Students pursuing a Master of Public Policy at MSU bring a wide variety of backgrounds and interests to the program. Most years some of the students are mid-career professionals who see getting an MPP as a way to deepen their skill set and broaden their future opportunities.
Julie Cassidy, a current MPP student who expects to graduate in May 2016, fits that description. Having worked as an analyst for Michigan’s Senate Fiscal Agency for twelve years, Cassidy is already an expert on Michigan policy. But her MPP coursework has helped her to develop new skills and perspectives to apply in her job, as well as allowing her to explore policy areas she wants to learn more about.
A native of Clarkston, Mich., Cassidy did her undergraduate studies at MSU’s James Madison College, which focuses on public affairs and public policy. During her senior year, Cassidy interned with Capitol Services, a lobbying firm based in Lansing. One day while she was at the State Capitol for a meeting, she ran into one of her high-school English teachers, who had begun working for the Senate Fiscal Agency and encouraged Cassidy to apply there once she graduated. It was a “stroke of good luck” that led to a job that Cassidy continues to find interesting and challenging 13 years in.
“Sound and unbiased assistance”
Michigan’s Senate Fiscal Agency is a bipartisan office that, according to its website, provides “sound and unbiased assistance to the Senate and the residents of Michigan.” As a policy analyst, Cassidy says she has two main tasks: First, she writes summaries of proposed legislation using plain language so that citizens can understand what’s being proposed. Second, she analyzes the potential impacts of the legislation, based on academic research, experiences in other states, and other sources. All the reports she and her colleagues write are available to the general public on the Michigan Legislature’s website.
To keep up with the fast pace of legislation, Cassidy attends Senate committee meetings, frequently follows up with witnesses who testify at Senate hearings, reads the newspaper every day, and does a lot of Internet research. Cassidy says she analyzes about 50 bills per year, often working on several at once. “It’s a lot like doing homework and being in school,” says Cassidy. “You take a lot of notes and write lots of papers.”
For Cassidy, advancing the Senate Fiscal Agency’s nonpartisan mission has been fulfilling. “I have my own opinions about the legislation I’m working on, but I have an obligation to look at things from many different perspectives—and because of that I learn a lot more about them than I would otherwise,” she says.
MPP a path to advanced skills and deeper subject knowledge
Cassidy says one of the things she likes about her job is that “it’s been a good introduction to lots of different policy areas.” Over the years she’s found that she’s most passionate about environmental policy, which she describes as “one of the most technically complex” areas she works in.
Cassidy is passionate about figuring out how to “bridge the gap between natural science and social science,” and that desire led her back to MSU. She says the Master of Public Policy program’s emphasis on quantitative research has helped her develop a more critical eye for evaluating the quality of the many research papers she comes across in her Senate work. And the program’s flexible elective course requirements have allowed her to take a number of classes from MSU’s College of Natural Science, tailoring her degree to her specific interest in environmental policy.
Cassidy says she’s also benefited from “developing good relationships with my professors and fellow students who are also in the field.”
Cassidy plans to graduate in May 2016, and hopes to continue working in Michigan’s public sector, especially on environmental policy. “It’s an exciting time right now,” she says. “Are we going to stay a petroleum-based economy, are we going to switch to renewables, is there something new that we don’t even know about yet? How do we guarantee energy that is reliable but also affordable, flexible, and protects the environment? So many interests have to be balanced.”
Armed with an MPP from MSU, Cassidy will be well prepared to help Michigan meet this challenge.