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On this episode of Victors in Grad School, our host Christopher Lewis welcomes a special guest, Jim Ananich, CEO of the Greater Flint Health Coalition and former Michigan State Senate Representative.

In this episode, Jim shares his experiences and discusses how his education played a role in his career. The conversation begins with Jim talking about his father, who was a faculty member at the University of Michigan in public administration and political science. Jim shares how he initially enjoyed school and learning but decided to make a career change and pursue teaching. Eventually, he developed an interest in administration and decided to pursue a career in that field.

Jim talks about how he learned about a grant program at U of M that trained urban and rural leaders to be principals, and he decided to join the program. This program not only covered some of the coursework costs but also made graduate school more appealing. Jim mentions that most of his cohort from the program are now administrators, retired, or still involved in administration. Before joining the program, Jim audited a class on community history at U of M Flint, which he found enjoyable due to the small class sizes. He appreciated that U of M made it easy for him to balance work and school, with flexible class schedules and the ability to do assignments outside of class.

The discussion then shifts to the benefits of graduate degrees in advancing careers and gaining a leg up in government positions. Jim explains that while graduate degrees are not always required for state jobs, they are often seen as an added benefit. The type of degree one pursues depends on their career goals, with specialization in a specific area making someone an expert in that field. However, having a general knowledge and being a good policy advisor may require a broader understanding of multiple area

Jim stressed the importance of finding the right balance between focusing on one’s desired career path and being open to changing careers if necessary. He notes that there is a need for new professionals in the field as the workforce ages. Graduate degrees can prepare individuals for leadership positions and provide them with essential skills. Jim reflects on his own experience, mentioning that he initially studied educational administration but now wishes he had studied healthcare instead. However, he believes that the leadership and financial management skills he learned in educational administration are transferable to other fields, including healthcare. Additionally, his graduate degree in Public Administration focused on school finance, school law, and leadership, which proved to be useful when he got involved in budget decisions and school aid. Jim also discusses the benefits of U of M Flint’s hybrid model, which allows for a combination of in-person and online learning. He found the flexibility and hybrid approach appealing, and the use of an online portal called Blackboard for classwork made it convenient.

The ability to balance attending City council meetings and coursework was made possible by the flexibility of the program. In conclusion, Jim shares his advice for individuals interested in a public administration degree or a career in the public sector. He encourages them to utilize the resources available to graduate students, such as professors and office hours, to be successful. He also highlights the value of scheduling courses according to one’s ability and goals, and the importance of discussing plans with someone to ensure the right time for graduate school.

Join us on this episode of Victors in Grad School as we dive into Jim Ananich’s personal journey and gain valuable insights into finding success in the field of public administration and politics.

This podcast is brought to you by The Office of Graduate Programs at the University of Michigan-Flint. If you’re still wondering about other things to consider when it comes to graduate school, you can also contact the Office of Graduate Programs at UM-Flint. We’re here to answer questions Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST. You can also find out more about the 50+ programs that the university has to offer here.


Christopher Lewis [00:00:01]:

Welcome to the Victors in Grad School, where we have conversations with students, alumni and experts about what it takes to find success in graduate school.

Christopher Lewis [00:00:11]:

Welcome back to Victors in grad school. I’m your host, dr. Christopher Lewis, director of Graduate Programs at the University of Michigan, Flint. Really excited to have you back again this week. You and I every week get to go on a journey together. Then opportunity for us to be able to talk with one another, to be able to really delve a little bit deeper into what it takes to find success in graduate school. I know you may be at the very beginning just thinking about graduate school. You might be in graduate school still trying to figure things out, might be toward the end, trying to look at what’s post grad school look like. But for all of you that are going through graduate school, there is definitely things that you can do to be able to be successful. And every week I love being able to sit down and talk to you about this, bring you guests that are able to tell their stories and be able to share their experiences because every person’s experience is a little bit different. But the things that you can do while you go through grad school, you can learn from every person, no matter if they go to med school, law school, public administration school, physical therapy school, whatever it may be, you can take things out of everyone’s journey and learn from them. And that’s what this show is all about. This week. We’ve got another great guest with us, Jim Anna. Nick is with us today. And Jim is the chief executive officer for the Greater Flint Health Coalition. He’s also a past Michigan State Senate Representative, and we’re going to be talking about some of those experiences and how he got into some of those experiences and how his education helped him in those experiences. But I’m really just excited to be able to talk to him in general and be able to have him share his story with you. Jim, thanks so much for being here today.

Jim Ananich [00:01:54]:

Thanks very much for having me.

Christopher Lewis [00:01:55]:

It is my pleasure. I love being able to talk to people about their stories, and I think what I’d love to do is I’d like to go back in time. I know you did your undergraduate work back at Michigan State University. And at some point during that time in undergrad in those first experiences that you had working as a teacher, you had to have gone through some point in time where you said, I need to go back to graduate school or I want to go back to graduate school. What were some of the reasons that were going through your head that made you choose to go to graduate school?

Jim Ananich [00:02:28]:

That’s a great question. And my dad was on faculty at U of M in the public administration and did some political science work. He was adjunct professor. So I spent a lot of time around U of M and I knew that when I liked school, I enjoyed learning and when I was home so I lived in DC. And then my dad passed and I moved home and I made a little bit of a career change and went from staffing in politics. I worked for my congressman and I just wanted to do something different. Went back to school for teaching and kind of decided as I was teaching, even when I was going to classes, that I thought maybe administration may be something I would want to do long term, maybe being principal or something in that range. So I started looking and then a good friend of mine, his mom told me about a program that she saw available where they were trying to train urban and rural leaders to be principals and that U of M had been awarded some resources to start a grant program to have some of the coursework paid for. So I was able to join the urban and rural can’t remember the name exactly, but it made graduate school even more appealing because I had some of the cost covered. And looking back, almost the entire cohort are administrators right now. So it worked, there’s no question about it. I mean, they’re either retired or still doing some level of administration. So it was a great path for me. It made a lot of sense. And right before I did that, I took U of M Flint, public Administration Professor allowed me to audit a class on community history that I just thought was fun. And I sat in a class and I small class sizes, very intimate setting. And I’m thinking, well, this is how it’s going to be. This makes it a heck of a lot easier because I was working and I knew I couldn’t just leave work and go back to school like I did for undergrad do it around my schedule. So U of M has made it very easy.

Christopher Lewis [00:04:12]:

Well, I think you answered my second question, which I typically ask, why you chose U of M Flint. But you kind of made some comments there that I think you kind of said the small class size, the fact that your father was a faculty member there, you knew the school, you were back in the community and you’re kind of living and working in the same area. I guess what I’d love to ask instead is talking about the fact that you were working and going to school at the same time and balancing life. So talk to me about balance and what you had to do to find balance in being able to be the full time employee, the part time student, and be able to be successful in that.

Jim Ananich [00:04:50]:

Yeah, I mean, that was one of the things that was so appealing about U of M. I mean, for me it was very close. I live in Flint. It’s relatively common now but U of M flint was a little bit on the cutting edge of like offering a hybrid model for obviously we didn’t do zooms and things like that back then and I am sure if zoom was a company yet, but we did Blackboard, which was an online portal that allowed us to do a lot of our classwork that way encouraged us to work together, and then we’d have really flexible class schedules. So I remember one, there was a professor on staff, he was a school law school finance professor and he was from Ohio. So he would drive up for the weekend. So we have these weekend courses which for some people that’s not appealing, but for someone who’s working, spend a few hours on a Saturday or Friday night, I mean, it’s hard to beat. And then he would also do these hybrid model and it was really flexible. Plus instead of having you had to have it in by Tuesday at X O’clock, you’d have to be in class. We’d have this giving assignment and you’d have time to do it. So if you had time on Monday night to do it, you weren’t required to do it in class. It helped that way too, so you could kind of set it around when you knew you had some flexibility. So I was also on City council at the time, so I had for part of the time I was in the cohort, so I was balancing that as well. So like on Mondays and Wednesday nights it was tough for me. So I would schedule my time around the cohort and when I had time to make sure I got the coursework done and I did very well. So it worked. But that flexibility, that differences of time for classes and the hybrid model worked really well for me. Some people have to be in class or it doesn’t work for them. Some people want all virtual. Back then, that was a pretty new idea to do it the way they did it.

Christopher Lewis [00:06:22]:

There was a few years between the time in which you got your bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University and then when you started in your master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of Michigan Flint. You said you went to DC, you staffed, you got that experience, and then moved back to the Flint area. And I guess as you made that transition into graduate school, what did you have to do to set yourself up for success and what did you have to do to maintain your success throughout that graduate school journey that might have been different than what you had to do during your undergraduate years?

Jim Ananich [00:07:00]:

Yeah, no question about it. It was a little intimidating at first to apply because it’s been so long since I’ve been in school. I wasn’t sure if it was like riding a bike or not. Like if you pick it right back up again, or if it would be, it’s graduate school. So I didn’t know the level of which from a difficulty standpoint. So once I got in and the school was very helpful, they worked with you, kind of professors were easy to talk to. It made the transition pretty good and pretty seamless, so that helped. And then I just had to find a way to schedule said before an undergrad. I did that full time. And for a graduate school, I think sometimes they tell you if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. So sometimes being more busy helped me because I really did have to focus and I wanted to do well. And some people that did the Cohort never missed a class, always stuck with it. There were some that kind of would come and go. I think I had to take off one semester where I couldn’t take the full load and caught back up later. But like I said, they were very open to that and that made a lot easier. It felt like they were on your side. It felt like U of M was on your side versus like, you’re just there as a you know, as a number. And that was the minute. It’s so appealing. It’s like they genuinely wanted to see if they could resolve your problem versus just telling you you had to do something. You have to follow these rules, and sometimes they can seem arbitrary. At U of M it was, okay, how do we make you successful? And that was really very appealing.

Christopher Lewis [00:08:17]:

After you finished your degree, you continued, you got some more experience in public service. You were on the Flint City Council and serving the citizens of Flint. And then a few years after that experience, you ran for state representative. Talk to me about the degree itself, what you learned during that degree, what you learned in your experiences in serving the people of Flint that you were able to take from the degree, your experiences that allowed for you to be successful in being a state senator.

Jim Ananich [00:08:55]:

Yeah, I mean, I think probably even more so than the undergraduate degree, which obviously was important to me as well. But the graduate degree was a lot more practical. It was very specific to schools. But school finance, school law, a lot of these other courses on leadership, those things actually helped me when I got to Lansing. Often you feel like you get your undergraduate degree and you stretch yourself out all these things and maybe you never use it again, or you don’t feel like you’re using it again. That was definitely not the case with the graduate degree, because when you get to Lansing, I got put on Appropriations, so I’m deciding the budget. School finance was extremely important at the time because at the time they made a huge cut to education, but they were trying to act like it was a small cut and it was easy to explain to folks, well, let me tell you what this is actually going to do to schools. And we were able to stymie some of it because of that. But also it was because I had a knowledge in specifics of how schools are financed that I was able to uniquely have an understanding better than most or better than almost everybody in my first year, which is unusual. It takes a while to learn massive budget like the state and how it works and parts of the budget I didn’t have as well of an understanding of. But schools I had pretty early and I was on the school aid budget. So it really did work itself out pretty well that way. A lot of rules around schools were changed in the last decade. One of the main reasons, in my opinion, why we’ve had such an excess of people leaving teaching and it’s ironic that they want to go back and oh, we need to lure people, we need to incentivize people to go to come to schools to be teachers again. And it’s like, well, all the things we did the last decade is why they left. But that’s neither here nor there. But it does matter to learn history. It doesn’t matter to learn that policy does make a difference. And I learned that at U of M. I learned that there’s reasons for the policies in place that they are. There are policies you can put in place to attract teachers and bring some of the best. There are some things you can do to save money that will have an effect in the long run on people leaving the field. So I was able to speak about it from a I could kind of project what was going to happen and I was right, unfortunately. I wish I would have wrong and that the bad things didn’t happen, but they did, or they would have listened to me on the front end. But it was a very practical graduate degree for my teaching, but it also ended up being very helpful for my service and legislature too.

Christopher Lewis [00:11:00]:

For people that are thinking of doing a public administration degree or they’re thinking of some type of work in the public sector in regard to public service or working in state government, I’m sure that you’ve seen the highs and lows of working in those type of fields. What kind of advice do you have for people that may be thinking about it, looking at a public administration degree and saying I’d like to work in that type of work in the future? What type of advice would you give to those individuals that would help them to be able to be successful in being able to work in that field and be, let’s just say successful in the politics of working in that field?

Jim Ananich [00:11:37]:

Sure, we’re talking about graduate schools, so obviously, potentially they would have gotten started after their bachelor’s degree, they would have got into the field. Maybe they’re not at the point in the career where they want to be and they’re trying to kind of go through the ranks. I definitely think a graduate degree, especially here at UV and Flint, could be very appealing and could be very helpful because often they’re not requirements of state jobs, but they’re definitely like there’s the basic requirement and then there’s the added benefit and it’s almost always in that extra category. So it gives you a bit of a leg up in government. It doesn’t seem like it because it’s been bashed for so often, but there are a lot of experts, content area experts, and that people do rely on those folks. So it depends on which way you want to go. If you go on the executive branch, often you get put into like a civil service system where you’re kind of working on a very narrow topic. You can move around, of course, but you have one very big responsibility. It’s important and you kind of work on that and become an expert. Or if you’re in the legislative side or on the policy side, in a department or in the governor’s office, I think both the degrees help either direction you want to go because you get a firmer, a more concrete understanding of the policy. If you’re on the legislative side or in the policy offices of the governor or the departments, if you’re trying to narrow in on a specialty and really be the expert on something, it’s also very helpful. Now it’s different so you kind of got to decide which one you want to do. Do you want to be the expert on defos remediation or something to do with roads or an issue in schools? Because if you are, then you narrow into that focus as part of your graduate degree. If you want to just have a general knowledge and be a good policy advisor, you still probably need to pick an area, but you need to have a little bit broader knowledge of the entire area. Obviously people change their mind, they change their careers all the time. So it’s not says you’re stuck in one rut if you don’t end up liking it. But obviously you should focus your attention at the time which way you want to go. But no, there’s a lot of a need and much like a lot of fields, we have an aging workforce. So there’s going to be folks that are you may look and say, well, there’s two or three people ahead of me, but they may not be there for very long, right? You’re starting to see people leave at larger numbers and all of a sudden you’re in leadership position. At least in my experience, the courses I took, the degree, the degree I was able to get definitely would have prepared me and did prepare me for those opportunities.

Christopher Lewis [00:13:57]:

So you’re now in a new position and you are working again serving the community, but you are the chief Executive Officer for the Greater Flint Health Coalition. Talk to me about how your degree helped you or is helping you now in the role that you’re in.

Jim Ananich [00:14:16]:

Yeah, obviously if I’d have known this is where I was going to be now, I might have rethought the educational administration and maybe done healthcare. But a lot of those things are transferable, right? Because at the end of the day, you’re learning leadership skills, you’re learning how to manage, you’re learning finances. And they’re not that different, right. Once you learn a balance sheet and all the different things you have to learn in school finance, moving over to a nonprofit health care, it’s not that much different. I mean, there are different sources. There’s different places where we get a lot of money from center for Medicaid, Medicare, different contracts. It’s definitely different than a school. But the leadership components don’t change. So there’s no question it helped me. I think one thing it did help it helped organize my mind in a way that from a leadership and management standpoint, where before that, I just didn’t have that. I don’t think I knew what was happening as we were doing it. But looking back, at least the curriculum and the MPA program, and I’m sure there’s plenty of others that are just as good, the course work, it was very purposeful and you learned it in stages, at least with our cohort. I’m sure you could jump around if you wanted to, but the way that they laid it out, it gave us deep understanding of how schools were organized and both at the policy level and how you finance and also, of course, the implementation of school curriculum, things like that, that helps really structure your brain in a way. Like the things matter and there are steps to the process. Obviously the steps are different here, but the structure helped me to transition relatively easily.

Christopher Lewis [00:15:51]:

As you look back at your graduate education, you think back to the transition in that we talked about and through that we talked about. As you think back to that, what are some tips that you might offer to others that are considering graduate education that would help them to also find success in that graduate school journey?

Jim Ananich [00:16:11]:

When you make a decision to go to graduate school, one, I think I would encourage people to do it, one starting off there, but make sure it’s the right time. And sometimes with life, I mean, there is no perfect time, right? If you’re looking for the perfect time to do something, you’re probably never going to do it because life’s busy. But there are times when it’s a little bit easier to do it right. Not always the perfect time, but when it’s a little bit easier in your life. So I would suggest, as you’re considering it, the good thing about u of M at least, is you can go talk to somebody and have that conversation about, this is what I’m thinking, and you walk it through, walk the steps through with somebody. Bigger institutions may be tougher to do that. I can’t tell me at U of M, but I would encourage that. And that’s the nice thing is places like U of M, and in particular, this isn’t like, let’s see if we can sucker tuition out of you. We want you to be successful. There’s no point in doing it if you’re not going to be. So come have a conversation about like, this is what I’m thinking, this is what I want to do. Here’s my career path. Does this make sense for me? And the beautiful thing is people in the departments, the people in the sort of administrative offices are very helpful in those kind of conversations. So I would encourage those. Some people are kind of hesitant. I don’t want to bother anybody. Well, that’s exactly what they’re there for, right? That’s what they want to do. So have those conversations, and then when you’re in, just make sure you schedule courses around, because there’s so much flexibility now in a way that makes sure you’re successful. If you can’t handle three courses in a semester, then don’t take three courses. I had to do that a couple of times as I was trying to catch back up because I missed a semester master where I had to cut back. But I was very successful when I did two. I could handle two. If I hit one, I could knock it out the park, but it would just take forever to get it done. And it’s really a question of like, what do you want the end goal to be? Is it are you going to get a PhD and want to work in a university? Then you probably got to be a little faster, a little more intentional about it. If it’s just for knowledge and getting better at your current job and not a requirement, take as much time as you want. If it’s for principals, it’s very helpful to have an educational administration background, whether it’s an MPA or even a specialist, or of course, a doctorate. If you want to be a superintendent, I mean, you can do that as a principal. You don’t need it. That’s kind of depends on where you want to go. But I think the master’s degree is very helpful as far as getting in the door and getting the interview. My father in law, his undergraduate U of M and did Eastern for his Ed doctorate because the U of M didn’t have it at the time. And I know his getting that Ed doctorate helped him. He was Superintendent Grand blank. Almost all the superintendents. Now, not all of them, but many of them are at least have had specialist degrees. So it kind of depends on which way you want to go talk. I’ve never done college administration, but I know some folks that have and are doing that, and it seems to have that level of education definitely helps. So really, it’s kind of you don’t have to have your life plotted out, but the nice thing about graduate school is undergraduate. People expect you to kind of move around a little bit more. In graduate school, it is, by nature, more focused, so you want to make sure you pick the right one and then just have a realistic timeline to get it done. Professors were very helpful. The office hours were real, and you could have conversations also. You could communicate with them outside of that, like, if you’re having problems. So everyone wants you to be successful and the tools that are available should be used. I’ll say that. And then once it got out, I used my master’s in a lot of ways to help get me in the door, and then the skills I learned from it helped me to be successful. So there’s no question in my mind. I mean, I’m very happy I did it. I didn’t need to as a teacher at the time. Of course, the pay scale was based on years of service and education, so it did help me. There’s no question I got paid more. I didn’t end up going into school administration, but obviously the funding of it, the policy of it, was happening all the time when I was in Lansing, so it was definitely valuable for me.

Christopher Lewis [00:19:41]:

Jim, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey today, for sharing what you have gone through, and for helping others to be able to think about this in a different way and be able to think about ways in which they can make that transition as well. And I wish you all the best.

Jim Ananich [00:19:58]:

Thank you. I really appreciate it. It was a lot of fun.

Christopher Lewis [00:19:59]:

The University of Michigan Flint has a full array of master’s and doctorate programs. If you are interested in continuing your education, whether you’re looking for in person or online learning options, the University of Michigan Flint has programs that will meet your needs. For more information on any of our graduate programs, visit graduateprograms to find out more. Thanks again for spending time with me as you prepare to be a victor in grad school. I look forward to speaking with you again soon as we embark together on your graduate school journey. If you have any questions or want to reach out, email me at Flintgrad office at