A Day in the Life of a Binghamton University MPA Alum

For the past year, I have been the Director of Recruitment and Internship Placement for the Department of Public Administration in the College of Community and Public Affairs. It’s a great job. On the recruitment side, I get to speak with bright, energetic young people who are interested in making a difference in the world. On the internship side, I help second year MPA students narrow their career interests and navigate internship options. From prospect to MPA student to intern to smartypants MPA grad. Seriously gratifying work.

When I am at a graduate school fair or other event, one of the most common questions I am asked is: What can I do with an MPA?

My usual answer is: you can use your career to make a positive difference in society. And that is true. But here’s the short of it: We get stuff done.

Our program specializes in local government management, nonprofit management, and sustainability. While 3% of our alumni go on to work in the federal service, many more work in regional nonprofit organizations and at the state or local levels of government. Often we look at local within a global perspective, and we now offer study abroad programs with China, Peru, Hungary, and Turkey.

Recently, I caught up with Heidi Kowalchyk, MPA ‘07 to find out more about her work.

Local Government: Where the Action Is

Heidi is a Contract Management Analyst in the Department of Economic Development and Planning for Suffolk County, New York. She had worked in the Greater Binghamton region before deciding to attend the college’s MPA program. After graduation she moved to Long Island when her husband, John (MPA ’05) was offered a position with the Town of Brookhaven. Heidi found out about the opening through a friend who also worked for the county.

I asked Heidi a series of questions about the nature of her work in local government. I was pleased to see that her experiences reinforced the advice we often give to students (“network, network, network!”) and that the program prepared her well for the challenging work that she does every day.

How would you describe a typical day?

My day includes managing the contract process for grants that Suffolk County gives to local non-profit organizations and municipalities.  I approve budgets for grants, insure contract agencies have submitted the proper documentation for contracts, and audit expenditures. I communicate via phone and email with contract agencies to help them go through the contract process.  I provide a training seminar every year in contracting with Suffolk County.  In addition, I develop and manage timelines and grant application processes; and act as staff support for advisory committees.

What skills or knowledge from the MPA program prepared you for your current position?

Skills and knowledge learned in the MPA program that help me in my current position include:  performance measurement, decision making, ethics, government budgeting, writing skills, and grants management.

What do you like most about your job?

The part of my job that I like the most is my interaction with community members.  I see my role as that of helping local community groups get the money they need to conduct programs that make Long Island a better place to live.  I always have a better day when I feel like I have helped someone.

 What advice would you give to students with an interest in working in local government?  

Take lots of civil service tests and keep taking them even after you get hired. During your time as a student, apply for internships in local government to give you a sample of what it is like.

******************************************************

This fall, we graduated our 407th student. Next year the department will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the conferral of MPA degrees at Binghamton (we originated from the Political Science department). Keep an eye on The Greater Good as we make plans to celebrate the success of our alumni and our program (and watch for falling confetti!).

Joann Lindstrom, MPA ’07
Director of Recruitment & Internship Placement
Department of Public Administration
Binghamton University

Crowdsourcing: One CCPA Doctoral Student’s Research Proposal on the Crowdsourcing phenomenon.

I am a student in the doctoral program in Community and Public Affairs. I received my BA and MA in Political Science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I come from and have worked with minorities in the multicultural society of Israel. This experience has given me a keen interest in and awareness of policies that affect different sectors of our society and the constant political battles that exist.

I am concentrating my dissertation research on the crowdsourcing (CS) phenomenon. The research is designed to expand our understanding of how integrating CS apparatus among nonprofit organizations may impact their performance. My goal is to identify potential sources for crowd participation and to measure CS influence on organizational capacity. The study will lay basis for further research on crowdsourcing from organization to community to society.

The term crowdsourcing was first conceptualized and defined by Howe (2008) as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” While CS is not a contemporary phenomenon (for instance, when the police publish a ‘wanted’ ad, they crowdsource the job of locating a person), only recently has it been reconceptualized and given attention in science (Sufen, Zhonghui & Feng 2013). There are increasing examples of successful CS initiatives, such as Wikipedia and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (mturk.com), in which “anyone can post tasks to be completed and specify prices paid for completing them (…) Tasks typically require little time and effort, and users are paid a very small amount upon completion (Kittur, Chi & Suh 2008).” However, research on the phenomenon among nonprofit organizations is limited. The proposed study corresponds with Brabham’s (2008) call for a qualitative research through interviews with individual members of a given crowd, which will contribute to our understanding of the conditions which make crowdsourcing initiatives to succeed or to fail.

The research will focus on Bar-Kayma (BK), a nonprofit organization (established in 2006), whose stated purpose is the promotion of “culture, art, music and peace in Jerusalem”.  Bar-Kayma is a registered association which assists and accompanies groups of artists, professionals and specialists, and supports local and independent media in Jerusalem. In Hebrew and Aramaic, “Bar-Kayma” means “sustainable”. BK is a specialized type of institution that focuses on a subculture from the mainstream social framework, practicing artists. These Organized Artist Collectives (OACs) are comprised of groups who have joined forces under a collective name. Each OAC has a unique outtake on what is art. They are all different sizes, made up of unique demographic groups, and utilize a variety of mediums of expression. As a result, this study is designed to examine OACs within the framework of BK as an overarching institution.

Pragmatic action research will be conducted in order to facilitate mixed-methods data collection through an experiment. A quantitative approach will be used to measure crowdsourcing effects. A Quasi-Experimental Nonequivalent Control Group design will take place, since half of the OACs will comprise the experimental group and the other half will comprise the control group. Between 2011 and 2012 I was the Chair of the Board of Directors for BK, and I am still a board member. The board has accepted my proposal to conduct this research, thus making the research a feasible endeavor.

By Ohad Y. Shem-Tov, College of Community and Affairs Doctoral Student

Struggling with Sustainability, Some Small Cities Shine

Flush a toilet in South Daytona, Florida (pop. 12,252) and the waste comes back to you to water your lawn. The small city, only three square miles in size, acts big in terms of sustainability as it faces a major challenge – providing safe drinking water to a rapidly growing population. Water conservation is increasingly commonplace in many American cities, but South Daytona goes a step further. Every day, the city buys millions of gallons of reclaimed sewage water from a neighboring municipality. Formerly, the sewage was just dumped into the ocean. Now, after being highly treated, the water is pumped through a second network of water pipes that snakes back around the city. The water is not for drinking, but can be used by residential and business customers for landscape irrigation. Property owners pay for the service just as they would any utility.

This and other sustainability efforts by places such as South Daytona often go unnoticed by the mainstream media and most Americans. The attention is often focused on the sustainability successes of the biggest American cities. While important, these do not tell the whole story. More than half of Americans live in smaller cities, suburban towns, or rural communities, which face enormous political, fiscal, and technical challenges when they seek to protect the environment. Many of those, such as South Daytona, Florida, are defying the odds and finding that sustainability can be both environmentally and economically successful.

Another aggressive community is Columbus, Wisconsin (pop 4,991). In 2007, when Boyd Kraemer (now retired) came on board as city administrator, he was charged with turning around a largely moribund local economy. The city applied for and received a $40,000 sustainability grant, which Kraemer used to fund a new sustainability director position; the new person was charged with boosting both economic development and environmental protection. Columbus wanted to create for itself a marketing persona as a sustainable place. Now, with every policy and purchase, the city considers its green reputation. Columbus received grants to convert all of the street lights to high-efficiency LED fixtures – one of the first in the nation to do so. When it came time to repave the municipal parking lots, they added electric car plug-in stations. The city made extensive energy efficiency renovations in all of its municipal buildings and provides subsidies to homeowners for energy audits, air conditioner tune-ups, and the purchase of high efficiency washing machines. City residents can also receive a $50 grant towards the purchase and planting of deciduous trees to shade buildings and reduce air conditioning costs during the summer.

From an economic development perspective, the green marketing is working. Articles about these programs have appeared in statewide economic development and construction magazines. In just twelve months starting at the end of 2011, the city saw about $30 million dollars in capital investment including a new housing development, an assisted living center, and the expansion of a packaging operation. An arts incubator chose Columbus over Madison, the state capital, and a local pump manufacturer has broken ground on a larger facility that will anchor a new business park. Kraemer estimates that 50 percent of his community’s recent success is attributable to its sustainability image. People are impressed, Kraemer reports, when they hear that the city has all high-efficiency LED street lights. “We can turn them on with a laptop and we can change them in high crime areas.” He says it gives them a media and attitude edge over other communities.

All these efforts save money for Columbus city coffers, as well. The city’s 2013 Economic Development – Sustainability Report finds that the city has reduced electricity usage by 15.4 percent from 2007-2012. Much of this was due to the 2011 conversion of streetlights to LEDs, which cut energy usage 49 percent. Efficiency upgrades to the wastewater treatment plan, scheduled for spring of 2014, will save an estimated $18,000 a year in electricity costs.

The sustainability actions in South Daytona and Columbus demonstrate that environmental protection and economic development are not in conflict. Small cities, suburban towns, and rural communities can make important contributions to sustainability – and do it in a way that fits their local circumstance. Indeed, Boyd Kraemer of Columbus believes smaller places may have an advantage. He points to the nearby state capital of Madison, which has more eco-friendly students and many more resources, but they do not get as much done because of their bureaucracy. “You’ve got to make it easy to get things done. If you get tied up in committees and studies and consultants, it doesn’t last.” So while big cities boast of their green successes, there are many unlikely innovators taking advantage of their agility.

 

This post is based on an issue brief co-authored by CCPA assistant professor George Homsy for the ICMA Center for Sustainable Communities. Titled “Defying the Odds: Sustainability in Small and Rural Places,” Homsy and co-author Mildred Warner of Cornell University are conducting research into the sustainability practices of small cities and rural communities with funding from the US Department of Agriculture.

The entire issue brief can be found at: http://icma.org/en/icma/knowledge_network/documents/kn/Document/305454/Defying_the_Odds_Sustainability_in_Small_and_Rural_Places