MPA student works in intersection of public administration, volunteerism and applied learning

Daniel Kington
April 20, 2016

Before completing his undergraduate degree in political science at Ohio University in 2014, Michael Stecz knew he wanted to enroll in graduate school. However, Stecz didn’t want to spend too much more of his time just sitting in classrooms.

“I wanted something that was more applied, where I could use my problem-solving skills to really work with people on interesting projects,” Stecz said.

That desire ultimately led Stecz to the Voinovich School.

Upon enrolling, Stecz quickly became involved in two major projects that would help define his Voinovich School experience: a research project aimed at developing tools to measure the social impact of various initiatives and a project through his graduate recruitment scholarship (GRS), aimed at creating student groups to promote public health education.

“Projects like the student group and the social impact measurement research are really hands-on,” Stecz, now a second-year Master of Public Administration student, said. “You’re working with real people – it’s not just a case-study based academic exercise.”

Stecz’s social impact measurement research could help others develop better tools for institutions like the Voinovich School to assess the social value their various initiatives provide. In his research, Stecz examined existing social impact measurement tools and identified areas for improvement and further study. Stecz also completed a substantial literature review. For his final deliverable, Stecz aims to share his findings with Voinovich School Founding Dean Mark Weinberg and publish an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

In his GRS work, Stecz and the Voinovich School’s volunteer team have partnered with the Ohio Chapter of the Society for Public Health Education (OhioSOPHE), a volunteer, nonprofit board. Stecz’s primary focus has been promoting the development of student groups at Ohio universities that carry out OhioSOPHE’s mission of promoting public health education. Thus far, the various student groups have engaged more than 1,200 students throughout Ohio.

Stecz said that his time with OhioSOPHE allowed him to truly take ownership of his work.

“For the first time, maybe in my life, I had been given the reins,” Stecz said. “I was able to lead that new program from its ideation stage, through its planning stage and into its implementation stage, which was very interesting. Creating a program and seeing it flourish was great, and it just goes to show the quality of the applied learning aspect of the Voinovich School.”

Stecz said the guidance of Voinovich School faculty have been instrumental in helping him to succeed. Stecz identified Holly Raffle, associate professor at the Voinovich School, as particularly influential to his graduate career. Raffle is Stecz’s academic advisor as well as his GRS advisor, overseeing his work with OhioSOPHE.

“I’m a first-generation college student, so I don’t have a lot of resources, but Dr. Raffle has really helped me both personally and professionally,” Stecz said. “She’s kind of filled in the gaps in my knowledge about academia, how to be a grad student and how to be a member of a professional organization. I’ve changed as a person and a student quite significantly in my time at the Voinovich School, and a lot of that is due to Dr. Raffle.”

Raffle said Stecz has shown tremendous growth since his arrival as a first-year student.

“His biggest accomplishment was the way that he planned from the beginning for the sustainability of the OhioSOPHE initiative,” Raffle said. “The student group will continue after he graduates – and hopefully will continue to expand through the mentor program that he is developing during the final weeks of his GRS. He is committed to using the knowledge, skills and attitudes that he has refined or developed during the course of the MPA program to create positive, sustainable change not only within the organization in which he works, but also in the community at large. He has done a great job of applying what he is learning in the classroom to the many, varied real-world experiences that he has had at the Voinovich School.”

After graduation, Stecz hopes to work in a nonprofit and/or work in a field related to venture development. This would be a logical next step for Stecz, as he interned this year with TechGROWTH Ohio under the umbrella of venture development, conducing project work related to market identification.