“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.

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.

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

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.