This week I registered for my first two classes as I head back to school, for the first time in decades. Though I still don’t know how I will work a Master in Public Administration into my work-life, I do know that I am simultaneously nervous and excited to be getting back into a classroom into a learning atmosphere.
When I graduated college as an English major, art minor, I found myself drawn to publishing. Though since beginning at a trade association’s magazine in New York, my life has taken me to a number of different way stations. Some, like the trade association, were non-profit, still others were “wish-they-made-a-profit.” Among them were a think tank, a hospital and a few small publishers in Israel and a private school and a cultural institution in Atlanta. When I shifted to “corporate America,” I found myself drawing on the same oft-used skill set of editing and design to reinforce messaging.
For me, the common thread running through my roles in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors was communication. In fact, over the years I’ve written about improving communications, seeing the bigger picture and preparing to take action. I’ve also come to the realization that effective communication is only a means to an end. If we want to focus to making the world a better place, we should concentrate on that and take it as a given that effective communications will get us there.
As the political landscape has changed, instead of finding myself outdoors canvassing or indoors writing postcards, I’ve read, researched, shared what I found, and, almost one year ago to the day, discovered my voice. As a blogger for the Atlanta Jewish Times/Times of Israel, I am vocal on the trends I see today. My commentary tends towards promoting one essential message: “Break down walls. Get to know anyone you would consider ‘other.’ Be kind. Remember, you are part of a community and your needs do not take precedence over anyone else’s. And remember that when you act to the benefit of society, the communal fabric is strengthened for all.” But other than basic ways to connect, I do not promote any specific steps. And I would like to gain the skill-set that would allow me to actually move people to action.
The focus of the Master in Public Administration is on public issues, how they affect a diverse community, how best to serve all equitably. These values take on more importance as the political atmosphere has become more divisive. Over the last decade, I’ve been exposed to interesting ways to aggregate and map data, as well as information on catastrophes, big data, predictive modeling and other issues affecting our lives, through the prism of different lines of business in insurance. Technology is not only changing, so is innovation in how it is applied. Various industries are being disrupted, and crowdsourcing both resources and brain power is becoming the norm. Many areas are in flux because technologies are changing and laws aren’t keeping up. The resulting impact on our changing world requires the ability to look into the future and anticipate needs.
Beyond learning how organizations are built, budgeted for and managed, I especially look forward to studying policy analysis and evaluation. As with communication, I’ve learned it is not enough to do or say something; it is imperative to first understand the scope of the projected impact and afterwards be able to assess success. These skills, like the ones I employed in the non-profit and for-profit worlds, are transferable and useful. How do we know that what we are doing is effective if we haven’t figured out a way to measure it?
And though I joke about my brain cells having atrophied over the last few decades, the truth is that I am very excited about being stimulated by new concepts, exchanging ideas with classmates, learning again.
Photo by Sgarton, courtesy of morguefile.com