Warm summer breezes drift through the air, blue skies perfectly complement the green of the Willamette Valley, and bright yellow school buses no longer delay traffic every morning and afternoon. Its official, school is out for the summer to be replaced by long days and countless baseball games. This summer break is unique for me because I will still be taking a couple of classes as I pursue my Masters in Public Administration at Portland State University. With one completed school year out of two under my belt I wanted to take some time and reflect on this year and share some of my experiences.
It was a big adjustment for me to attend PSU directly after undergrad. I went to Willamette University (go Bearcats!) which is a small liberal arts college and is absolutely tiny when compared to the 29,000+ student Portland State. Although it was strange at first not to regularly see people I knew on campus, I learned to love the energy of a large university and especially how the campus of Portland State blends seamlessly into the City of Portland. The MPA program itself is also more professional than an undergraduate education and with the majority of classes taking place at 4pm or 6:30pm many of the students also currently work in the public sector. Because of this, the other students are focused and engaged with the material.
Something that I really like about the PSU MPA program is that because of the mix of students, who have varied backgrounds and levels of professional experience, I learn as much from them as I do from the professors. At first it was almost odd to have professors treat us more like peers than students, but it creates an inviting learning environment and enhances the learning that takes place in the classroom, because students supplement the material in class with real world examples and practical approaches to using the theory in the field. Professors also use their extensive public sector experience to complement the textbooks we read and the lectures they give. The practical experience of the professors and students in the program keep the material grounded in the professional world and have gotten me more excited to start my career.
The MPA program and specifically the local government specialty have really helped me in my professional development outside of the classroom. Before attending Portland State I had never been to a networking event or even tried to make connections in the public sector. I was uncertain about how to network and what kind of resources were available to me. Looking back on this year that is the area where I have grown the most. Through the resources PSU’s local government department provided and their encouragements to apply for jobs and schedule informational interviews, I have grown my professional network and it has even led me to this position with ELGL. I think one huge strength of the local government specialty at PSU is that they expose students to many professional development opportunities and with the addition of the student ICMA chapter on campus, PSU is a great place to learn how to become a public sector professional.
This past year of graduate school has been at times stressful, fun, and challenging. I have learned more about my answer to the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I also have learned more about the Portland area and the many local governments that impact communities everyday. Though the coursework has been important and challenging, the learning I am doing outside of the classroom and the networking that I have done, is what I remember the most from the past year. Most of all, looking back and thinking about this past year has gotten me more excited to finish up my MPA program and get started working in local government. I’m excited to take what I have learned and will learn, and apply it to improving the lives of citizens and creating communities.