Three semesters down, one to go

6 01 2015

Tomorrow marks the first day of my last semester in graduate school. How did this happen so fast? Life. You’re passing before my eyes already.

Today, the School of Government held their Assessment Center–a day of mock interviews and group exercises for students. I don’t know why more second years don’t take advantage of this. It’s a safe way to get critical feedback on your interviewing skills. I’m planning to take the Foreign Service Officer Test, which for those who are successful, includes a group exercise interview, so I’m happy to get all the feedback I can.

My individual interview experience was helpful. Roger Stancil from the Town of Chapel Hill (who coincidentally managed Fayetteville for 20 years and raised his children there) and Libby Hodges in Planning in Alamance County were my interviewers. Good feedback. Nuts I gathered from this experience:

  • Focus on the resume. The cover letter is an afterthought, if your resume merits a second look.
  • Also, and I knew this, I need to work on putting a bow on my responses. Re: STAR responses, I can speak to situation, my task in the situation, my actions, and the results, but the zinger is to tie those responses back to the job you’re interviewing for. Duh.
  • Last, take my time. Take a moment to think about the question and form a story in my mind that has a beginning and an end.

All in all, a good use of time. The group experience as well was beneficial. I learned, or was reminded, of the importance of framing. Before jumping into solutions, start with answering who are we, who’s our audience, what’s our message? My group got this wrong this afternoon. We jumped right into solving the technical problems without first weighing if there were any adaptive challenges to tackle. Again, very good experience and will be helpful if, knock on wood, I am EVER successful at getting past the FSOT written test, personal narrative, and finally to the in-person interview.

I applied for two jobs this week–one at Durham Technical Community College and another today at the North Carolina Community College System. Whether I get called back or not for these jobs, it’s good to get into the practice of applying, and I need to be actively looking for a job, as the Foreign Service is a Plan B or even Plan C, long-term path.

Another highlight of the day that I want to mentally celebrate is that our Program Director Bill Rivenbark asked if I’d speak about my internship at an upcoming conference. He’d asked our PWE (Professional Learning Experience) professor Margaret Henderson for a recommendation, and she said I had a good paper. Now, it could be that Margaret had my name top of mind, since I sent her a thank you note at the end of the semester (once grades were in, I’m not a kiss@$$), but I’ll take it, since I’ve not had great confidence in my writing in grad school.

WTH, I’ll take this moment to celebrate also, since it’s only to myself, that I made all H’s this semester (save the one P I got in Mediation Skills. Thank you Professor John Stephens for giving out such high marks that my 18.5/20 on our lone assignment wasn’t enough to merit an H. I hate that grading on a curve.)! I haven’t cared for grades as long as I’ve made Ps (P = degree), so it was a wonderful surprise to see the grades appear one by one and have them be Hs. That means I got an H on my 20-page, bear of a paper for economic development seminar and an H in community development. That means a lot, because I was definitely the weakest link in my group with two very smart, planning students.

And that’s ok. I’ll celebrate it. (Shoot anything that flies. Claim anything that falls.)


Workforce Development Dollars — Has your community cashed in?

Lessons learned from leading class discussion

21 10 2014

I just finished leading ~75 minutes of class discussion for my Economic Development Seminar. This assignment has vexed me for weeks, since this class is theory driven and the one I feel least competent in.

The topic I chose was workforce development and skills formation, and a reading about South Korea’s industrialization undergirded our discussion. As far as what went well…

The class was engaged throughout class. In part, perhaps there was a sympathy for me for being the first discussion leader. The introduction and brainstorming went well when we talked about different types of workforce intermediaries and their goals.

What didn’t work well is I sent myself the wrong version of my presentation–sophomoric. So 20 minutes into discussion, our professor and class discussed among themselves, while I loaded my current presentation. Also, I overprepared. Too much material. Our richest conversations only began to happen at the end. There is so much more I wanted to unpack with class. And my biggest omission–I didn’t talk about my experience in South Korea. Why not? I could have added so much to the conversation with context about business culture and education in Korea. I feel at a loss for not sharing this context with my classmates, only one of whom knows I worked in Korea, but nonetheless, I missed an opportunity to share myself with others. For that, I am sorry and I will use this as a learning opportunity to share myself with others.

critiquing your own presentations

3 11 2013

is akin to running your fingernails down a chalkboard. (do any of my classmates know what a chalkboard is?) i listened to my airchecks for years when i worked in radio, but watching myself on video was still uncomfortable.

we had to deliver 5-minute presentations for our Professional Communications class. Professor Kelley O’Brien is sharp. she’s not teaching us rocket science, but she’s making us do what we might not do otherwise. we’re learning to edit ourselves and each other again and again and view communications as a process.

so my critique of my presentation (1:55:00) for nonverbal skills is

  • i stayed on one side of the room
  • my arms are praying mantis arms, like they’re hinged at the elbow
  • i need to stand up straighter

for verbal skills

  • sometimes i end sentences too low (depressing) and sometimes too high (like a question)
  • my speech can be too informal
  • i need to speak more from the diaphragm and not the back of my throat; sounds unnatural
  • overall, more intonation and passion

Shower taxes and the Army in Alaska

2 10 2013

Last week we talked about incrementalism in Institutions and Values. Incrementalism is the practice of government agencies increasing their budget requests each year. There’s no incentive to decrease spending, and legislators may find it easier to pass slightly larger budgets than to evaluate entire agency budgets anew.

Our army classmate Adam contributed this experience:

While stationed in Fairbanks, (which is a strategic location post Cold War because..? I don’t understand.), Adam’s Stryker Brigade was nearing the end of their budget year. To ensure they spent all of their allocated money, Adam led an $8 million rapid deployment exercise.

Yesterday in class we talked about public hearings. Who’s participated in a public hearing?

Anna, one of our two Chinese students, shared her experience:

As an undergrad in China, she and other students protested a “shower tax”. Students have to insert their card into the shower and are charged for water consumption per second. Uni officials increased the price, and students protested. Students presented their own calculations at a public hearing, and administrators conceded.

We have a pretty diverse cohort, which is wonderful for humanizing what we’re learning in class.
I love school.

30 09 2013

I am stoked about my research topic. Nathaniel King for the win. Happy dance.

Nathaniel’s the public policy librarian at Davis Library. I was starting at ground zero and he pointed me in the right direction today. Nathaniel aligned my search with Library of Congress subheads, pointed me to the most relevant databases for my topic, and steered me to NC LINC for economic and population data. Hug a librarian yo.

So, my research topic is business retention and expansion (BRE) strategies in North Carolina.

Existing businesses are responsible for 80% of growth in a community. That means jobs, tax base, quality of life, and ultimately (though it’s not the job of economic developers), lifting people out of poverty. We offer hundreds of millions of dollars to MetLife and Dell though we know an educated workforce trumps incentives anyday and when we should prioritize loving our existing businesses instead.

Here’s a stab at my research question. Pretty rough still.

  • What business retention strategies produce the most growth?
  • Which counties in North Carolina have produced the greatest existing industry growth?
  • How do rural business retention strategies compare to those used by urban counties?

I have to dig into the data to see what’s there. Many things I don’t know:

  • What number(s) can I use as a proxy for business retention and expansion?
  • How do I overlay business expansion data with demographic and socioeconomic profiles of counties? Sh!t. This could quickly become daunting.
  • Will data analysis reveal low-performing counties/disadvantaged/income-below-the-state-average counties that still manage to do well in growing existing businesses?
  • What comes first? Qualitative interviews with business retention specialists to understand what questions to ask in a quantitative survey?
  • Or do I start with a quantitative survey to counties and/or an analysis of the data and then follow up with interviews, sort of cherry pick high-performing rural and urban counties for a comparative case study analysis?

아이구 머리가 아프다

I think this qualifies as the gap in existing research Dr. George keeps referring to.
Next steps–

  1. Dig into LINC data
  2. Meet with Dr. George to vet this direction
  3. Meet with SOG faculty or Dept. of Commerce staff to understand what the data sets are

D@mn. I wish I had more time to focus on research. Now I can understand how people pursue PhDs. You find a research topic you’re stoked about, have a super advisor, and you’re not weighted down by the reading and writing assignments from your other classes. Sigh.