Degree & graduation year: Master of Public Administration 2000
Current position: President and CEO of NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts), The Public Performing and Visual Art’s Conservatory High School of the State of Louisiana
What I do: NOCCA is a state school established through legislation by the State of Louisiana. As such, it is many things at once. It is a school, a school district, a state agency, an arts organization, a full-day diploma-granting institution, a half-day arts training program, a nonprofit funding organization, and an essential incubator for one of the most important cultural centers in the country: New Orleans and Louisiana. I lead and navigate the systems, people, and agendas that make that possible.
How I ended up working there: Circuitous happenstance. Post graduate school I have worked for: the Budget Office of the City of Chicago, the School District of Philadelphia, City Year, and the Recovery School District of Louisiana. I ended up at NOCCA temporarily almost 14 years ago and am very proud of what I have been able to evolve, support, and grow through the stewardship of this incredible school.
The best part of my job: Students
A recent exciting work experience: The last show before COVID. The musical theater students and theater design students had been working hard on the spring musical, Jasper in Deadland. We were two weeks from opening, but I could see that March 12, 2020, might be the last time we would be on campus together for some time to come. So on Tuesday or Wednesday of that week I went to the chair of the Musical Theater and Theater Design Departments and asked if they would be ready to do a full run-through on Thursday night, March 12. I asked that they tell students they could invite family to watch. The students had earned the right and privilege through their work to run the full show. I asked for the opportunity to be in the first circle for warmups before the show. I told the students they were responsible for leaving their best version of the show in the space, that this could be the voices and show that echoed, as it may be the last student voices in a performance at NOCCA for the 2020 school year.
And they killed it.
It is my favorite show and my most memorable on-campus performance I have ever seen at NOCCA. I carry it with me as we are teaching students in a virtual environment.
How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: Content, confidence, context, and collaboration
Content as I needed to know the canon of public policy and administration. I got the language and teaching I needed to grow my theoretical knowledge. It fed my curiosity.
Confidence in that I had to hold my own with very smart peers and faculty from across the globe. It was an opportunity to learn from and with great thinkers and gain the belief that I belonged in those ranks.
Context in showing me situations where the learning could be applied to issues and situations that allowed me to see where I could apply my training. I valued the ability to speak with and learn from practitioners while engaged in the theory. My one-page, twenty-four-hour policy analysis assignment from Dr. John Hird is a tool I still use to this day.
Collaboration in that my classmates were wonderful about supporting one another in and out of classes. There was not the experience of other graduate programs where success and good grades were finite resources to be hoarded by the few at the sacrifice of the group. It was a really wonderful training ground for learning that, in public policy and administration, the work advances as we invest time and effort in one another.
Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: Be ready for public calling out. Be ready for your name and efforts to be questioned in the comments section of social media and the local paper’s web articles. Be ready to have history judge the decisions you make on a given day. Be ready to decide and act without access to time or complete information. Spend time on your moral and ethical compass, as it will be your most important tool. Be ready to change jobs over principles. Know you will make change only if you make the change. Be sure this is what you want to do, then do it with all of your professional being.
Future plans: I agree with Dave Chappelle in that I am part of a generation that did not make enough change fast enough, so I am cool with his idea of being in the back seat with the youngsters driving. (If I could hang in the back seat WITH Dave Chappelle, all the better.) As he said, I’ll even pay for the gas if they need it, but I am good with them driving. They seem to be going farther faster, so I am here to support their work.
I am twenty years out from my SPP graduation, so I am pushing myself to go back to graduate school to get a PhD in public policy to continue growing in my work. Maybe the next step of my life will have me in a position to come back to SPP and teach a class or two to help pay for that gas.