Public Affairs Students Serve as Consultants in Community
Semester-Long Projects Create Mutual Benefits For Students, Nonprofits, Local Governments
May 7, 2014
Dr. L. Douglas Kiel
Public affairs professor Dr. L. Douglas Kiel believes in the power of networking — for his students, the University and the surrounding community — and the benefits it provides to all involved.
Kiel, a longtime professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, teaches two classes in which students experience working with the type of local governmental and nonprofit organizations where they aspire to work. He said it’s his way of beginning the students’ path to building networks in the community.
“It’s part of thinking about the University as a networked organization instead of a set of buildings that sit here in Richardson,” Kiel said. “It’s really networks that run the world today. How do you find a job? It’s through networks. It’s the people you know and the contacts you have.”
Through the semester-long projects, the students gain a greater understanding of the challenges the organizations face, an increased confidence from knowing they can perform tasks these organizations value and connections to the established network of professionals in their fields, Kiel said. The professor makes the consulting experience as realistic as possible, requiring the groups to produce formal reports and make presentations to their clients and class.
Richard Martire, public affairs senior
Richard Martire, a public affairs senior, said his group was tasked with identifying and solving a problem the CACCC is currently facing or will face in the near future. The students drew up a 25-year plan that addresses the nonprofit’s donations and expenses.
Martire said the skills he acquired in the class have added substance to his resume.
“When it comes to the future, a business may never ask you to problem solve by writing a research paper,” Martire said. “They will ask you to do things like create a performance measurement tool, analyze a problem they are currently facing, or even build a new contingency plan just to see other paths they can take.
“The tasks these corporations want employees to face require the ability to think outside of the box, as well as handle stressful situations with clarity, and that is exactly what Dr. Kiel allows us to do with his class.”
Kiel said many students end up meeting UT Dallas graduates who are successful professionals in the industry.
Carl Alsabrook, city manager of Royse City, earned his bachelor’s degree from UT Dallas in 1994 and his MPA in 1999.
The student consultants are investigating the effectiveness and necessity of offering incentives to prospective commercial or retail businesses that come to Royse City. Alsabrook said the students will provide an opinion that could help guide the city in its recruitment of business.
“The students will gain a better understanding of operations of the city and the stressors that local governments face with regard to increased sources of sales/property tax revenue,” Alsabrook said.
Graduate Student Project
“I have found that many millennials have a heart for service. Since millennials make up a majority of the college student population, working with a university like UTD provides VOA Texas an opportunity to engage the next generation in our work.”
The Celina group addressed economic development issues in the area and plans to present its report to the Celina City Council on May 13, Kiel said.
For Volunteers of America, Texas, MPA student Laura Gorecki said her group compiled an environmental scan of the nonprofit arena in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston to make recommendations for the organization’s strategic planning for the future. Gorecki said the tool is frequently used by nonprofits.
“Many of us are planning to seek careers in this type of nonprofit, so it has been really helpful to study the market and hone in on our interests and what fields need help the most,” Gorecki said.
The CEO of VOA Texas, Melody Timinsky, is a current public affairs PhD student at UT Dallas. She has found many benefits from the partnership between the University and the nonprofit. One UT Dallas student volunteered to provide social media content support during an event and helped educate the staff on managing the nonprofit’s online reputation.
“I have found that many millennials have a heart for service,” Timinsky said. “Since millennials make up a majority of the college student population, working with a university like UTD provides VOA Texas an opportunity to engage the next generation in our work.”
The group recently presented its work to Timinsky and three board members.