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Office of Graduate Studies

Graduate Student Profile

Jim Harrold
photo by Tim Fitzgerald

Home, sweet Homaha

UNO Public Administration programs and faculty still first choice worldwide for student

3rd March 2012

After spending 26 years as an officer in the United States Air Force, James "Jim" Harrold decided to retire – sort of.

The Omaha native had earned a degree in logistics management through the air force and he traveled the world. The military gave him opportunities to travel to countries such as Pakistan and Iraq, and live in place as diverse as South Korea, Germany, the Azores Islands and Anchorage, Alaska.

Still, when Jim decided he wanted to grow roots somewhere permanent and begin a second career in Public Administration, he could pick anywhere in the world. He chose Omaha, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha was the perfect place to chase his higher-education goals.

The Public Administration program is one of UNO's premier and award-winning programs, ranked No. 27 in the nation in U.S. News and World Report's "Best Graduate Schools," with five Public Administration specialties listed in the top 20 nationally.

"The image of Omaha a lot of people have if they live on the East of West Coast is a lot different from reality," Jim said. "It has a lot to offer, and you appreciate it more after visiting other places."

He initially received a master's degree from UNO in 2010 in Public Management (MPA) – Local Government, with intentions of becoming a city administrator. The career plan was similar to the work experience he gained in the air force as what he called a "de-facto city manager" position as commander of the mission, in charge of managing and running the base operations.

"It's surprising to me now how applicable the [Public Administration] degree would have been," Jim said, reflecting on his experience with budgeting, strategic planning, organizational behavior and more. "Having worked as an air force officer, it's really fun for me to see the theoretical background of what I was doing the whole time. I have a whole repository of practical experiences I'm able to weave in and out of that practical learning."

Since he began the program, Jim is greatly impressed by the high-caliber faculty he gets to work with every day at UNO. Three UNO faculty members (John Bartle, Carol Ebdon and Ken Kriz) are listed as top professors who have contributed to the field of budget and finance through the Association for Budgeting and Financial Management (ABFM).

"The faculty is diverse not only in background but in ideas," he said. "There's really no cookie-cutter approach to the MPA program. They're really not trying to produce a one-size-fits-all public administrator."

Once he finished his master's degree, Jim decided he wanted to stay at UNO and take his higher education to the next level by earning a doctorate's degree in Public Administration. He is now pursuing a career in teaching.

"The nice thing about being in the program is that that it gives me the chance to be involved as a teacher and a student," he said. "The reason I'm leaning more towards teaching is because this is a second career for me. I feel like teaching is the way we sustain ourselves as students. All of us have an obligation to pass on knowledge and to create knowledge, too."

In the PhD program, Jim has found a perfect balance between researching as a student and teaching as an adjunct professor. Both weigh equally important in his degree work and inspire his ambition, as he gets to create new theories as well as challenge or support old ones.

Overall, his work has led him to become a strong advocate for appreciating those who work in the public sector in jobs such as public servants, police officers, volunteers, nonprofit leaders, government workers or teachers.

He encourages anyone working these jobs to consider the UNO MPA program as an excellent career tool.

"There are so many people in public and non-profit sector, dedicated to doing great stuff for the public at large," Jim said. "I'm attracted to that, because I think most people who study Public Administration have that motivation inside them. The MPA program is going to make people better at their jobs, without a doubt. I met this whole variety of people and think for every one of them, the degree is making them better at their jobs as practitioners."

So far, Jim has taught one class last fall and is teaching one currently, with plans to teach another this summer semester. In each of his classes, he stresses the importance of teaching his students to write well, "even if it's just on Twitter."

"Social media is getting to play a huge role in public administration," Jim said. "The old models aren't applying anymore."

Part of the Bachelor of General Studies degree program, the classes are all online. Students in the program must be at least 21 years old to apply, which gives Jim a fun opportunity to work with nontraditional and older students.

"For me, it's exciting as the facilitator to see the class get excited," he said. "It's fun to see students who are all adults with kids and all that's going on to get excited about projects."

With an estimated three more years until he completes his degree and graduates with the Class of 2015, James devotes what time and energy he has left into volunteering at the Durham Western Heritage Museum.

"Some of the ideas I've had in teaching have given me the experience to learn the history of Omaha, which enriches my teaching," he said. "I'm kind of lucky as a post-career professional to get back into opportunities."

For more information on the Public Administration program please explore http://www.mpa.unomaha.edu/