Last week students in Michigan State University’s Master of Public Policy program had their eyes opened to a career path many had not been aware of, thanks to a presentation from Dave Ivan, director of the Greening Michigan Institute at MSU Extension.
MSU Extension is a branch of the university that seeks to put MSU’s vast research experience and expertise to service by helping communities across Michigan to improve their quality of life. The agency is nearly 110 years old and has a presence in every one of Michigan’s 83 counties. Many Michiganders are familiar with MSU Extension’s agricultural work, but as Dr. Ivan explained to a gathering of MPP students and faculty members, MSU Extension also does a tremendous amount of work with local governments.
The Greening Michigan Institute, which Ivan oversees, takes the lead on governance projects for MSU Extension. Ivan supervises approximately 70 field-based staff and works with 20 tenure-stream faculty in five academic units that merge academic expertise with practical action.
From explaining ballot measures to “crunching numbers” on municipal bankruptcies
Ivan described an impressive array of areas the Greening Michigan Institute (GMI) works in, many if not all of which intersect with the interests of MPP students:
- Ivan’s staff train government officials in Michigan—and in many other states!—in leadership, civic engagement, and other skill areas. They also train local planning commissions, provide training for every newly elected county commissioner in Michigan, and help newly elected members of the twelve federally-recognized tribal governments in Michigan to learn key governing skills.
- GMI creates educational materials to help Michigan voters to understand the complex issues addressed through ballot measures.
- GMI works closely with the Pure Michigan campaign and with local governments to build the tourism industry, and to incorporate the principle of sustainability into these plans.
- GMI has 15 staff members who help municipal administrators to “understand and unpack meaning of their budgets.” According to Ivan, MSU Extension staff, especially Dr. Eric Scorsone, the Founding Director of MSU Extension’s new Center for State and Local Government Policy, played a key behind-the-scenes role in the Detroit bankruptcy by “crunching numbers” that helped city administrators to make informed decisions.
Ivan shared several ideas for capstone research project topics that could be of interest to current MPP students—and that GMI could help provide data for:
- Fiscal distress in Michigan cities
- How do policies create or impede access to food (“food deserts”)?
- Tribal governance challenges
- Natural resources
- Regulatory staff’s role in civic dialog (Do State officials talk with the populations they interact with in ways the population can actually understand?)
Ivan also mentioned that many positions with GMI will be opening up in the coming months and years due to current staff members retiring. A Master’s degree is a prerequisite for working with MSU Extension—so MPP students will be well-positioned to apply once they graduate. Ivan said the institute will be hiring for at least two positions in every region in Michigan over the next four years, and will be hiring for several on-campus positions this coming spring.
“If you want to return to your home but still work in public policy, this is a good opportunity!” he said.