Q&A with MPA Online Alum, Christopher Himes
Christopher Himes works as an Assistant City Manager at Manassas Park, Virginia. He graduated from the USC Price Master of Public Administration program online in 2015. Himes explains how after years in the Navy, the program was the next step in his public service career.
Q: What factors motivated you to further your education? Did something change in your career, work environment or in your field?
A: Yes, there were factors leading to my decision to seek USC Price out and change careers. I was at a time in my military service that I was wondering what was going to be next. So that’s kind of at the 10 year mark in your career. I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do. I just knew that a lot of my peers were going to business school, some people were going into more specific functions. But for me, public service and that kind of service mindset was something that still resonated with me and after a little bit of research and learning more about what an MPA program actually entails and the career fields that it opens up to you, that seemed the most attractive to me. So after a little bit of research and understanding what USC Price had and kind of the tracks that were available there, it seemed like it definitely had a fit for me coming out of the Navy.
Q: How did you first hear about the MPAOL? What drove you to pick USC’s Master of Public Administration program online over other graduate programs?
A: When I first started researching what programs were out there, I was living in Pensacola, Florida, and I was also still serving in the Navy. So I couldn’t take a break, and then go to school, and then come back into service. I had to find something that adjusted to my schedule. So the online option was pretty much the only thing that I could go through, while I was still serving active duty in the military.
That led to only a few kinds of key schools that offered this degree. And the one that finished at the very front was USC. That was primarily because of their reputation, the challenge of just going to USC, and also what I was looking for was that kind of post-graduation validation. Here’s a person with no background in public policy – I went to my undergrad for a Bachelor’s of Science in Wildlife Science. For me, I’d only really been in the Navy, and as a pilot and officer aviator, that was my career skill set. I really needed to seek a challenging master’s program to give me that extra validation, to do what I wanted to do, which was go into local government. [The degree] makes me extra attractive as a potential candidate for some of the jobs that I was looking for.
Q: What were your outcome goals and desires going into the program?
A: With USC being more research-oriented, more quantitative in its programming, I really wanted to learn from its research based program to be able to apply those core competencies in local government. [Price] had a nonprofit track and a public management track, which were two of the more popular ones at the time, but I went into City County Management. That was, to me, the most attractive option. So the combination of the quantitative part, the statistical analysis part, the things that lead into making decisions at the local government level, the program supported all of those key areas. And in fact, having specific courses around local government, to me, just all of that encased together created just the perfect situation.
Q: Tell us about your experience in the masters of public administration online program, both the online modality and in person residencies.
A: USC was groundbreaking with their approach, because they were really forward-thinking in presenting a more in-person feel and structure for an online program. [In other programs] you were maybe having teleconference calls and you were just executing the agenda for the week, the curriculum, on your own pace, and then just kind of meeting the objectives and deliverables. Where USC was a class structure. You had to make it home on time from work, sit down, sit through your classes, virtually, and go through the lesson or plan, with all of the different kinds of inputs from the professors.
It was the most classroom-like environment I’d been in from an online perspective. So that was great. And for me being an instructor pilot at the time, I was flying a lot. So I couldn’t always make class sessions, but they were very flexible in recordings and in catching up with professors – they made themselves really available after the fact. That was the other part when I meant flexibility, is that they really helped cater towards your demanding, full-time career. So, it was really amenable to the kind of career professionals also trying to get their master’s degree, while going through a rigorous program.
Q: When you were in the program, how did you balance the demands of study with your other things going on in your life?
A: I feel like when you commit to USC, you really figure out that it’s not necessarily going to be an even three, balanced proportionally across the board with work, academia, and life. You’re going to have to prioritize it and shift other things around in life, because it’s two years of time and effort to be able to rise up to the challenge that is USC academics. So it’s not for everybody. And definitely, for me, I was seeking it and it met my expectations of being a very challenging program. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked. And this is coming from somebody, who not only did undergrad, but is also a certified instructor and aviator – it was on par with being just as challenging as flight school was for me. So that was great, because I knew that I was going through it, but I knew that at the end I was just going to be more prepared, more ready.
It’s a challenging program and you have to commit. So coming home at the end of your workday, if you are working professional, committing probably three to four hours of time reading, doing all of the required effort, in terms of understanding the information, putting it on your own terms. A lot of people have the misconception that masters programs are just the next level up, but slightly still similar to an undergrad program. And that’s not the case. The goal is to push you to think at a level that you probably haven’t before, but that’s why you’re in a master’s program.