Sunday, July 19, 2009

Catch-up week on the blog -- Part 1: Grad school

Do I have a busy week ahead. I'm working today, enjoying a visit from my mom on Monday, have both a baseball game and a Wiggles concert to go to on Wednesday and fly down to San Diego on Thursday for the San Diego Comic-Con (which will always be my preferred name for the event). I'll be there until Monday, but will also take a side-trip up to Van Nuys on Saturday night for Crescenta Valley High School's Class of 1989 20-year (gasp!) reunion. Dang, I'm getting old.

But there's also the matter of catching folks up on a couple things that have happened recently in my life. While, I'm up to date on my Twitter updates, I've been remiss here on the details. I've promised blogs about the family's recent sojourn to Florida and an update on the SamTrans service cuts, both of which will be forthcoming.

But the biggest news is related to my educational plans. Let me preface this by saying don’t let anyone tell you that persistence doesn’t pay off.

I’ve previously outlined my quest to be admitted to a Master of Public Administration in this blog. I also sadly announced last winter that I had not been accepted to San Francisco State University’s program for the spring semester. I later saw a stat that the university took only about a third of the spring applicants – and no doubt there were many, many applicants with the economy going down the tubes.

Not one to take no for an answer, I reapplied recently for the fall semester. I wasn't expecting much, not after last time and also going to a workshop at SFSU's downtown campus where the instructor estimated the school was only going to be able to accept a fifth of applicants this year because of budget cuts.

But I got good news while at a baseball game in early May. My iPhone rang. It was my dear wife, Claire, who told me she had just gotten a call from the acting program chair at SFSU. They were offering me admission and thought I had "an interesting background." Needless to say, I'm thrilled. I think this master's program can give me a needed leg-up in the public service field and can help me gain my first interesting job since I left dispatching.

I credit my acceptance to my being able to finally say in my application essay how important public service is to me (and also drastically shortening the dang thing from the one I submitted the first time around). I think the purpose statement puts into focus a lot of my future goals and so I offer it here in its entirety:

To Whom It May Concern:

As one whose adult life has been geared toward public service, it would be an honor to be considered for admission to San Francisco State University’s Masters of Public Administration program.

Studying for an MPA will dovetail the two main motivators in my life: my search for knowledge and the desire to serve the public. I have always liked to learn, but I stumbled into public service more recently. After some bumpy early college semesters where I stretched myself both working and studying full time, I needed a fresh start. I moved to Northern California, where I began to concentrate on journalism, changing my major from criminal justice. I graduated and began working for a local newspaper, where I was assigned a civic affairs beat. Through that position, I became familiar with local government workings and the experience helped fan my own desire to serve.

When my staff newspaper job was eliminated in the “dot-com bust,” I started working as a public safety dispatcher, where I explored serving the public in a very tangible way, learning how to work within guidelines in often-stressful situations. At the same time, I began to develop my community leadership skills. Specifically, I served as a South San Francisco Library Trustee, where I made decisions regarding budgets and library guidelines. Currently I hold office as both a commissioner on the South San Francisco Housing Authority, where I help oversee contracts and policies in a low-income housing development, and as vice-chair of the San Mateo County Transit District’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee, where I serve as a bridge between the public and elected officials on mass transit-related matters.

While I have learned a great deal in those positions, my ultimate desire is to be more valuable to the organizations with which I affiliate by becoming a more-effective leader. San Francisco State would be the ideal place for me to learn that effectiveness. Not only does the MPA program have an excellent reputation, which was outlined to me by a number of graduates (including South San Francisco Councilmember Kevin Mullin*, when he interviewed me for the Housing Authority), but I also have a strong familial connection with the university. I earned a bachelor’s degree at SF State in 2003, during which time I was introduced to the public administration program via an online class, and my wife and mother-in-law both earned masters degrees at SFSU. I strongly desire to reinforce my affiliation, as I believe SF State is among the best public universities in the United States.

A community member may rarely deal with the federal government outside of sending a check to the IRS each April. That same citizen, however, may have frequent contacts with local government by taking the bus to work, watching local police and firefighters serve the community or by checking books out of their local library. A government agency or non-profit organization can become a much more immediate part of its citizens’ lives than might a typical business. This ability to have a positive and continuing effect on other people’s lives and the community as a whole is what draws me to public administration and is why I want to advance my career with an MPA from SF State. Indeed, I can think of no finer way to both enhance my service to the community and to satisfy my thirst for knowledge.

Thank you for your consideration,

John Baker

* Yes, I name-dropped someone whom I don't know well, but it was for a good cause.

Maybe a bit fawning, but the guiding principles behind the letter stand. I've reached 20 years past high school and now it's time to give something back.

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