Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grad-School Application is in

Today I sent off my application for San Francisco State University's Master's in Public Administration program to the California State University system. I'm generally expecting to be admitted, as I've met the minimum requirements (BA, 3.0 GPA in last 60 units, etc.) and have good references.

There's still more to do -- I have to forward transcripts, letters of recommendation and an introduction letter directly to the grad program. There is a chance I might have to wait until attending, as I'm applying for a Spring 2009 slot and space is limited (especially with economic casualties returning to academia).

The most challenging part for me (and no doubt many other grad school applicants) was the purpose statement. How to summarize why one wants to/is worthy to attend grad school in 500 words or less? I think I managed to highlight my purpose fairly well in the following submission, although the end was rushed (it's more than 500 words, but within the 3,500 characters permitted):

When I was very young I wanted to be a cowboy. Not one of those rawhide-driving, cattle-moving cowpokes, mind you – that’d be much too filthy a job. No, I wanted to come into town with my 10-gallon hat and six shooter, amble into the saloon and solve the locals’ problems. I guess, in effect, I really wanted to be the Lone Ranger.

Which possibly led to my next career goal: being a police officer. After high school, I took a few classes here and there toward that goal and eventually got an associate degree in administration of justice. But the media classes I took en route to that degree had more of an effect than I expected. I discovered a joy for writing and not only transferred to my four-year university as a journalism major, but did so after working at a series of local papers.

Bachelor’s degree in hand, I began to work for a local paper in the Bay Area. Covering a sleepy Peninsula town meant one was always on the lookout for story ideas. Crime and punishment stories were generally out of the question because there was no way my weekly paper could beat the dailies. Instead I had to work on more “feature-y, behind-the-scenes” stories. This meant talking to “feature-y, behind-the-scenes” people.

Going beyond the mayors and councilpersons, I spoke with city managers, department heads and planners. Attending city commission meetings introduced me to the folks who got the real work done in local government. Covering local relief efforts during the Kosovo War introduced me to the directors of a couple local non-profits, and I discovered something: The mayors, supervisors and other elected officials get all the press, but it’s the public administrators who do all the work. Those same public administrators often toil in silence, but they keep the machinery going.

That sense of duty appealed to me. I had started out wanting to eventually be the male equivalent of Christiane Amanpour – a dashing foreign correspondent that worked in real (i.e. print) journalism. Instead, I found myself wanted to get down in the trenches, helping the community on a more real level, even if it wasn’t at all dashing. I left journalism (the failure of my newspaper contributed to that), took a couple public safety jobs with local governments, and felt good.

But I want to advance. I don’t want to just be a cog in the machine; I want to be a piston, if not eventually a steering wheel – i.e., one who helps decide the direction of a community. Public administration appeals to me because of its broader implications. San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who formerly was the City’s Director of Neighborhood Services, summarized my feelings nicely on his campaign website when he wrote: “It is really government on a local level that has the power to change lives in a tangible way … by honoring the public trust, by being timely, responsive and respectful and by taking it day by day, one problem at a time.”

That’s my opinion as well. A community member may never deal with the federal government outside of sending a check to the IRS each April, but that same member may also take the bus to work each day, watch the local police and firefighters save lives on a regular basis and check books out of their local library weekly. That immediacy of working with the public and helping to meet its needs is why I want to advance my career with a Masters of Public Administration from San Francisco State University. Indeed, I can think of no finer way to enhance my service to the community.

What do you thinK?

No comments: