James Laney is a second year Master of Public Policy student, and one of the five MPP students that participated in the InnovateGov Service Learning Internship program this summer. James attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomathematics. Before arriving to East Lansing, he was a math and science tutor at his university and privately around the city. He also led the tutors at the university tutoring center and graduated as a Ronald E. McNair Scholar.
Upon arriving to MSU, James was a grassroots coordinator for the Climate Reality Project and a legislative intern for Michigan House Representative LaTanya Garrett. This summer, he was placed with the Wayne County Department of Health, Veterans, and Community Wellness (HVCW), where he worked in a team of three interns to design a method of optimizing service delivery to county residents. Wayne County HVCW was established to coordinate and administer health, educational, youth, veteran, senior and social services to residents and communities in Wayne County in order to address the social determinants of health and community wellness. Their vision is to reduce and ultimately eliminate disparities and inequities related to social and environmental justice by focusing on financial education, healthy living and healthy neighborhoods.
During his internship, James had two main projects. The first was designing a method of service delivery in the parks, which the intern team dubbed a “Wellness Zone.” The system developed required a comprehensive health needs assessment of the communities surrounding all the Wayne County Parks as well as an assessment of park resources that counter the negative trends in health in the host communities. These park resources may include a community garden to provide physical and social wellness, walking trails, and park-based festivals and farmers markets to specifically provide any dimension of wellness that may be lacking in the host community. After spending the summer researching and visiting the various parks in Wayne County, James and the other interns created a business plan and presented it to the Director of HVCW, Dr. Mouhanad Hammami. The business plan has now come before County Executive Warren Evans for final approval.
The second project James was tasked with was working in the community garden and beautifying the campus of the Health Administration Building. James found working in the garden to be one of the most satisfying experiences of his internship, and he enjoyed the days where they spent the entire day in the gardens.
According to James, his participation in InnovateGov was a defining experience and one that he will continue to look back on and draw inspiration from. Through his internship, he learned how to share his ideas and better manage his time. Professionally, he learned how to delegate responsibility more efficiently and tactfully resolve conflict before it arises. He also discovered a connection between what he is learning in the MPP program and the work he was doing through his internship, which was a great moment of insight for him.
Adaptability is a strength of James’, and he is open to all opportunities that are available. When he graduates, James would like to work for a local government or a think tank. He is also interested in teaching, and giving students a different perspective to public policy analysis. He does have political ambitions, but ultimately, wants to help organizations that are doing good in the world continue to do so.