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Report from NASPAA Conference in DC

Last week I attended the NASPAA - National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration - conference in Washington DC. Below follows a summary of my reflections from the conference.

First off, last night's gathering of Humphrey Alums hosted by Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA) was attended by a number of my former students. It was a great joy to see some of our grads doing so well. After Dean Atwood's delightful introduction of Humphrey student, now Congressman, we caught up on the latest news from the Hill. Next we heard from Jodi Sandfort about some of her innovative work in using case teaching. After the event MPA grad Matt Dufresne and I went off to Bullfeathers down the road from the Cannon Building. There we were soon joined by another former student, Nancy Leppink, now Deputy Administrator for US Dept. of Labor Wage and Hour Division and Matt's boss. Some great scoop on the challenges facing the new administration and the trials of transition. What a joy to see former students doing so well.

Before the NASPAA conference started this morning I met up with a young man who once served with me at USDA Rural Development. Jim now runs the national rural water programs for USDA - I was proud to have recommended him for this post. One thing Jim shared with me that was most touching: while at USDA as State Director I instituted a leadership development program for our Rural Development state employees (modeled after some of the leadership course work I taught at the Humphrey in the mid 90s). Jim took that model to the national office and is bringing in federal employees from across the country. While in Minnesota, both he and I had observed that federal employees often do not see themselves as leaders. But he is finding a long waiting list of prospects that compete for this leadership training program that has its roots at the Humphrey.

That leads me to what happened next. I left my breakfast meeting with Jim and attended the morning NAPAA keynote by John Berry, Director of Office of Personnel Management. He talked about the important role schools of public affairs play in preparing federal employees for public service. He acknowledges the flood of young people trying to become a part of the Obama Administration and the fact that there is little room for them. Berry is pursuing a way for lateral term appointments, especially for mid career public affairs trained candidates. However, that effort is stymied by federal employment rules. He said there is a great need for leadership development within the federal ranks. That brings me back to what Jim has done within USDA. Jim took it upon himself to be creative with his own budget and has made that training happen.

After Berry spoke, Greg Lindsey, Margaret Chutich and I divided up the sessions we would cover on behalf of the Institute and our curiosities. My interest in our new masters in development practice took me to a session on sustainable development: building on classical theories. One presenter, John Bartle of Nebraska, kept referring to the words of our first Dean Harland Cleveland. Our schools need to prepare students to "get it all together" as they imagine themselves as implementers of sustainable development. I felt good to be a part of a school on the cutting edge of public affairs.

The session on on-line learning had Jodi Sandfort and me on the edge of our chairs. As we imagine launching MPA core curriculum to on-line/hybrid offerings, we heard about some pedagogy that works and does not work. Clearly we need a number of faculty members and support staff committed to becoming a "community of inquiry" together with the prospective students seeking the MPA in this new format. Kaye Husbands Feeling, Matt Henry, Rita Resendez and I have started a course in using on-line techniques that may become the nucleus of that community. We have much to learn from other practitioners like Kathy Fennelly. I now know something about Wimba and netiquette.

My last session was on the use of media by nonprofits - or more so the lack of effective use of media. As board chair at DARTS, I can say I am once again proud of being part of a nonprofit that does media right!

Next up - multiple sessions on executive education: NASPAA-speak for mid career public affairs programs.

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