June 9, 2016 | Spotlight

MPA students find inspiration in government course taught by Institute's director

MPA students find inspiration in course taught by Institute director

Writer: Roger Nielsen

A local government course with Institute of Government Director Laura Meadows earned accolades from UGA master of public administration students, who described the spring semester class as a transformative experience.

Meadows enlisted dozens of distinguished government administrators to share practical knowledge with the 16 students in the Local Government Management course she taught through the UGA School of Public and International Affairs. SPIA had not offered the graduate-level course recently, and Meadows redesigned the content to take advantage of her extensive network of government leaders throughout Georgia.

Learning effective management skills from successful practitioners motivated one student to change her master's program emphasis from public policy to local government; another is finding the skills he gained useful in his new job with the city of Toccoa.

Christian Hamilton, who became Toccoa's community development specialist in mid-semester, shared other students' enthusiasm about the level of experiential knowledge offered to the MPA candidates. "I loved the format that Dr. Meadows developed for the class," Hamilton said. "We had real local government practitioners coming in and telling us how things really work once you get beyond the textbooks."

Meadows, who has directed government agencies like the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, said the interactions between the students and public administrators reaffirmed her faith in the strength of local government in Georgia.

"The students were incredibly engaged and thoughtful in the kinds of questions they asked of the presenters and the feedback that they gave," she said. "After every class, I left enthusiastic and fired up about the future of local government in our state."

Britney Singer was considering a criminal justice career with a federal agency before taking Local Government Management as an elective. She changed her academic emphasis from public policy after deciding that she could work more effectively through local government. "That is really where you reach people and where you make changes. And all of the speakers were very candid with us about their experiences in local government, the up and the downs," she said.

The course introduced students to the general functions of local government management, the services local governments provide, and management support services such as legal affairs, finance, and human resources. Meadows invited experienced local government managers like Roswell City Administrator Kay Love and Columbus-Muscogee Manager Isaiah Hughley, to share their knowledge with the class.

Love said the course allowed practitioners to help Meadows integrate classroom learning with practical experience. "There is no substitute for that. Even better, all but about two in that class plan to pursue a career as local government administrators," she said.

Current Institute faculty members with expertise in human resources, local government finance, and planning and community development also spoke to the class.

Local Government Management was originally developed by SPIA professor Delmer Dunn and Institute faculty member Harry Hayes, who assisted Meadows with this year's course. The Institute has a longstanding relationship with SPIA—Dunn once served as the Institute's director, and Meadows is one of four Institute administrators who hold SPIA faculty affiliations.

"Teaching this class is something I've been interested in doing for a long time," Meadows said. "I really enjoyed it, and I think it strengthens the bond between our Institute and the SPIA Department of Public Administration and Policy."