By Anita Richardson, MA in Applied Communication graduate
After working for nearly a decade as a regional communications representative and spokesperson in the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Bay Region, I realized I had reached the pinnacle of my career. So, I left my job and returned to graduate school at the University of Michigan-Flint (UM-Flint) to begin work on the advanced degree I knew I would need to move forward,
I was determined to reshape my career and secure a research and writing position at a public or private think tank. By doing so, I hoped to offer opportunities for marginalized communities to be heard in the public sphere. After all, providing citizens with key information on the pressing issues of the day would certainly inform public debate. I was certain earning the MA Applied Communication graduate degree at UM-Flint would enhance my abilities – and it did.
The graduate program I chose was focused on providing future leaders with executive ranked proficiency in communication and collaboration. I learned, from working on several consulting projects in the program that managing a public involvement process must be executed efficiently and effectively. This to deliver programs on schedule and assure consistency in public involvement and input, especially from marginalized communities, where improving public agency and organizational efficiency was so crucial to achieving better socio-economic outcomes.
After I graduated, I knew I really wanted to do more than just research and write about issues. I wanted to use Deliberative Democracy, a discursive theory of civics and consensus building framework, which I studied in the graduate program, to help shape public policy. I was determined to bring specific solutions to broker real change for citizens through effective public engagement and discourse. It seems, as soon as I realized my calling, the door at MDOT opened – or in my case, re-opened.
Today, I serve as the Public Involvement and Hearings Officer for the MDOT Bureau of Development, Environmental Analysis Unit, where I am responsible for certifying to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that public involvement on transportation projects has met established FHWA/MDOT standards. This includes training staff on innovative approaches and best practices for public involvement, assessing pioneering technology and effective engagement tools, and distributing my analysis to others within MDOT for their use.
As a plus, I hired into a higher job category with a nice salary increase, but most important, I arrived at the door of my new career armed with actionable strategies for effective pubic engagement and reasoned discourse. Now I serve as a statewide resource. My days are spent facilitating public hearings and structuring collaborative engagement across organizational spheres on matters of great relevance to transportation decision making across the state.
Thank you, UM-Flint, for introducing me to the power of public involvement through sustained government, business, and stakeholder collaboration. Thank you, Dan Lair, Ph.D., director of MA in Applied Communication, and program faculty, for your wealth of knowledge, expertise and support during this journey. I appreciate your providing the framework for me to facilitate effective 21st century people-centered public engagement in my new career.
You can view a stream of some of Anita’s work with MDOT by clicking here.