MPA from My APT: Hearing Voices

Posted on September 5, 2013


This is another installment of an ELGL original content series titled “An MPA From My Apt.” by University of Southern California MPA distance graduate program student Josh Halladay.  Halladay is sharing his experiences with a distance learning program in the hopes of providing perspective and support to other students who are pondering a degree using a distance or online program.

An ominous voice asks, “Josh, its finals week. Shouldn’t you be focused on finals?”

Josh replies, “Probably, but I’m with the ELGL family right now. Finals will have to wait.”

Ominous voice: Ok, but only because you already finished two of three finals before the week started.

Josh: That’s not very ominous of you.

Hello, ELGL members. As you can see from the interlude, it is finals week of my second semester as an online MPA student for the University of Southern California. This column is not about finals, as they are pretty much the same as in a traditional program, though our finals consist of mostly essays, with the occasional open book test (yes, open book is easy but when in your professional career will you not be able to look up educational resources?).

This column pertains to the members of my classes. I have said before that my classes have a diversified demographic of people from all ages and all locations. I have also said that this program is ideal for the professional, looking to boost or change their career. Many MPA programs enroll students from across the county at various staged of their careers. But my program is different (ominous music)…

I have had the pleasure of working with many different individuals. My favorite is a female veteran of the military who is in her late twenties, lives in Texas, and awaits the end to her husband’s current tour of duty. I had a pretty good experience working in a group with a struggling actress and another person who I know little about. I also had a lot of fun doing a project with a pair of moms. We agreed to have a glass of wine via Google hangouts. However, the most relevant to this group, and probably my future career, were a pair of people in my Local Government Administration class. I never had the opportunity to work directly with them, but the information they provided was from a perspective that I bet is rare even to the most popular traditional MPA courses.

Midlothian District - Dan GeckerDan Gecker is the Board Chairman for the county of Chesterfield, Virginia. Keith Regan is the Managing Director of the County of Maui (you are not the only one who is jealous). These two provided a semester’s worth of insight that gave me a perspective my professor could not. While my professor served as a city manager for a decade and a half, he never managed an emergency. Keith handled a tsunami. The professor, realizing the uniqueness and value of his information, allotted Keith a block of time in class to detail the process. And while my professor worked directly with elected officials for 16 years, he was never one of them. He described their motivations, but that did not provide us with the same experience as actually hearing from one. So Dan brought a unique perspective to class discussions. The public holds him accountable for services, and likewise, he holds county administrators responsible. This dynamic was interesting to learn about.

A traditional MPA program relies on professors as the sole omniscient person in the class. We had two others. The positions that these two persons held allowed us to get a more rounded understanding of local government furthering our learning. This program, made to accommodate non-traditional students, has made for a nontraditional learning experience that certainly has its benefits.

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