Alumna Leads Diversity and Strategic Enrollment Initiatives

May 1 Monday 10:48 AM

The thread running through Natalie Gibson’s (MPA ‘98) career focuses on organizational development in emerging education policy issues such as the achievement gap and student success.  “I am always drawn to positions that allow me to focus on strategic planning, budgeting, and capacity building,” she says. Today, Natalie serves as the System Director of Cultural Diversity for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). In that role, Natalie provides leadership, support and service in two domains:  diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as strategic enrollment management, engaging with “approximately 10,000 part-time and full-time faculty and staff at 16 colleges to insure the access and the success of approximately 80,000 students, especially those from traditionally underserved backgrounds.” She finds purpose in this role, because community colleges provide so much to so many—“These opportunities transform lives by helping [students] gain an education that increases the likelihood of gainful employment,” she explains.

While inclusion in postsecondary education may seem very nebulous to the layperson, for Natalie, there is a focus on concrete strategic goals and objectives. She supervises System Office staff, leads two functional peer teams and other working groups, as well as working directly with the KCTCS Cabinet and President’s Leadership Team. She’s implemented new initiatives, including the Diversity Capacity Building Program, a KCTCS Diversity Dashboard, and Super Someday, which is a state-wide program that provides African-American and Latino students pre-collegiate academic enrichment opportunities as well as access to information and resources to improve college attendance. As the system-level subject matter expert for recruitment and retention efforts, she has reason to celebrate! After 8 semesters of enrollment declines, KCTCS colleges implemented their final strategic enrollment management plans and student enrollments for the system steadied in the fall of 2016.

“I really enjoy collaborating with groups of faculty and staff from our colleges and the system office to identify solutions and build capacity to increase student success,” she says. However, that can be challenging. One of the many hats Natalie wears is that of a change manager— which is particularly difficult in an age of constrained budgets. “It is so easy to defer to places of comfort and familiarity in times of stress,” she explains. Her Master’s program helped her to develop the skillset needed to handle such dynamic and politically-charged waters.

Natalie is no stranger to a challenge, though. After completing her MPA, she worked for the University of Kentucky as the Chief Administrative Officer for the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Safety Program (SCAHIP), which sought to prevent agriculture worker injury and illness. As the CAO, Natalie was instrumental in attaining around $9 million in federal grant funding for the Center’s work.

In her spare time, Natalie loves spending time with her family and pursuing her favorite hobbies—traveling, shoe shopping, reading, and watching movies. We are proud to call Natalie a member of the Martin School family, and we know she will continue to make a positive impact on her community!

PhD Student Receives Dissertation Paper Award

April 19 Wednesday 04:18 PM

Congrulations to Lauren Guo, who received an award for her dissertation in San Fransisco from the Western Social Science Association earlier this month!

A Passion for Municipal Budgeting & Finance

April 16 Sunday 06:07 PM

Lauren Kesselring (MPA ’16) didn’t set out to become the newest Budget and Management Analyst for San Antonio’s budget office, at least not initially. Through the Martin School network, Lauren heard about San Antonio’s fellowship program. “Through my research for the Fellowship application process I discovered how well managed the City’s finances were and decided to see what other jobs were available... Luckily for me, the budget office was hiring,” she recalls. One thing led to another, and she was offered the job!

In her role, Lauren Kesselring creates and monitors the budgets for four departments: Police, Library, City Auditor, and Historic Preservation. While the departments don’t change, her day-to-day work absolutely does! There are so many moving parts in budgeting—it is not just about the numbers. Funding requests often must take federal and state mandates in to account.

When asked about what she loves about her job, she says, “My work is challenging, and you never do the same thing twice!” The pace of work, though, depends on the season. Lauren is constantly having to juggle deadlines on emerging projects, like one of her favorites—creating a personnel projection model. However, there are ebbs and flows. Budget season is, naturally, busier. “I recently worked on a group project to improve the monthly budget monitoring process,” which gave her flashbacks to Dr. Jennings’ organizational theory class!

Lauren is well equipped to meet the challenge. The MPA curriculum exposed her to both the technical budgeting fundamentals and more general policy background she needs to be successful, particularly working alongside leadership across city departments. “Being given the opportunity to work on a lot of extra-curricular policy projects,” like policy challenge competitions, “and having the support of the professors throughout the program” were also particularly valuable. Her ability to speak to internship projects and her Capstone research really made her stand out when she interviewed for her current job.

One day, Lauren hopes to be a budget director at a mid-sized municipal government. In her spare time, she loves exploring the local hiking trails with her fiancé and dogs. It’s great to see our graduates doing what they love!

Data Scientist by Day, Podcast Host by Night

April 16 Sunday 09:13 PM

While many of our graduates go on to careers in government, Robert Kahne (MPP ‘11) illustrates that the calling to serve the public good takes many forms. Robert lives and works in Louisville as a data scientist for Edumedics, which helps client organizations to lower healthcare costs through disease management. “I analyze health care claims to identify people who would benefit from disease management programs, and then analyze clinical information to gauge whether our program participants’ health is improving,” Robert explains.

Robert loves the opportunity to work with data on a day-to-day basis, especially in a way that helps others. Statistical analysis is a core component of the Martin School curriculum, alongside public policy. Robert is passionate about both. “I’m still very passionate about policy and government, but it turns out the skills around statistics and research methodology ended up being what I get paid to do!”

While Robert doesn’t directly work with public policy in his job, his hobbies revolve around it. In his spare time, Robert has started both a podcast and is involved in a nonprofit called the Civic Data Alliance. He started “My Old Kentucky Podcast,” which he co-hosts with another Louisvillian, to bring public policy conversations to the community. The most recent episode focuses on state tax reform. His work with the Civic Data Alliance is also driven by passion: “I remember how hard it was (in school) to access government data sets. Lots of the time when we got data, it was in formats like PDF or Word that were difficult to use. The CDA is committed to opening government data and to using that data to elucidate policy options for governmental and other community leaders.”

Robert also serves on the board of Highland Community Ministries, and is active in the Highland Baptist Church. Otherwise, you’ll find him at home with his wife.

All of our alumni are different in their passions, public policy philosophies, and interests. However, they all have something in common with Robert: a commitment to the public good, both in the office and on the weekends.

Recent Graduate Leads Congressman’s Constituent Economic Development Services

April 7 Friday 02:14 PM

Prospective students often wonder where our graduates work after they finish their degree program. We sometimes struggle to answer because there are so many possible paths for MPAs and MPPs. Yet, somehow, some way, the Martin School is able to prepare individuals for work across sectors, policy areas, and job titles. Alyshia Powell (MPA ’16) sheds some light on the mystery:

“One of the most important things I learned in my time at the Martin School was how to communicate complex policies or processes to people in an effective, concise manner… The value [of the program] came from the professors I learned from and the people I learned with. Besides budgeting and analysis skills, I also think the focus on professional development was critical to my success in this office. There are many different options for careers in public service, but the professional development skills learned are universally applicable to all options.”

As the Director of Economic Development for Congressman Andy Barr, Alyshia brings all of these skills to bear, and more! “I help local elected officials and constituents identify federal funding for projects in their communities,” she says, “These projects range from infrastructure projects to historical preservation projects and everything in between.” What does this process look like? Alyshia often meets with stakeholders to understand their needs, and then puts together detailed reports with potential funding sources for the project. Her work doesn’t end there, though—she also guides applicants through the grant process.

“My favorite days are the ones where I get to go out into the district for a groundbreaking or ribbon cutting for a project that I know is the culmination of years of hard work on behalf of many people in the community,” she shares. “It is very rewarding to know that you played a small part in making that project a reality, and even more rewarding when you see how that project makes life better for the people in that community.”

Although Alyshia graduated recently, she isn’t new to a career in public service. She worked full-time while attending graduate school. While extremely hard at times, she found value in continuing to work while studying. “I was able to immediately apply skills learned in school to my work on behalf of constituents,” she recalls. For example, around the time she took a class in strategic planning for the public sector last year, she also had the opportunity to put together a strategic plan in her own workplace.

We are so proud of the difference Alyshia is making in the world, and we look forward to seeing where her career takes her!