How do you think your town’s parks and recreation department is doing?
Three UConn students – Matthew Cole, Kelley Jacobson and Ashley Laferriere – are aiming to find out – in Mansfield.
As students in the Master of Public Administration program in CLAS’s public policy department, Laferriere, Jacobson and Cole have developed and administered a public opinion survey for the Town of Mansfield’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“Mansfield is a unique town – they have a giant campus around them,” says Cole. “We’re getting to practice our skills, and they’re getting quality research.”
The master of public administration program teaches students to work in a variety of public service jobs in federal, state and local government as well as private sector organizations. Their final capstone project involves a yearlong research project in the service of a local organization.
“Some organizations have an idea they’ve been considering, but they may not have the resources fully explore it,” says Assistant Professor Deneen Hatmaker, the capstone course instructor and an adviser to the Mansfield Parks and Recreation capstone project. “By working with our students they have an opportunity to pursue something they’ve been wanting to do, and at the same time they’re able to give back to UConn.”
Curt Vincente, director of Mansfield Parks and Recreation, had originally approached the MPA program with an idea to develop a strategic plan. But the students quickly realized that for an organization of this scope, a strategic plan was much more than they could accomplish in their short time.
So the best first step, they determined, was to administer a public opinion survey. They wanted to know what people like and don’t like about the facilities, programs and services offered by Mansfield Parks and Recreation. Does the equipment meet everyone’s needs? How do people like the pool? Would they like another pool to be added? How about the fitness classes? These and many other carefully researched and worded questions comprised a web-based, 20-minute survey sent to more than 5600 current and former Mansfield Community Center members.
Laferriere says that the survey helped them to understand the broader picture.
“It gave us an opportunity to learn what goes into strategic plans,” she notes.
While collecting their data, the students also discovered an unexpected benefit of working together: their different strengths. They all attended UConn for their undergraduate degrees; while Cole majored in economics, Jacobson and Laferriere studied political science and English.
“Matt is heavily quantitative, but that’s not my strong point,” laughs Jacobson.
“Public policy is all these different disciplines coming together to try to solve problems,” adds Cole. “You need to know writing, statistics, finance, human resources, labor management, political science…and the list goes on.”
The students are currently analyzing their data from the public opinion survey and will present a report to their advisers and the Mansfield Parks and Recreation staff at the end of the semester. The town can then use the report in the development of its strategic plan.
“We hope the survey will help us make good recommendations for parks and recreation trends in the future,” says Jacobson.
The experience, they all agree, has been invaluable as on-the-job training.
“I wouldn’t have realized what kind of career I was looking for without this program,” says Jacobson.