On the first day of my first class of my MPA program, my Public Affairs professor asked the class, “How many of you remember anything you learned in college?” The room filled with chuckles and nervous glances as only a few brave souls tentatively raised their hands. My professor went on to explain that the reality is, few of us remember the names and dates and formulas learned as undergrads. Instead, what we hold onto are the big concepts, the paradigm-shifting ideas, and the basic skills of our chosen fields. She encouraged us to keep that in mind throughout graduate school. While yes, we would learn all about Frederick Taylor’s scientific management at the turn of the 20th century and Douglas McGregor’s X and Y theories of human motivation and management in the 1960’s, it was highly unlikely we would hold onto the details beyond what was required for our assignments. She challenged us throughout the curriculum not to simply inhale lectures and readings and exhale papers, but to consider how the key lessons taught in graduate school can be applied to our careers in public service. My professor also helped us understand another big truth: the breadth of what we will face in our careers cannot possibly be prepared for through higher education alone.
In honor of this “back to school” season and the thousands of new MPA students in their first month of classes, I’ve compiled what I believe to be the greatest gifts of attending graduate school.
Graduate School’s Greatest Gifts
- History of Public Administration: While every name and date may not stick, understanding the evolution that lead to modern public management reminds us of the importance of our profession in society. It also lays the foundation for professional ethics.
- Group work: I will be the first one to share tales of the added anxiety of working on school projects with a group. However, group work never disappears working in the public sector. Learning how to communicate, delegate, lead, follow, and contribute to projects with diverse colleagues is crucial to professional success.
- Concise professional writing: Graduate school is the best place to practice your writing, especially if you haven’t been to school in a while. Not only do the dozens of papers present an opportunity to improve your craft, but schools also offer great resources and support if your skills are lacking. Being able to communicate a complex idea in few words is a priceless talent.
- Critical thinking: Absorbing information, forming connections, assessing data, recognizing practical application, and identifying importance of details takes practice. Rigorous participation in class discussions and actively seeking opportunities to engage with professors and classmates can help to expand your perspective and improve your ability to think critically before accepting conclusions.
- Presentations: According to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears, Americans are more afraid of public speaking than they are dying. However, I have found that the more presentations I give, the less I dread the next one. Graduate school is a great opportunity to practice your speaking and presentation skills with little to no risk of ending up as an embarrassing headline or meme. It provides an environment to speak to a friendlier audience of peers, and gain confidence in your ability to speak to a crowd.
Pam Weir has been the assistant to the city manager in Goodyear, Ariz., since April 2016. Prior to this, she served as the management analyst and budget officer in Sierra Vista, Ariz. for two years.
Weir’s previous municipal government experience includes service as the management assistant in Fort Collins, Colo., where she helped write the organization’s first enterprise-wide strategic plan. She also served on a temporary assignment with the town of Estes Park, Colo., in 2013, assisting the town in disaster recovery efforts from the autumn floods. Prior to her time in Colorado, she was the management intern for Avondale, Ariz.
Weir holds a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in Urban Management from Arizona State University, where she was also named a Marvin Andrews Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She is a member of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the Arizona City/County Management Association (ACMA), and Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). Weir also serves as the chair for the Alliance for Innovation’s NextERA Advisory Group, representing the next generation of local government managers to promote innovation and collaboration in the profession.
Having grown up in the Grand Canyon State, Weir is passionate about helping to shape the long-term future of Arizona communities, both through her local government service and other volunteer activities.