Photo Caption – upper right: MPA Students debrief CPAP faculty and special guests on Capital Praxis experiences in the historic Jefferson Room at Virginia’s State Capital. The debrief occurred during Capital Praxis, an experience that was a highlight of the Fall 2014 semester. (Photo courtesy of Leisha LaRiviere)

Photo Caption – lower left: MPA and PhD students prepare for their Capital Praxis debrief session.

Huddled around a conference call with the Governor to revise a policy speech, attending a meeting with officials from the Office of Commerce and Trade about Virginia economic development issues, and prepping for a meeting with the Secretary of Education and State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) officials are just three examples of the inner workings of government experienced by graduate students participating in Capital Praxis 2014.

Where theory and practice intersect, “praxis” is a key theme of the Masters of Public Administration and doctoral public administration degree programs offered at Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Administration & Policy (CPAP). Capital Praxis is an annual program that provides public affairs experiences for many MPA and Ph.D. students at CPAP. Graduate students are “matched” with officials in the government and nonprofit sectors who work in functional areas in which students may wish to work following graduation. Launched in 1997, Capital Praxis started at CPAP in Alexandria, where students were connected with mentors in the Washington, D.C. area, such as those with the General Accountability Office, the Agency for International Development, and Arlington County government. The model shifted in 2012 to include experiences around the Virginia state capital in Richmond. The 2014 event was held in Richmond, Virginia on October 9 through 10, with shadow experiences on the first day and then culminating with a student presentation and debriefing session on the second day.

According to CPAP Chair and Professor Karen Hult, “This year, 12 students from the Blacksburg and Richmond campuses spent a full day with public service professionals being exposed to a rich range of settings, from Governor McAuliffe’s office, to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, to Henrico County, to the Red Cross, to the Virginia Division of the Federal Highway Administration. We are deeply grateful for the time, attention, and commitment of all of this year’s mentors and for their willingness to share their knowledge, experience and insights with our students – and through them with the faculty and other students.” According to Associate Professor Joe Rees, faculty coordinator for the Richmond MPA program, “the response from Richmond-area leaders to our call for mentors was unprecedented. The caliber of the mentors, their positional and personal leadership experiences, and the hands-on exposure to public sector operations they provided were important learning opportunities for our graduate students.”

Responsible for merging student academic and career interests with mentors, Director of Strategic Advancement and Adjunct Faculty Member Leisha LaRiviere developed a roster of top Virginia officials and connected these leaders to work with CPAP students. This year’s participants included:

  • Commonwealth of Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton and student Lauren Bonneville;
  • Virginia Commonwealth University Vice President for Government Relations Matt Conrad and student Brittany Chumney;
  • Henrico County Human Resources Division Claims Supervisor Tracy Greer and student Stephanie Cooperstein;
  • Virginia Office of the Governor Policy Director Anna James and student Brittani Edwards;
  • Virginia Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Reggie Gordon and student William Gipe;
  • State Council for Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) Director Peter Blake; SCHEV Director of Academic Affairs Joe DeFilippo; and student Stephanie House-Niamke;
  • Federal Highway Administration (Virginia Division) Planning and Environment Specialist Ivan Rucker and student Nadhrah Khadir;
  • Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission Director Hal Greer and student Khaki LaRiviere;
  • Virginia Department of Planning and Budget Associate Director Michael Maul; Virginia LISC Chief Executive Officer Candice Streett; and student Charlie Lintecum;
  • Virginia Department of Health Director of Governmental and Regulatory Affairs Joe Hilbert and student Jason Mills;
  • Director of Government Relations, Virginia Association of Counties Erik Johnston; Director of Intergovernmental Affairs ,Virginia Association of Counties Beau Blevins; and student Scott Showalter; and
    Virginia Office of Commerce and Trade Special Advisor for Rural Partnerships Mary Rae Carter and student Lindsey Watson.

The second day of Capital Praxis included a debrief session facilitated by Adjunct Professor Jonah Fogel. Students discussed their shadowing experiences, emphasizing links with varying policies and challenges of governing. Asking questions from the audience were a full contingent of CPAP faculty members, including Matt Dull, Adam Eckerd, Karen Hult, Laura Jensen, Bill Leighty, Robin Lemaire, Joe Rees, and Patrick Roberts.

Jesse Steele, MPA Program Manager for CPAP at the main Blacksburg campus, developed a robust set of preparation materials for the Capital Praxis program, debrief session, and post-event survey. “From everything we’re seeing and hearing, students had a fantastic experience and learned a lot. Some were seeking mentors for their nascent careers, and some were seeking networking contacts to help climb the ladder from their current positions, but no matter what they wanted from the experience, almost all students reported finding it during Capital Praxis. Mentors were engaged, interested, and devoted to providing a great experience for students, and all signs indicate that their efforts really paid off.”

A team of contributors helped make this experience valuable, including CPAP Student Support Services staffers Holly Lamberta and Chelsea Hall. The pair managed travel, hotel, materials compilation and packet development, and other key efforts necessary to implement such an event.

– by Leisha LaRiviere