What Is Your Baggage?

By: L Volpe

I cannot believe it is already my last semester in graduate school. It feels like yesterday that I unpacked my life into my little rundown apartment over the sleazy local bar, and now I am getting ready to enter the real world again! I left a less-than-ideal work environment when I came to the Voinovich School, so I have some anxiety about what this new experience will entail.

During the first week in my Seminar Class with Dr. Marsha Lewis, she talked about how, upon entering our organization of choice after graduation, each of us will be carrying baggage from previous dealings with co-workers, events at their current organization, and past personal experiences.  This insight gave me a whole new perspective on workplace relationships.

Throughout my classes in the Voinovich School MPA program, we have talked a lot about being self-reflective and how important it is to learn from our successes and failures.  When Dr. Lewis brought up baggage, I realized that being self-reflective isn’t enough.  I not only need to understand my mistakes and how I would react to situations differently, but also ensure that my baggage or previous missteps do not dampen my future success.

When I came to the Voinovich School. I just had left a highly competitive and hostile working environment.  Because I was in this experience for more than three years, I brought that hyper-intensive attitude to my classes and came off as abrasive.  Through working with my mentor, Dr. Millesen, and experiencing many positive growths in the MPA program, I have been able to let go of that baggage and see the difference in environments, allowing me to gauge my reactions better.

I am also more aware of other people’s reactions to different situations.  In any event in the workplace, my previous exposures may lead to one reaction while my neighbor has a completely opposite one.  Being patient and having open communication with your co-workers is imperative to a successful work environment.  So keep in mind that everyone carries different baggage, and that we need to be respectful of everyone’s reactions to situations that arise, good and bad.


Sustainability: Keeping an eye on the big picture

“Sustainability” is an overused term. Depending on the context, it can mean a variety of different things. I refer to it as preserving our resources and planet so future generations can enjoy a quality of life similar to what we have now.

I believe more and more people are realizing we need to fully embrace the principles of sustainability to preserve our planet and ensure we have a future for ourselves and the generations that follow us. I don’t have a scientific study to prove this, but it seems to be a self- evident reality that will only gain acceptance as time goes on.

We are also nearing some tipping points for our natural systems, particularly our climate. Here, I could cite plenty of scientific studies, but I’ll spare my readers. This is particularly relevant after Hurricane Sandy, which may have been exacerbated by climate change. Indeed, science points to a very bleak future if we do not change our ways. Other resource crises we could soon face include a lack of fresh water and depleted fisheries. Managing these resources properly is all part of sustainability.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Across the globe, there are plenty of good things going on. One of my projects at the Voinovich School has been to document some of these initiatives in Ohio. In the industrial heartland, Ohio has become a surprising leader in green jobs, ranking near the top among all states. Consistent with one of our strengths, many of these jobs are in manufacturing.

This newsletter, put together by Brian Kaiser from the nonprofit Ohio Environmental Council, has been my main source.

However, it’s important that we still step back and look at the big picture to ensure we are on the right track. Despite all these initiatives, if the science shows we are not progressing quickly enough, it may be time to fundamentally rethink things we take for granted. Green business and good policy are powerful tools, but we might also have to change our lifestyles and consume fewer resources.

This brings me to a report titled, “Zero-Impact Growth Monitor,” put together by the consulting firm Deloitte. Can business really grow without having an impact on the environment? Could this be the answer? Many people think so. This is the kind of fundamental change needed if we are to rise up to what I believe is the greatest challenge of the 21st century: resource distribution. Around one billion people currently live in poverty and huge countries like China and India are rapidly industrializing, yet we are already over consuming the planet’s resources and approaching various tipping points within earth’s life-supporting ecosystems.

If we continue on our current path and perpetuate “business-as-usual,” it is a recipe for disaster. But if we bravely embrace new ideas like zero-impact growth and embed the principles of sustainability into our way of thinking across all disciplines, we might just get the job done.

Home Away From Athens

It’s been a while since my last post. Over the past week I’ve set aside times in which I would write, but was unsuccessful at doing so. I guess you can say I’m still adjusting to life in Edinburgh, despite my love and relative familiarization with the city. I just want to stress early on in this blog how fortunate I am to have hopped on board the City and the Environment study abroad program past the application
deadline. And it was an experience that nearly didn’t happen at all. Some things are just meant to be, and I was meant to be here now. I’ve acquired a whole new appreciation for all the hard work that urban planners and great thinkers of the past have done for humanity. I’ve also gained insight into the darker incentives for so-called progress that have left our planet in a state of peril. Most importantly,
I’ve gained a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for who I am as an individual. And I want to make this world a better place, in whatever way that I can.

Over the course of the past three weeks I’ve completed the History of Edinburgh course, taught by the highly distinguishable Dr. Richard Rodger, here at the University of Edinburgh. The course centered on the evolution of the city over the centuries into the beautiful, vibrant, and environmentally friendly
city that it is today. The course was concluded this past Thursday with student presentations tracking the development of specific regions of the city. My group focused on the coastal region of Leith, which has had its share of ups and downs over the centuries, but is currently on the gradual track toward an identity of viable residential and commercial power. Thursday afternoon marked the beginning of the
City and the Environment portion of the program, which covers the relationship that we humans have had with the environment as we’ve made the move from rural to urban and from urban to suburban sprawl.

Dr. Buckley, the program director and course professor, has blended classroom instruction with class trips that have helped us appreciate those who make life as comfortable as we know it. While we’ve gathered staggering figures about the impact that human migration patterns have had on the environment, we’ve begun to see with our own eyes the work that goes into providing what we’ve accepted as “basic necessities” such as safe drinking water to the average city dweller. Today’s visit to the water treatment plant here in Edinburgh was the first of many trips to specific sites that highlight the infrastructure we take for granted every day. As an MPA student considering urban planning as a career path, these experiences are about as ideal as they can get.

But life outside the classroom has been just as educational. Working with the Cockburn Association, and witnessing the way an urban planning civic trust works in the real world, has been an absolute delight. It also helps that Marion Williams, the trust’s director, is a strong and intelligent human being with a genuine love for the city and for its preservation as a world heritage site. I’ve had the opportunity to visit a development site for an important public space in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. With the Cockburn Association’s approval, developers have renovated a beautiful space on George Street, which has served the city for centuries as a venue for weddings, political forums, and other public events. I’ve sat in on a cases committee meeting, in which some of the city’s most accomplished architects and the Cockburn Association’s board members reviewed applications for new developments or renovations to the area. Listening in to their discussion, I was awestruck at the elevated level of knowledge of urban planning, architecture, history, geography, and countless other fields that was matched with an equal level of humility. I wanted to stand up and applaud everyone in the room once the meeting was adjourned, but instead I just sat there – jaw dropped. In addition, I’ve provided my thoughts on the marketing campaign for the trust’s upcoming Doors Open Day, which is a day in September dedicated to commemorating Edinburgh’s cultural heritage. Locations that generally charge a fee to enter or are closed off to tourists and locals will be free to all those who wish to learn more about the city. I’ve also been asked to write up a piece for the trust’s publication, speaking of my experience in the city as a student and temporary resident. What my next task will be I can only speculate, but I can imagine it will be just as interesting and informative as the last ones. Now happy that I have reflected on some of my experiences so far, I need to move on to the reading due tomorrow morning. Here’s to another day at my home away from Athens!

Things happen (and don’t) for a reason

I’ve had my Pandora radio station on the soothing sounds of Sigur Rós the entire day, having worked on putting together Rural Action’s electronic newsletter, the Rural Rambler, my Organizational Theory & Politics paper on decision-making strategies and Human Resources reflective paper on my previous internship experience. Time has been passing by at an exponentially quick pace, and before I know it summer will have rolled around. As a result I’m working hard to finish strong. Although I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far, I can’t help but wish that some things would have worked out better. Much time had been put into some ambitious opportunities for summer applied learning experiences and internships that fell through at the last minute for one reason or another and it had me down. But hard work always pays off, even if it’s in a way you don’t expect. I’m sure that whatever I end up doing will be meaningful because I’ll keep on looking for opportunities to grow.

Even though the study abroad program was ultimately cancelled, I want to use this space to thank the Voinovich School faculty in both the MPA and MSES programs for having taken the time to deliberate on ways in which I could have earned credit toward my MPA degree and Environmental Sustainability graduate certificate in Ghana this summer with the African Culture through the Arts program. Specifically, thanks to Dr. Millesen, Dr. Buckley, and Dr. Morrone. It’s a shame that not enough people signed up for the study abroad program, which would have enabled me to earn ten credits and great experience working with community benefit organizations in the Volta Region of Ghana. It’s the Voinovich School’s flexibility and faith in its students that have made my two and a half quarters in the MPA program so special. I look forward to the many other opportunities that will surely present themselves over the course of the year ahead.

For now, I will continue to develop my marketing skills with Rural Action and contribute to its mission to serve the Appalachian community, share my experiences with others online, build my theoretical foundation in public administration with Dr. Burnier’s Organizational Theory course, and develop my mathematical and problem-solving skills with Dr. Ryu and his Financial Management course. All the while, I’ll be poking at different opportunities in which I can apply it all. Oh, the possibilities!

Immortality by Proxy

Building 21 at the Ridges seems to have a distinct smell ofacademe. Though this smell is difficult to express in words, it has left an indelibleimpression in my mind. Entering graduate school in 2010, my introduction to the Master’s of PublicAdministration program began in building 21. On a hot September day I walked into the lobbyof its historic building and was captivated with its beauty. The wood floors gleamed under afresh coat of lacquer and the white crown molding provided brilliant contrast to thenatural tan walls. Needless to say, this environment was unlike any academic setting I had everexperienced.

It was during this introduction that I met some of mygreatest friends and companions. I also committed myself to writing a thesis. Looking back, I can’tunderstand why I had such a strong desire to write a something of that enormity. Perhaps it wasthe history of Building 21 or the challenge of intellectual betterment. Either way, somethingdeep inside bubbled to the surface that day and set my fate for the next two years. Though I am the only person who elected to write a thesis, I have found the process to be quiteenriching and transformative. Prior to entering graduate school, I had very little understanding ofresearch. Now, I much more knowledgeable of scholarly research and I have honed my abilities as anacademic.

Writing a thesis changes you. It opens your mind and pushesyou to work harder. As the first MPA student to write a thesis under the Voinovich School, I have experienced tremendous mental pressure. I often tell peers that writing a thesis isunlike anything I have ever done before. Deadlines are self determined and the final draft isconceived with little oversight from faculty members. Adding to this stress is the pass or fail nature ofthesis writing. Though I feel confidant in my work, failure consistently lingers in the back of mymind. Undoubtedly, I will work hard and complete my thesis on time, but I do not know how mycommittee members will receive my work. That, is stressful…

-Andrew Miller

“For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I’msurprised where the journey takes me.” -Jack Dann

“Like everyone else, I am going to die. But the words – thewords live on for as long as there are readers to see them, audiences to hear them. It isimmortality by proxy. It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.” -J. Michael Straczynski