REAL-WORLD, HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE
The Carolina MPA program is designed to give students real-world, hands-on experience so that they are well-prepared to assume leadership roles soon after graduation. Teamwork is emphasized throughout the program; collaboration takes place among student groups as well as between students and faculty. Sometimes that collaboration results in a book or other publication.
The Winter 2007 issue of Popular Government, a special issue on workforce planning, was guest-edited by MPA faculty member Willow Jacobson, who worked with students to include portions of their Capstone research papers in the issue. Heather Ann Drennan and Christina Ritchie, both 2005 graduates, and Brittany Whitmire, a 2006 graduate, were published.
An article on documenting disparity in minority contracting, published in Public Administration Review, Vol. 67, Issue 3, June 2007, was co-authored by Heather Martin (2003 MPA graduate) and faculty members Maureen Berner and Frayda Bluestein. The article was recogniized with the prestigious Louis Brownlow Award, presented by the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA). The three women first collaborated while Martin was an MPA student and research assistant for Bluestein.
A TWO-YEAR RESEARCH PROJECT RESULTS IN A BOOK
Development Review in Local Government: Benchmarking Best Practices, published in 2009 by the School of Government and Alliance for Innovation, was a collaboration between faculty member David Ammons and Ryan Davidson and Ryan Ewalt, both 2008 graduates of the program.
The book identifies an array of proven practices for bringing greater fairness, thoroughness, and speed to the development review process, which is the system of approving or denying building permits and other land-use applications. Development review is an important role of local governments but one that often draws criticism from developers and citizens alike. At the invitation of officials from nine North Carolina local governments, the authors and a team of planning and development review professionals benchmarked with three national leaders and discovered 78 distinctive practices accounting for the leaders’ success. In doing so, the benchmarking team not only produced helpful advice for improving development review processes but also demonstrated the value to local governments of a type of benchmarking fairly common in the private sector but rarely used in the public sector.
Ryan Ewalt became involved in the Development Review project as a first-year research assistant. His experience as a government consultant prior to entering the MPA program seemed like a good match for Ammons’ project. Ryan Davidson joined the team after helping Ammons complete another research project. The students' work on the project was interrupted by summer internships, but taken up again in their second year.
AN EDUCATIONAL BONANZA
Both Ewalt and Davidson describe credit as co-authors as a wonderful bonus, but say the work itself was an immensely valuable part of their MPA experience. “I really enjoyed the entire process,” says Ewalt. “The beginning phase of interviewing the local government personnel in the nine sponsoring towns and cities in North Carolina was extremely educational. We came into those towns knowing hardly anything about development review and had to rely on experts working in the field to educate us along the way.”
Both student authors link the research experience with the work they are doing now. Davidson is a budget and management analyst with the Wake County (North Carolina) Sheriff’s Office. “I learned to utilize local experts to drive the content of our research," he says. "Here at the Sheriff’s Office, I don’t know about jails or patrol cars, but I take what the professionals in these areas know, analyze that information, and come up with solutions that work for them.”
Ewalt says, "The Development Review project helped sharpen my management consulting skills—the face-to-face interaction with participants and the benchmarking partners, facilitating the knowledge transfer, documenting the process—and has turned out to be critical to what I do now." Ewalt is curently a management consultant with Downes Associates in Salisbury, Maryland.
UNIQUE ADVANTAGES OF CAROLINA MPA
In a Spring 2008 article about the Brownlow Award, Frayda Bluestein stressed that these types of projects highlight the unique advantages of the Carolina MPA program. MPA Director Carl Stenberg adds, “Typically this level of faculty-student collaboration happens on the doctoral level. But the full-time nature of our program, the caliber of our students, and the admissions process that helps us recruit students who share the interests of some of our faculty members makes it possible for this in-depth work to occur.”