We caught up with four recent alumni of Michigan State University’s Master of Public Policy program who have all landed jobs in the state’s public sector. Jessica Reed (’14), Greg Kellogg (’14), Blane Wetzel (’15), and Kent Dell (’15) talked with us about their work in the world of state and local policy, how they got there, and advice they have for current MPP students.
MSU MPP: Can you tell us about your work?
Jessica Reed, Program Coordinator, Michigan Municipal League: “I am a Program Coordinator with the Michigan Municipal League in the Information and Policy Research Department. I work closely with Michigan communities to provide executive search service and research support for advocacy efforts.”
Kent Dell, Fiscal Analyst, Michigan House Fiscal Agency: “I’m a Fiscal Analyst. I assist the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittees on State Police as well as Military and Veterans Affairs with the budgets for their respective departments. I also conduct fiscal analyses for bills that would affect either of those departments.”
Blane Wetzel, Policy Director for Rep. Bill Lavoy, Michigan House of Representatives: “My responsibilities include legislative analysis, stakeholder outreach and management, writing, and constituent outreach. All legislative aides are generalists, but normally we focus on the policy areas of our Representatives’ assigned committees. Mine are Energy Policy, Tax Policy, and Agriculture policy.”
Greg Kellogg, Deputy Director, Livingston Essential Transportation Service (L.E.T.S.): “L.E.T.S. is Livingston County’s public transportation system (we are a department of Livingston County government). I am the Deputy Director and work primarily in finance. Aside from passenger fares we are funded entirely through state (MDOT) and federal (FTA) grants, so a large part of my job is budgeting and grant management. I also work on procurement of capital items like buses and equipment.”
MSU MPP: How have you used the skills you acquired through the MPP program in your work?
Blane: “The policy process material covered in [PPL 807, Introduction to Public Policy] has been particularly helpful. Issue emergence was an area that I found fascinating academically and it is really interesting and useful to watch issues emerge in the state policy arena. When, how and why are always a little different, though they do follow some similar patterns. Recognizing those patterns can be very useful to helping pass, or block, legislation.”
Jessica: “The MPP Program taught me how to critically analyze policy, whether with the lens of evaluation, development, or feasibility. That knowledge is a valuable asset in my work when studying policies that affect local governments across Michigan.”
Kent: “I think the most important thing is that it changed how I viewed the world, particularly in the policy/political realm. When investigating a policy issue I quickly identify the complexities and nuances. It’s also very easy to identify bad research (in terms of the quality of analyses and data) with what I’ve learned through the program’s methods coursework.”
Greg: “It’s hard to pinpoint one particular skill – I would just say that I gained very broad-based analytical skills that I use every day. Of course, we are directly affected by public policy made in Lansing and Washington so it does come in handy to be able to parse bills that come out of the legislature and Congress (for example, we were directly affected by the long-awaited transportation bill that the governor just signed).”
MSU MPP: If applicable, can you tell us how internships and other MPP opportunities helped you to land your current job?
Kent: “The [MSU MPP] alumni network was very helpful. I actually got to meet and speak with people who are now my co-workers at the annual MPP research forum.”
Greg: “I found out about an internship with Livingston County Administration which I began just prior to graduating in Spring 2014. After being in that internship for only 5 months I applied to this job and was hired. During that internship I became familiar with how county government operated and got to know lots of county employees which gave me a huge advantage over other applicants for my current job.”
MSU MPP: What advice would you share with current students who will be looking for jobs soon?
Greg: “One: Seek a mentor in one of your MPP professors. Charlie Ballard in the Econ department helped me with my Capstone project and was hugely influential.
“Two: Find an internship in the field you want to go into. This is especially helpful (maybe even necessary) if you want to go into government.”
Blane: “Understand that your degree has given you a set of tools, and these tools are what you need to advertise in yourself. I take on interns frequently and have been a part of the hiring process for my office two times in the last two years. Frequently people want to discuss, in interviews or on cover letters, their policy ideas. I think it’s better to talk about the skills you have gained and the work product that you can produce than your views on a particular policy.”
Kent: “Start looking and interviewing now, many interview processes take a long time to complete. If you have a place that you want to work at in mind, try and get an internship there so that when you apply for a full-time position they’ll already know who you are (or they’ll know that you’re interested when a position opens up). Take full advantage of the program’s resume workshops and other services.”
Jessica: “I would encourage students to look at public service as a career option. Local government specifically provides an amazing opportunity for someone to make a real difference in others’ lives and have a strong connection to the community. In terms of the job search process, I would suggest asking mentors for guidance, requesting informational interviews with organizations of interest, and being as open as possible to opportunities.”