Nick Strahan, MPA ’16, reflects on the unexpected trajectory he took at the Voinovich School

Kate Leeman
October 7, 2016

Nick Strahan considered law school but ultimately decided to pursue a master’s degree in public administration after completing his undergraduate studies in history and political science.

“I knew I was interested in the public sector,” he said, and he was attracted by the Voinovich School’s emphasis on “learning in the classroom but also out in the field.”

Strahan did some focus group coding and analysis but soon discovered he was more drawn to quantitative research.

“It was something that I’d never really been exposed to before,” he said.

Through his courses, his job placement and an independent study, he became increasingly adept at using a range of statistical software, including Excel, SPSS, and R.

“I liked working with R the best,” said Strahan. “The visualization capacity of that program far exceeds SPSS.”

As he gained more experience with these programs, staff at the Voinovich School recognized his interest in this area and began steering more work of this type his way.

“The more I used R, the more comfortable I got with it,” Strahan said. “I began to think in the way the program thinks and that made it easier to problem solve.”

Strahan primarily worked with two faculty members engaged in state-level research on education policy, specifically looking at the use of value-added student growth measures to evaluate Ohio’s public schools. “Value-added” uses highly sophisticated statistical methods to analyze standardized test scores over time to assess the impact of teachers and districts on students’ progress.

 “Some of the bigger projects I worked on required me to use these massive datasets, pulling information from multiple files – in some instances with over a million cases and up to 50 variables,” Strahan said.

He became particularly interested in data visualization, graphically communicating complex information in a manner that is both appealing and easy to understand. Less than a month after graduation, Strahan was already in the process of interviewing for public sector positions.

“My experience at the Voinovich School – nearly every aspect of it – is directly related to my primary prospects,” he said.

When asked what he liked most about the MPA program, Strahan cited the opportunity to work on current projects with practicing professionals.

“The professors not only teach the courses but they actually do the work,” he said. “I had Marsha Lewis for the Program Evaluation course but then was able to work with her on real-life program evaluations.”

 He sees this experience as having given him the opportunity to better understand how public sector work actually gets done.

“This was my first real exposure to what I want to do and it was eye-opening!” Stahan said. “Going through a project, you really see why it’s not always an entirely linear process – hiccups occur, people’s priorities are not always the same.”

Overall, he says he enjoyed the variety, seeing how different people approached a problem as well as “the work being done in the community and how it was affecting education at a real, tangible level.” 

Thinking back on his decision to forgo law school in favor of studying public administration at the Voinovich School, Strahan said, “It’s been one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life. I just feel lucky to have come here.”

Strahan is putting his degree to work, as he was hired as Budget and Management Analyst for the State of Ohio in September 2016.