegiality and friendliness that I have not seen in any other department.

If you had a spirit animal, what would it be and why?
I suppose my spirit animal would be something like a tiger- very protective of those I care about, adventurous and independent.

“What am I reading at night?”

February 17 Wednesday 12:00 AM

Scott Shapiro, Chief Innovation Officer for Mayor Gray’s office, shared both a sampling of current projects and his journey to public service last week during a professional development workshop for first-year students. The answer to that question helped Scott navigate a career change; he got his start in New York City in the press office for Governor Cuomo and subsequently worked in the private sector. Later in life he earned his MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School as a way to get back into public service.

For the students, one recommendation Scott had was to find their interests and follow them. He charted a course back to public service because he found himself reading about policy at night, and he suggested that students pay close attention to what they find themselves reading in their free time.

Meeting with folks like Scott helps MPA and MPP students articulate their own vision for their future. The Martin School professional development program fosters career exploration, including simulating the job application process. During our time with Scott, discussion included the creative energy permeating city government today. A few of the projects he’s worked on since coming to Lexington:

  • development of the University City benchmark
  • public-private partnership to install fiberoptic infrastructure in Lexington
  • police and fire pension reform

Past sessions have focused on marketable skill identification, salary negotiation, resume and cover letter writing, and good resources for finding potential jobs. In the next few weeks the professional development cohort, led by Dr. Jennings, will participate in mock interviews for self-selected job listings. This exercise provides timely practice, as many students are on the hunt for summer internships.

Living in Lexington

February 12 Friday 02:58 PM

It’s simple, really. We love Lexington! If you’ve spent a few days or a few years here, we bet you understand. Lexington is special. Below are a few of our favorite things. What are your favorites?

Small Town Charm
Lexington’s got charm. People are nice here– you’ll find lifetime Lexingtonians and folks who have settled here from all over. It’s the perfect size to feel like home and still have plenty of festivals, arts, and goings-on of a larger city. There’s always something happening.

Horses, Horses, Horses
You don’t have to be a horseracing aficionado to enjoy one of Lexington’s most famous features. We enjoy soaking up our heritage at Keeneland, the Kentucky Horse Park, or simply driving around the horse farms right outside of Lexington. It’s good for the soul!

Have We Mentioned the Donuts? And the Ice Cream? Oh, Don’t Forget the BBQ…
We love to eat, and we eat well. No matter your budget, you can always find an amazing meal. And, thanks to the efforts of local businesspeople and the Kentucky Proud program, you’re never far from a farm-to-table meal that supports the Commonwealth. As far as donuts and ice cream go, locals will tell you– North Lime Donuts, Spalding’s, and Crank & Boom are not to be missed. And, if you are craving barbeque, my personal favorite is Blue Door Smokehouse.

Visiting Lexington? Check out

Frankfort Professional Development Trip

February 12 Friday 09:53 AM

In January, 22 MPA and MPP students and Dr. Petrovsky traveled to Frankfort to meet with public servants, several of whom were Martin School alumni! The speakers came from a variety of roles in state government; some worked with the legislature or the Governor, while others support the Commonwealth through management of public funds or the budget. You can check out theField Trip 2016 Agenda here.

Topics of conversation included skills needed to be successful in state government, the unique opportunities and challenges in particular positions, and the focus this legislative session. It was a treat to be in Frankfort during a legislative session– you could feel the energy!

Key Takeaways

There was a lot to digest from our time with each speaker, but below are a few of the things that stick out.

  • Econometrics matter. A lot. Even if the idea of spending your day in an Excel spreadsheet or data model doesn’t excite you, being a discerning consumer of econometrics is very important to not just budgeting, but also program evaluation and strategic planning.
  • Strength of character- trustworthiness, honesty, and teamwork are important personal characteristics to cultivate. All public servants, no matter the role, should tell the truth, be a team player, and be reliable. It’s really hard to work with someone who you can’t trust.
  • Your tool belt is more important than your policy area knowledge. Many of our speakers have worked across policy areas. Successful public servants are able to apply critical thinking and analysis skills to be effective in any area. You may think you will only be happy working with healthcare policy, for instance, but your career may surprise you with new passions.