Unique degree path allowed recently published, 2018 MPA graduate to follow passion

Daniel Kington
May 21, 2018

Holbrook, EllenoreEllenore Holbrook, a 2018 graduate of the Master of Public Administration program at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, has dedicated herself to combatting economic inequality for much of her life.

During her undergraduate career at Ohio University, a unique degree path, made possible by the flexibility of her undergraduate college and the Voinovich School, provided Holbrook the opportunity she needed to advance her education in order to make an even broader impact – a trajectory that recently culminated in the publication of a report on inequitable home lending practices.

Holbrook’s passion for combatting inequality developed at a young age, which she attributes to her economic background and her upbringing.

“I come from a low-income family, and, growing up, I saw a lot of income inequality in my area, especially during the Great Recession,” Holbrook said. “I therefore became very engaged in trying to understand inequality and the factors that play into it so that I could alter it in any way that I could.”

Holbrook saw academia as a means of accomplishing just that, and she chose to study political science at Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College. Her experience in the political science program provided her a theoretical framework with which to understand inequality, especially as it relates to political, economic and social structures and institutions. However, over the course of her degree program, Holbrook began to feel a need for a more practical experience.

Holbrook found such an opportunity at the Voinovich School. When she was a sophomore at Ohio University, she joined the School as an Undergraduate Research Scholar, working on economic development research under Jason Jolley, the director of the School’s MPA program.

“I had never done economic development research before, so it introduced me to different areas that I wasn’t necessarily familiar with, and I was able to broaden my skillset,” Holbrook said. “I liked how applied it was, and how practical the work was.”

As Holbrook approached her final year of undergraduate education, she decided to enroll in MPA coursework in order to gain more of this applied experience.

“All I really had to do during my senior year was finish my thesis, but I also wanted to take MPA coursework, and I slowly began looking into degree options,” Holbrook said. “I really wanted a more practical area of focus that would let me get on the ground and try to address the issues that Americans are actually facing.”

After conversations with Jolley and others at the School, Holbrook decided to pursue an MPA degree while simultaneously completing her bachelor’s. Although it was difficult to manage her dual degrees, Holbrook said the support of her thesis advisor, her professors at the Voinovich School and her academic advisors made it possible.

“For my thesis, I had weekly deadlines which helped to create more structure, and my Voinovich School professors really worked to accommodate me, either by extending deadlines or just checking in to make sure I was doing okay,” Holbrook said. “Particularly with the support of my academic advisors, it was really a group effort.”

At the School, Holbrook focused on income inequality, taking courses on the economics of poverty, the sociology of work and more. These courses complimented her work on her undergraduate honors thesis, which focused on banking and the way that politics interacts with social movements and capitalism.

Meanwhile, Holbrook began a graduate assistantship that provided her an inside view of what it’s like to be a public official, working for the public good. While Holbrook was initially hired as the late Senator George Voinovich’s research assistant, after the Senator’s death, the focus of her assistantship shifted to the Senator’s legacy. She began working in the archives at Alden Library to process the Senator’s collections and conduct research both for institutions or individuals interested in different aspects of the Senator’s work and for publication on the Voinovich School’s blog.

“It was really interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a public official,” Holbrook said. “Normally, we see political figures at face value, but reading the Senator’s handwritten notes and personal correspondences, I developed a much more nuanced and personalized understanding of what it’s like to work for the public good.”

During the summer between Holbrook’s two years at the Voinovich School, she experienced for herself what it’s like to work for the public when she took an internship with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. At the bank, Holbrook worked on multiple projects, in areas ranging from community development to small business lending and the heroin epidemic. Most of these projects were long-term, although Holbrook was able to see one project through from beginning to end: the organization’s bi-annual report on home-lending practices. Holbrook produced Excel charts on home lending practices for different counties in Ohio, and wrote reports analyzing the data for those counties. Producing these reports was interesting for Holbrook, as they moved beyond generalities.

“I already understood home lending practices to be inequitable, but the report really dug into what that looks like and what that means for different communities,” Holbrook says. “By pulling apart different variables, such as race and economic status, the report demonstrates that inequitable home lending practices are discriminatory and real.”  

One of the reports to which Holbrook contributed, on Hamilton County, was recently published on the bank’s website.

“It was so nice to see my work published and recognized very publicly,” Holbrook said. “Knowing that the research I had done can have an impact on policy development and non-profit work is very exciting.”

Now that Holbrook has graduated from the Voinovich School, she hopes to continue tackling issues of inequality. She is not exactly sure what that is going to look like yet, but she is currently seeking employment in the City of Ashville, North Carolina.