Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, October 11, 2018

Ruanda McFerren (MPA/MS ’18)

Ruanda McFerren Ruanda McFerren

Undergraduate education
Bachelor’s degree in American studies, sociology minor, Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas

Hometown
Fort Smith, Arkansas

Employer
City of Kansas City, Missouri

Job title
Cookingham-Noll Management Fellow

Primary job responsibilities?
My position, Cookingham-Noll Management Fellow, is a two-year fellowship position in the KCMO City Manager’s Office. During the fellowship, I’ll rotate through several city departments beginning with the Office of Performance Management and Budget Office. Throughout my rotations, I’ll work on department- specific projects, such as gathering performance measures for regional benchmarking efforts and compiling department budgets for the annual budget.
In addition to department-specific rotations, the fellows oversee several special projects. The city’s Community Engagement University program, a citizen education program; Government 101 sessions; and recruiting the next cohort of incoming fellows are some of my ongoing responsibilities. As projects arise in departments across the city, such as drafting a new citywide housing policy or updating the animal control ordinance, I also participate in those efforts.

How do you use what you learned at La Follette on the job?
On a near daily basis, I am in meetings that relate to a real-world version of grad school group work. Whether it is assisting in development of a new citywide housing policy, compiling information on digital innovations, or coming up with ideas for #cityhallselfie day, much of the work I’m engaged in involves a deep level of communication and collaboration.

The group papers and research assignments that are embedded in the La Follette School curriculum force students to be skilled at balancing individual responsibilities with larger group goals and projects. My current work involves a similar balancing of priorities and working with a group to stay on track to meet a goal or deadline.

Another example comes from my current rotation in KC’s Office of Performance Management. The Office is in the process of updating and reformatting the KCStat Dashboards. This will allow the city to better share with residents, stakeholders, partner agencies, and others just how well it is performing. Learning about performance metrics and NYPD’s CompStat program in the Performance Management course prepared me to engage in this work and think critically about how data should be communicated.

What prompted your double degree in urban planning and public affairs?
Between undergrad and grad school, I spent four years working in college admissions at my undergraduate alma mater, Hendrix College. During my recruiting trips across the country, I was really struck by just how much were you live impacts your ability to access education. It had not previously occurred to me just how much the educational experience of someone growing up in a suburb could differ from the experience of a student in their city’s urban core. This observation, paired with my longstanding interests in housing, homelessness, and poverty, led me to start looking at the systems that govern our everyday lives.

My studies in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture and the La Follette School allowed me to take a deep dive in housing and see the technical side of planning and land-use decision-making, while also learning about how political and organizational decisions are made and how hard it is to create change.

Internship
I spent about 18 months interning in the City of Madison’s Planning Division, working on neighborhood and comprehensive plans. This allowed me to see every stage of the planning process: public participation, goal development, meetings with inter-departmental peers, plan development, adoption, and more.

One element of this planning internship that ties in to my current work is the balancing of priorities that is involved. When I was an intern, Madison was in the process of implementing priority-based budgeting standards. This complicated the normal balancing of priorities that is a part of any planning process and required departments to think about workflows, outputs, and outcomes in a way that had not been done before.

This exposure has fit well with my current position, as KC has for several years linked its budget to the citywide business plan and financial strategic plan. Considering the relationship between departmental needs, performance, and strategic goals is something that I am regularly engaged with and my internship experience, paired with my coursework, helped prepare me for this way of thinking.

Recommending the La Follette School
I would recommend the La Follette School to a prospective student because of the academic rigor and the wonderful people. I was challenged throughout my La Follette courses, and the professors do a really good job of communicating how the classroom knowledge corresponds to the real-world application.

The students in my cohort were great to be around, and everyone was so willing to help each other. It made for a very comfortable and friendly atmosphere where it was clear that everyone was striving for everyone else to do their best. I think that special kind of peer relationship is hard to replicate.

Alumni mentors
Carissa DeCramer (MPA ’08) was particularly helpful. She is a previous Cookingham-Noll Fellow, and I reached out to her via email when I was preparing for my interview. While we had not met in person, she was genuinely excited for me to participate in this fellowship and shared a lot of tips and resources that helped me feel prepared for the interview.
Steve Kulig (MPA ’14) was also very helpful as the school’s career services coordinator. I worked with him to fine-tune my resume and cover letter during my job-application process. I have no doubt that he helped to make my applications shine!