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Learning by Doing: Reflections on Strategic Planning Course

Sarah Smith is a second-year MPA student who will be graduating in May. She describes one of her classroom experiences below.

The Martin School Master of Public Administration curriculum is designed to blend in-classroom and experiential learning. For instance, students are required and receive academic credit for an internship in a chosen field or organization. As an MPA student, I've attended speakers, competitions, and field trips, all through the Martin School.

However, some of our courses teach skills and offer students the chance to apply those concepts directly to real-world projects, too. One such course, which is one of my personal favorites, is PA 602: Strategic Planning. While many of the program's core classes have projects that mimic professional activities, Strategic Planning is unique-- small groups of students partner directly with non-profit or government organizations to develop strategic plans, using skills and methodologies as we learn them.

Having worked as a project manager and implementation consultant prior to coming to the Martin School, I loved having this opportunity. Reflecting on our group projects, I was able to connect activities I did in my previous work to what I was learning (and doing again) in class. My team created a potential strategic plan for the Lexington Farmers Market using the Balanced Scorecard methodology. Other teams worked with a nonprofit providing after school activities to middle schoolers and a local environmental protection group. Each team tailored their approach to the needs of their client. For instance, my group reimagined one of the Balanced Scorecard "perspectives," or lens through which the organization's objectives and mission are analyzed, to better suit the structure of the organization.

As someone who learns through doing, my understanding and command of the skills needed in strategic planning were deepened through our group work. I also discovered that I really enjoy strategic planning! I'm looking forward to bringing those skills to my next job after I graduate this spring.