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Building Professional Relationships through the Mentor Program

January 29 Friday 12:00 AM

From speakers to field trips, MPA and MPP students have many opportunities throughout the year to network and learn from experienced professionals. However, the mentorship program stands out because it fosters relationships over several meetings with seasoned professionals from the public sector. Interested students are identified during orientation at the start of the academic year and paired with volunteer mentors from the community.

While every mentorship relationship is unique, the reason students participate is shared. Jared Gray, Nathan Smith and Soon Ho Shin, all first-year students, jumped on the opportunity to learn from the wisdom of an expert, emphasizing the value of building a relationship. Nathan has met with his mentor a few times; the latest included attending the annual Lexington State of the City Address together. Soon Ho has plans to visit his mentor with his family at her home in the near future.

While students may attend events or socialize with their mentors, often their meetings are over coffee, discussing not only career paths and strategies for success, but also favorite books, sports, and hobbies. Any given session may include the game last Saturday and the contours of the agencies, non-profits, local governments, and private organizations that are involved in a public policy area, for instance. These conversations can also include interdisciplinary insights and practical advice for the job search. Jared Gray shares the following as a valuable lesson he’s learned from his mentor:

“If you treat everyone with kindness, honesty, and you work hard, no matter what the policy issue or how differently individuals thing about certain policy issues, you’ll always be able to find a solid solution if the working relationship is built on this sort of trust.”

These relationships are a wonderful exercise in developing professional relationships outside your organization and can provide valuable feedback to MPA and MPP students!


Show Me the Data

January 8 Friday 12:00 AM

Thomas Hatton is a part-time MPA student in his final year. He currently works at the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, which collects and maintains data for “education and workforce efforts in the Commonwealth” (more information). Prior to KCEWS, Thomas worked as a GED teacher for migrant workers, an outreach coordinator for the Southeastern KY Migrant Education Program, and a coordinator of a mobile clinic that helped farmworkers, refugees, and individuals experiencing homelessness. He shares with us his experiences with KCEWS and his time at the Martin School. 

What do you do with KCEWS?
My specific job title is Business Analyst/Training Coordinator for the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS). I am in charge of helping our stakeholders (policymakers, school staff, parents, and students) to better understand how to utilize our longitudinal data system to achieve their goals. Kentucky, along with 16 other states, just received the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems grant, in the amount of $6.7 million. Part of this grant will involve creating a dynamic reporting solution that will make our data more usable and accessible. I will develop curriculum, create training materials, and plan professional development so that our stakeholders can better obtain and utilize our data with our new system.

What has been surprising about your work with KCEWS? Challenging?
I think the most surprising thing about KCEWS has been the level of recognition that it has received nationwide in what has been a relatively short time. KCEWS is well respected nationwide, and in many ways, is viewed as a model for the rest of the country, both for our data system and our use of data. The most challenging aspect, for me, is the pressure I feel as a result of this reputation to do my job well. Although I have taught for several years now, and I feel relatively comfortable in front of groups, there will be pressure to do so in a way that maintains the excellent reputation that KCEWS has managed to build over the last few years. There are far worse challenges to have! I have really enjoyed the work I have done and very much look forward to the work I will do as the grant progresses.

How have your previous experiences or schoolwork at the Martin School prepared you for your position? What has been valuable?
The Martin School’s reputation has opened doors, as it is well known for preparing individuals for work in the public sector, especially in Frankfort. A few weeks ago, I went to the Prichard Commitee’s fall meeting, and was amazed to see how many Martin School graduates were doing great work for education policy in the state. I think the most important thing I learned at the Martin School was the crucial role that data should play in decision making. Another important skill I refined at the Martin School was the ability to try view things objectively and without bias- not as an advocate, but as an analyst.

What are the “hot topics” in that field right now?
Many states that are using longitudinal data systems are trying seek ways to better disseminate their data. We are producing data that could potentially be very helpful to many different groups, and a major concern is that stakeholders aren’t aware of the data or are unsure of how to utilize it. A major part of the SLDS grant we obtained involves with making sure our data ends up in the hands of people who could use it- policymakers, superintendents, school counselors, parents of school aged children, and students. Another big topic in the longitudinal data world is data privacy. Part of making data available to the public is ensuring that the highest standards of privacy are maintained.

If you could wake up tomorrow speaking a new language fluently, what language would that be?
Hmmm…pragmatically speaking, I’d love to be able to speak Chinese/Mandarin. I have spoken Spanish for a while now, and I can understand some of the words and grammatical structures from the other romantic languages due to cognates and my studies of Latin and medieval Spanish, so learning a language with a completely different grammatical system would be great.


Policy Conference in Music City

December 15 Tuesday 12:00 AM

Matt Arant is a second-year MPA student. For the past year, he has worked with the Council of State Governments as a Graduate Fellow in Education Policy with a emphasis on Postsecondary Education. 

As part of my last week as a graduate fellow in education policy at The Council of State Governments, I was able to attend the organization’s National Conference in Nashville. A four-day event drawing nearly 800 state legislators and various members of governmental agencies and the private sector, the conference consisted of numerous meetings on a wide variety of policy-specific issues.

I helped with a couple of sessions pertaining to education while in Nashville, starting with a policy academy about innovative delivery models in postsecondary education on Thursday. The structure and content of this particular session was very similar to what I had helped prepare for our regional meetings, held in Savannah, GA, Vail, CO, and Wilmington, DE over the summer. We opened the session with a keynote speaker who offered a national perspective on workforce alignment with postsecondary education and the creation of a “pathways to prosperity” network. Following the keynote address, we had a three-person panel share more of a state-specific perspective (basically which states are doing what) in terms of offering credit for prior learning and effectively bringing former students back into education to finish their degree or credential.

The second half of the session addressed this issue largely from the perspective of the private sector, with our lunchtime address coming from the Vice President of Human Resources at International Paper and representatives from Honda and UPS serving on our final panel of the day. The overarching theme of this portion of the session was how to draw high-caliber workers to companies, essentially narrowing that “skills gap,” a phrase policymakers love to throw around.

We had between 60 and 65 attendees for the session, a good amount considering the conference did not officially start until the next day. I helped coordinate the entire session because of a recent staff change within CSG, reaching out to legislators across the country and finding suitable speakers. Since I had first-hand experience with helping set up the policy academies at our regional meetings, coordinating this event was not too arduous.

I was only able to stay for the sessions on Thursday and Friday, but CSG does a very nice job in providing a wide variety of content with the hopes of strengthening existing relationships and building new ones with their members. It was a great way to end my time as a graduate fellow.


Outstanding Alumna in Action

December 4 Friday 12:00 AM

Danielle Clore is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network. KNN was established in 2002 and serves as our state nonprofit association. According to their mission statement, “KNN provides quality education, sharing of best practices and resources, technical assistance, time and money-saving member benefits and a unified public policy voice.” Danielle earned her MPA from the Martin School in 1998. We asked Danielle about her work today and her experiences at the Martin School.

As the Executive Director, Danielle wears many hats from week to week. When we talked a few weeks ago, she was focusing on two big events– KNN’s annual conference, the KY Nonprofit Leadership Forum, and KY Gives Day (December 1). Danielle’s event planning activities include marketing and a lot of communication. For KY Gives Day specifically, Danielle was “finalizing the prize structure for participating nonprofits.”

The upcoming legislative session is also a focus. She works directly with her public policy committee. Danielle develops educational materials for both members and legislators. She was recently nominated for a national award for her role in the creation of a nonprofit Task Force in Frankfort.

In addition to KNN’s seasonal activities, Danielle is also constantly developing the organization. “On a regular basis I’m working with our staff member and contract consultants on membership strategy, communications efforts, overseeing finances, selling sponsorships, working with our grant proposal writer and providing one-on-one technical assistance to nonprofits,” she says.

For students interested in working in nonprofits, take note– fundraising and relationships are key. Danielle explains that “My background prior to KNN was primarily in fundraising, which is essentially relationship building.  That’s what I do now almost 100% – relationships with KNN members, legislators and government officials, sponsors, donors, grant makers, colleagues running associations of nonprofits in other states.  It’s the most important thing I do.”

Current students should also take heart–“I had coursework in the public policy process, program evaluation and strategic planning for healthcare that I often look back and think, I am sure glad I paid attention!” The skills learned in these classes have added value to her work today. Her Capstone Project focused on something familiar to her– she evaluated a mental health treatment program for severely abused and neglected children for the nonprofit organization she was working for at the time. Her results? Inconclusive! “The data didn’t necessarily show that treatment was/was not effective. I remember being in a panic and Dr. Phil Berger was amazing. He told me, ‘Welcome to research– sometimes these are the results!'” However, her work still had an impact– “the organization tweaked their use of the treatment.”

She continues to learn! Danielle prioritizes attending at least one professional development event every year. Social media and newsletters can create a lot of noise, but apps like Pocket and Evernote help her to track articles on the go for reading later. She shares that, “The nonprofit sector is constantly evolving and keeping up with it all is overwhelming, but it’s a critical part of my job.”

Danielle also emphasizes the importance of her work experiences to discovering your passion as an MPP/MPA student. Her advice to students:

You have to gain work experience.  I remember when I graduated with my undergrad degree and thought, hey look at me – I have a degree, time to hire me!  Well, that didn’t work out like I’d hoped and that ultimately led me to the Martin School.  But the same is true for graduate school – a degree alone, no matter how well suited to the position you are applying for, is not enough. While in graduate school, I worked full time.  I realize that’s not ideal for everyone and there were some semesters that were really tough, but I knew exactly where I wanted to focus my career when I graduated because I’d had several positions while in graduate school.  Remember that some positions are great to help you find your passion, but other positions can help you decide what you DON’T want to do with your career.  Those experiences are just as valuable – and better to find out sooner rather than later!  If you aren’t doing an internship or working, even part-time, consider an intensive volunteer assignment.  A combination of these will build a strong resume – and you’re going to need it.


Finding An Internship: An Odyssey

December 2 Wednesday 12:00 AM

As first year MPA and MPP students are keenly aware, our masters programs require an internship. Typically, this component is completed in the summertime between the first and second years of study. Why is it important to complete an internship?

Internships can help you explore your passions. You may have a few ideas about what kind of work you want to pursue after you complete your degree. Internships are a great way to get your hands dirty in your field of interest– you may be surprised by what you like or do not like!

Internships can make you more competitive. Experience matters. An internship can provide you with the opportunity to hone your skills, observe what others are doing to be successful, and provide you with great networking resources. In fact, Dr. Jennings points out that many students get their first professional job directly from their internship experience.

Finding internships and then securing them can be challenging. Below are a few tips:

  1. Determine where you want to be. Do you want to intern in Lexington over the summer, or do you want to intern elsewhere– Washington D.C., other local governments, abroad?
  2. Set job alerts on internship search engines so that the internet does your work for you! Utilize the list at the end of this post to get started.
  3. Get educated on the landscape of your field. Identify organizations, associations, agencies that could have internships you would be interested in or would post them for other organizations. Check back regularly, or…
  4. Network! The Martin School provides lots of opportunities for you to connect with alumni and community members. Utilize those opportunities to the fullest.

 

Resources

NASPAA has some great tips and resources for finding internship opportunities. This includes a job search engine on their sister-site, PublicServiceCareers.org.

USAJOBS is the place to find jobs or internships for the federal government. This is a prime place to create a job alert, since positions may be posted and removed quickly.

Idealist.org lists opportunities in the non-profit sector for both internships and jobs.

 


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