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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Public Policy Leadership Grads Prepared to Make a Difference

Walt Davis (left), Martin Fisher, Meaghan Gandy, Diana Price, Matthew Henry, Lindsey Robinson, Katherine Watson, John Trey Nordan, Jenny Urban and Graham Smith are members of the first graduating class of public policy leadership students.

The first full class of public policy leadership students at the University of Mississippi graduated in May. Because of their experiences in the department, ranging from study abroad trips and internship opportunities to leadership roles on campus and community service, these 22 young leaders have proven they are prepared to go on to change the state, the nation and the world for the better.

“The PPL program and major has challenged me to look at the world a little bit differently and changed my worldview for the better,” said Elliot Warren, a member of the 2011 graduating class. “For that, I am very grateful because it will live on with me for the rest of my life.”

The Department of Public Policy Leadership provides the academic program for the Lott Leadership Institute. The institute prepares students to assume positions of responsibility in the public sector in an increasingly complex world. It is built around the concept of civic globalism—the individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern on a global scale.

Students must be admitted to the Lott Leadership Institute in order to major in public policy leadership, which is separate from admission to the university. Students are admitted on the basis of their energy, commitment and involvement in their communities as well as their record of academic achievement.

The interdisciplinary public policy leadership curriculum emphasizes the global nature of responsible decision-making, the ethical imperatives of leadership, critical thinking, communication skills and the quantitative skills necessary for careful policy analysis. It incorporates economics, geography, history, philosophy, political science and psychology.

“We started out four years ago trying to hire a faculty, develop a curriculum and enroll the first class,” said Robert Haws, associate professor and chair of the department, who will retire this summer. The idea, according to Haws, was to provide an education tailored to students who had aspirations for careers in public life. “You hope it works,” he said.

The class of 2011 has proven that, without a doubt, it works. “The record this first class has established goes way beyond any expectations I might have had for them,” Haws said. “It’s a remarkable group of students. They’ve done very well, and in anticipation of public life, they’ve been exercising their leadership skills both on and off campus.”

On campus, PPL students have served as presidents of College Republicans, Model United Nations, the Columns Society and the senior class, and one was student director of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. They have held Associated Student Body positions including Senator, Vice President, Secretary, President Pro Tempore, Director of Communications, Director of Athletics, Director of Community Service and Cabinet Executive Liaison. They have served on the One Mississippi Coordinating Committee, the Presidential Debate Student Steering Committee, the Student Programming Board and the Ole Miss Ambassadors Leadership Council. They have also been presidents and vice presidents of their fraternities and sororities, and they have been Ole Miss Orientation leaders.

Off campus, internships engaged students in a variety of work environments. The department funds two internships, sending one student each summer to work for the Sunflower County Freedom Project, an organization improving education in the Mississippi Delta, and another to work for Mississippi First, a policy organization in Jackson.

Other students have sought internships on their own: Jenny Urban was an intern with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nick Luckett interned with the William Winter Institute. Mary Katherine Graham was an intern with U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services. Matthew Henry was selected as a parliamentary intern for the Scottish Parliament through a program at the University of Edinburgh.

“Having one or more internship experiences on your resume puts you at a distinct advantage when entering the job market upon graduation,” Henry said. “It also gives you a great chance to establish or expand your network.”

Students have also taken what they’ve learned in the classroom and applied it to public life. After taking Melissa Bass’s social policy class that included an examination of charter schools, for example, several PPL students testified before the House Committee on Education in Jackson in support of charter schools. “ They went to Jackson and made their own contacts,” Haws said.

PPL students are immersed in issues that affect the world at large through study abroad opportunities. The Lott Leadership Exchange programs, which provide scholarships for students to learn about and in another part of the world, took members of this class to South Korea, Argentina, South Africa, Germany, Australia, Japan and Ecuador.

“Travelling to South Korea and to Osnabruck, Germany, were invaluable opportunities for learning beyond anything I have experienced in the classroom,” said Katherine Watson, who studied abroad during the summers of 2008 and 2010. “Not only did we learn about important academic topics in those nations, but we also grew in knowledge about cultures other than our own.”

Community service was a critical learning component for the students in this graduating class. The service organizations that benefitted are too numerous to list. And, PPL students did more than volunteer hours with those organizations—they played important leadership roles. Elliot Warren planned, organized and managed a charitable event on the UM campus during the spring semester of 2010 that raised $25,000 to benefit multiple charities and set the single-week record for blood donated and collected through Mississippi Blood Services. Sarah Rogers served as director of the 2011 UM Big Event community service project, and she was a co-founder and president of the Habitat for Humanity Greek Leadership Summit, a fundraising project to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity house.. Alex McClelland served as president of Students for a Safe Ride, helping to revamp and raise funds for the Rebel Ride late-night campus transportation service.

Through the department faculty, guest speakers from academia routinely visit the school to discuss current issues. Guests in recent years have included Edwin Dorn, professor of public affairs and dean emeritus of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas; George Lucas, Class of 1984 Distinguished Chair in Ethics in the Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis and professor of ethics and public policy at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.; Steven Teles of the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University; and Gianfranco Battisti, professor of geography in the Dipartimento della Formazione e dei Processi Culturali at the University of Trieste, Italy.

Additionally, through its connection with the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, the department provides unique opportunities for students to talk candidly with high-ranking public officials and policy makers. The institute has hosted speakers including Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the European Democrat Group of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; Senators John McCain, Trent Lott and Tom Daschle; and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

While each PPL student benefits from a personalized experience in the department, the 2011 graduates have been working together as a class, pushing each other to succeed since their first days on the UM campus.

The night before classes started we all came together at the Depot on campus for a dinner,” said Sarah Bransford, 2011 graduate. “This proved to be just the beginning because as the year went on this group of people began to get involved on campus; today it is an amazing feeling to look around at the biggest leaders on campus and think back to that night when we all first meet.”

Four years later, these new graduates are prepared to play defining roles in the future of the state and nation. Several of them plan to pursue further education, including law school and master’s degree programs in education, history, accountancy and divinity. Others will be off to work—taking jobs in Mississippi state politics, pursuing policy work in Washington, D.C., joining the Mississippi Teacher Corps and more.

The 2011 class has paved the way for the young leaders that will follow them. With 45 incoming freshman expected, approximately 180 students will be enrolled in the public policy leadership program for the 2011-12 school year. “It’s more than we expected,” Haws said.

“It has been amazing and encouraging to watch the PPL program grow so quickly,” said Mary Katherine Graham, a 2011 graduate.  “There are so many more opportunities provided now than when we started four years ago. Part of the reason the program has grown so fast is because people in our class created their own opportunities and paved their own way.”

For individual bios and photos, click here