Administrating change

Some say that hands-on experience is the best way to learn material in the classroom. The political science department has proved that. Last fall for the first time, students in the Introduction to Public Administration class, led by Jayme Neiman, assistant professor of political science, participated in a service project in which they acted as consultants for the City of Cedar Falls. They split up into nine groups and they chose a project out of a list of existing capital improvement agendas.

"The students were able to apply the principles of public administration in an extremely hands-on, high stakes way," said Neiman. "This enabled them to engage both with the material and with the community in a unique way, increasing their knowledge of government processes and increasing their trust in local government at the same time."

Kendra Cooling and Heather Applegate

The hands-on experience these projects provided for the students will prepare them for careers in various fields, such as budget and fiscal management, law enforcement, urban planning, nonprofit fundraising and management, parks and recreation management and corporate social responsibility.

The projects were in various stages of planning and are to be implemented in the next few years. The students had a choice of projects ranging from the replacement of the ballistic vests worn by the Cedar Falls Police Department to increasing the protection offered by the levees on the Cedar River. Each group was responsible for researching every aspect of their chosen project so that they would be prepared for their final presentation.

"I worked in a group with three other students to create a plan to replace the 'Horse and Rider' sculpture that is located at the Cedar Falls visitors center," said Kendra Cooling, public administration and human resources major and political science minor. "The project was very beneficial because public administration is the actual doing of politics, not just the talking. At the end of the semester we presented the proposal to the class, Dr. Neiman and a members of the city council."

The final presentations were in front of Cedar Falls city officials, including the interim community development director, this past December. This professional proposal to the city for the execution of the project included the timeline, budget, personnel needs and risk management.

One of the groups looked at the rehabilitation of the city's disc golf courses' the history of floods in the area and the projections for flooding in the immediate future. From their research they found that private citizens were putting up a significant portion of the money for the rehabilitation.

"Ultimately, with the state of flood measures, we proposed that the city of Cedar Falls wait until proper flood infrastructure was in place before attempting to work on the parks which are frequently flooded," said Heather Applegate, senior sociology major and international affairs minor. "The main takeaway from this project was that it is crucial to first address larger problems that inhibit the success of small improvements. If we spent the money in the budget on park repairs only to have the work undone in the next two to five years, the money was poorly invested."

Emma Borchers, sophomore geography major and digital journalism minor, was involved with the project in creating a proposal for weatherproofing the Cedar Falls Public Library.

"This project helped me become a more avid participant in community and city planning," said Borchers. "I now have a better understanding of what city projects all entail and the importance of them being carried out in the best possible way. In the future, I will be able to use this knowledge I gained in a working in successful group project and understanding the full extent of city planning."

All of the students have walked away with valuable lessons and skills they will take with them in their careers. The hands-on experience these projects provided for the students will prepare them for careers in various fields, such as budget and fiscal management, law enforcement, urban planning, nonprofit fundraising and management, parks and recreation management and corporate social responsibility. For more information on the Political Science programs UNI offers, go to http://www.uni.edu/csbs/polisci. 

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