A Funded MPA Opportunity for African Americans: The Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship Program

Jul 15, 2020

By Guest Author Andrea C. T. Smith

In 1991, I was preparing to finish undergrad and applied to The Ohio State University School of Public Policy and Management (renamed the John Glenn College of Public Affairs in 2006). I had had a very rough undergraduate career and simply wasn’t ready to enter the world of work.  Beyond that, I had a sincere interest in government and public policy and in continuing my academic career.  Of course, money was a barrier, but I had to try.

In the spring of 1992, just before finishing my undergraduate degree in Journalism, I received a letter from Ohio State offering me a fellowship that would pay my full tuition and provide me with a generous monthly stipend for the duration of their Master of Public Administration (MPA) program—two years.  In many ways, that fellowship saved my life.  I needed a break from the many ups and downs I’d experienced throughout undergrad and continuing my education was the perfect solution.  

The award—named after Patricia Roberts Harris, an African American pioneer in the federal service—was not academic; it was for black students.  It was designed to aid students pursuing advanced degrees in fields where African Americans were underrepresented.  Thankfully, I qualified for the award and was able to continue my education at Ohio State.

The Fellowship Experience

My arrival at Ohio State marked the beginning of a whole new life.  The distinction of having finished a bachelor’s degree—and the great honor of being able to continue on to pursue a master’s—was a tremendous boost for me on many different levels.  It was a dream-come-true, not only for me, but also for my Mom.  She had attended two years of college but had not had the opportunity to finish.  Now that I was in graduate school, her joy in my accomplishment was no less than my own.  Mom was proud of me for making it—and so was I!

The master’s program was rigorous—and welcome.  As I became immersed in a whole host of new academic roles—amateur economist, junior statistician, and primary researcher in search of the systemic underpinnings of a broad variety of public ills—I found myself invigorated and imagining the many careers path which might open to me post-graduation. I also found that my relationships with faculty and staff were significantly different than what I had come to know while pursuing my bachelor’s degree.  The administrators staffing the MPA program’s front office were clearly committed to ensuring that every student succeeded academically, graduated the program, and moved on to a gainful, rewarding career.

Midway through the program, I landed an internship at one of the Big Eight Accounting Firms (now the Big Three) in Washington, D.C.  I worked as a management consultant within the firm’s Office of Government Services—the branch which specialized in helping governmental organizations of every stripe—local, state, regional, and international—boost performance outcomes through applying of the latest management improvement strategies.  I worked under one of the firm’s star performers to identify housing preservation best practices for a large municipality in upstate New York.  That assignment was a pivotal one as it granted me a golden opportunity to further develop a number of skills that would prove important later in my professional career, including web-based research, telephone interviewing, program evaluation, and professional reporting.  I did my absolute best to support the lead consultant in providing “wow factor” solutions to the client that summer.  In August, I was offered a full-time job to commence the following summer.

Post-Fellowship Life 

Upon my return to OSU, I refocused on academics and on completing my capstone.  By God’s grace, I was chosen to deliver the pre-commencement speech to friends and family on the day before graduation and awarded a College of Business Pacesetter Award. Ultimately, I returned to the firm where I had interned to serve as a consultant.  After four and a half years, I took an entry-level administrative position at a suburban non-profit, ultimately being promoted to two top administrative positions within four years.  Today, I serve as a full-time wife, homeschool mom, and doctoral student.  

The one piece of advice I would offer to students seeking fellowships is this: DON’T GIVE UP.  At a time in my life when being awarded a full fellowship to pursue an advanced degree seemed entirely unlikely, I was taken by surprise.  A fellowship for African-Americans paved the way for where I am today, and I am so grateful that it did.  One of my favorite Scriptures is Luke 11:9.  It says “So I say to you, Ask and keep on asking and it shall be given you; seek and keep on seeking and you shall find; knock and keep on knocking and the door shall be opened to you.”  Go for it, fellowship seekers, and DON’T GIVE UP.  

Andrea C.T. Smith is a wife, homeschooling mother of 4, and FLOW Certified Coach.  More importantly, she is a born-again believer and has been a grateful recipient of God’s grace for over 25 years.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Journalism from Bowling Green State University, a Master’s in Public Administration from The Ohio State University, and is now working through her third year of doctoral study with a focus on organizational leadership at Regent University.  Andrea has worked in both the private and non-profit sectors as a writer, management consultant, and administrator. Her passionate interests include intrapersonal leadership, peak personal performance, and supporting the work of individuals who desire to make life-changing shifts in order to achieve what the Bible describes as “good success” (Joshua 1:1-9; Romans 5, KJV). To connect with Andrea, visit her on the web at www.mefirstcoaching.com.

Today, the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship is available to African-American students of all levels at Howard University in Washington, D.C. If you are interested in the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship, be sure to bookmark it to your ProFellow account! 

© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved