Collaborative learning environment of Executive MPA propelled alum to recent promotion

Daniel Kington
April 24, 2018

Biggar, NicholasPublic sector working professionals seek higher education not only to advance their careers but also to better serve the public. Nicholas Biggar, a 2012 graduate of the Executive Master of Public Administration program at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, has done just that, culminating most recently in his promotion to district director at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

In 2010, when Biggar first began searching for a master’s program, he was not sure exactly what he wanted to pursue. However, Biggar worked at the Ohio Treasurer of State’s office at the time, and he eventually concluded that he wanted to continue work in the public sector.

“I loved being charged with providing a public good,” Biggar said. “I liked determining the best option for the public and then working to deliver on that.”

In the end, Biggar said it was the Voinovich School’s hands-on approach that drew him to the Executive MPA.

“I was more interested in being a practitioner than engaging in strictly theoretical work,” Biggar said. “I liked that the Voinovich School had a more performance-based curriculum.”

Biggar said he quickly learned that the Voinovich School’s model of applied education was a practical reality, and not simply an abstract principle.

“Everybody in my cohort was either working or had work experience, whether that was two years of experience or 30,” Biggar said. “As a result, even though the professors led the classes, everybody was able to bring something to the table by providing feedback and sharing professional experiences. In this way, it was really more like a group-taught curriculum. I learned almost as much from my colleagues as I did from my professors.”

In addition to bringing work experience into the classroom, Biggar’s cohort also brought classroom experiences into work. Biggar said many of his classmates implemented their education in their jobs, which allowed them to return to class with lessons learned and feedback on the practical efficacy of course material.

For his part, Biggar worked with Voinovich School faculty and professional staff to apply what he was learning in his performance evaluation course in the design of a “performance stat” approach for the treasurer’s office, using constant, data-driven evaluation to inform day-to-day practice. Unfortunately, unlike many of his classmates, Biggar was never able to implement his model because midway through his studies, he was offered a position at Cleveland RTA through his connections at the Voinovich School.

Floun’say Caver, an adjunct faculty member at the School, taught Biggar’s performance evaluation course and first connected him with the RTA, where Caver serves as the deputy general manager of operations. Caver created and oversees TransitStat, the RTA’s own performance stat approach; Biggar has worked with TransitStat throughout his career at RTA.

As district director, Biggar uses the program to track indicators such as the on-time performance of buses and miles between bus breakdowns against established goals. In addition to performance evaluation, Biggar manages a workforce of 600 employees, overseeing daily operations and developing new strategies for the district.

While Biggar said it is difficult to simultaneously manage the short-term goal of providing public transportation with long-term strategies for improving public transportation, he also finds it rewarding.

“My position is at the crossroads of the RTA’s tactical and strategic approach,” Biggar said. “My work is very tactical, dealing with daily issues and meeting daily targets to make the district’s public transportation run. However, I also have to constantly develop long-term goals and then weave those goals into what we do on a day-to-day basis. It’s very challenging work, as I have to engage with a very complex ecosystem, managing regulations, the workforce, the political environment and competing public interests. But it’s also very fun: I’m always on my toes, I’m always learning and I’m always engaged.”

Biggar has served as district director since March 2017. Originally appointed on an interim basis, Biggar was offered the position permanently in February 2018.

“I was very excited about the promotion, and I did not expect it,” Biggar said. “It’s been a longtime goal of mine to be an operating director, and now I am.”

Biggar said he continues to draw upon his education at the Voinovich School not only through his work in performance evaluation, but also through the application of a conceptual framework known as the “strategic triangle.” That framework identifies the public value the organization seeks to create, sources of legitimacy and support for the creation of that public value, and the operational capabilities with which the organization may create public value.

“My education at the Voinovich School gave me a great foundation to build on as I contribute to the public good,” Biggar said.