Public Problem Solvers
A new master’s degree preps students for public sector careers with cities, nonprofits, state agencies, foreign embassies, and more.
Logan McDaniel spent last summer riding in a police cruiser, a fire engine, and a garbage truck.
She learned a little about operating a knuckle boom crane and plenty about the city of Morristown’s economic potential.
McDaniel’s experience working for the Tennessee municipality was part of the Department of Political Science’s public administration and public policy master’s degree program in the College of Arts and Sciences. The “boots on the ground” opportunity was made possible through the program’s partnership with UT’s Institute for Public Service.
A native of New Market, Tennessee, McDaniel says the summer spent revolving through the city departments brought her coursework to life in ways she had not anticipated.
“When we think of public servants, we often think of elected officials and administrators,” she says. “I was exposed to public servants who most directly serve citizens, and they are just as important because they have the day-to-day contact with the public.”
Morristown City Administrator Tony Cox ensured McDaniel had a broad experience and charged her with a research project to gauge the impact of the city’s downtown employment.
McDaniel graduates this May and plans to use what she has learned to land a job in local government, preferably in East Tennessee.
“I have a heart for Appalachia and I want to work on behalf of my fellow Appalachians in a community in this area,” she says.
The graduate program has trained hundreds of Tennessee’s government and nonprofit managers over the past forty years. This fall, the political science department launched a new Master of Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) degree program through a partnership with the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. The new degree replaces the existing Master of Public Administration degree.
“We found that our graduates were getting jobs in the public sector but needed stronger skills in public policy and data analysis,” says John Scheb, head of the Department of Political Science. “So we decided to broaden the program to expand students’ training and better meet the needs of our government and not-for-profit agencies.”
The MPPA’s core curriculum gives students the opportunity to explore the public policy track or the public administration/management track. The policy track adds a new focus to energy policy, environmental policy, and global security policy, which are the Baker Center’s primary areas of study.
The partnership with the Baker Center broadens the curriculum and provides access to excellent classroom facilities. The goal is also to increase enrollment.
The MPPA’s administrative track includes existing courses in ethics, law, and human resource management, plus a new focus on nonprofit management.
“With increased government outsourcing, we are seeing more students interested in nonprofit or quasi-government management,” Scheb says.
New MPPA student Jenna Covington enrolled in fall 2012 after Lakeshore Mental Health Institute closed and her state job ended. She always thought about an advanced degree in psychology or social work but realized she gained the most satisfaction from communicating her ideas to administrators who oversaw the delivery of services.
“I wanted a degree that I could apply in a variety of settings that would broaden my opportunities in administration,” Covington says.
David Folz, a political science professor, directs the program. He says the program prepares men and women for public service, emphasizing the theory and practice of public administration and public policy analysis.
“Our goal is to equip our students with the knowledge and skills needed to be effective managers, responsible executives, and ethical public servants,” Folz says.
Scheb says most students who enroll are Tennessee citizens with the desire to live and work in the state, but the new focus gives UT the opportunity to recruit on the national and even international level.
“With so many governments transitioning to democracy, there is a need for more international students to learn about public policy and public administration in Western countries so they can then go back to their home countries to help build the government,” Scheb says.
MPPA student Thuy Pham sees the changing global landscape as an opportunity to make a difference abroad.
“I would love to be an ambassador, but working in an embassy or with an international organization would be wonderful, as well,” Pham says.
Although raised in America, Pham’s parents came from Vietnam. “I am first generation. I definitely have not seen much of the world, just a few countries,” she says. “I hope that will change, of course.”
Several organizations are partnering with UT to offer internships to students in the MPPA program in order for them to gain professional experience, and many of these have translated into permanent jobs. The new public policy focus opens doors for additional internship opportunities.