Quantitative to Administrative: An economics student’s journey to public affairs.Alaina Leverenz | Graduate School Oct 2, 2019
Meet Shihao Dai, a current student in the accelerated Master of Public Administration program in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver). Originally from China, Shihao was enrolled in a joint program with CU Denver and China Agricultural University. Through this program, he spent his first two years in China then the latter two years in Denver studying Economics. He also triple-minored in international studies, communication, and political science. For his communication minor, he enrolled in an internship class where he spent a year interning with Connect Us, a local nonprofit.
“That’s when I transitioned my dream career from economics to nonprofit work,” said Dai.
While economics and public affairs may seem like two completely different worlds, Shihao found both similarities and areas within each where he had an edge.
“Among my classmates I am the quantitative guy. I do my capstone with Great Education Colorado and I do quantitative research about education funding and student performance. Their organization can use this data to help convince state legislators to invest more money in [these projects].”
Shihao appreciates the challenging and intense nature of the accelerated MPA program. It is a one-year program where students complete rotations of three courses every eight weeks. Shihoa feels he has gained critical knowledge from his time in the program including how a nonprofit works, how to manage a nonprofit, how to fundraise, policy process, and more.
Aside from the School of Public Affairs being nationally ranked, Shihoa shared that he had many reasons to continue his education in Denver.
“It's DENVER! I love sports. I love outdoor activities, this is like heaven for me, right?” said Shihoa, “I can go up to mountains, I can hike in the summer and ski in the winter. There are also a lot of activities I can do here in Denver and the greater metro area as well. The people are nice here, and it's not cold in winter.”
A typical day starts early for Dai with a short commute from Aurora, where he lives, to CU Denver by way of the light rail train. With a convenient light rail stop right on campus, he arrives at the classroom around 8 a.m. to preview the course materials and prep for class. After his two-and-a-half-hour class, Shihoa looks forward to the “Lunch and Learns” the School of Public Affairs hosts, which provide opportunities to learn about innovations in the field and discover strategies for academic career success. Shihoa shared that this past semester, they had a guest from the Federal Government National Forest Service. He appreciated learning about the high-level government work and the suggestions she provided on how to get into the federal government field, including how to get an internship and apply for a federal job.
Then his afternoon class begins at 1 p.m. and lasts another two-and-a-half hours. He likes to stay after class and chat with his classmates, discuss projects with his group members, or work on his homework. Most days he takes the light rail home for dinner and leisure, but some days he and his classmates attend Denver professional sporting events, like a Colorado Rockies baseball game at Coors Field, just down the street.
“It sounds like a very intensive day but actually discussing with my classmates and talking with my professors is really interesting. It's helpful to me to hear what others think and not just learn theories from a book.”
Shihoa is very passionate about helping people and contributing to his community. He feels the MPA program has prepared him to work in the field and has provided the extra knowledge needed to excel in nonprofit and public sector work.
“This is a really a good way to prepare you to do the work and have the career in the future,” said Dai. “This is a very intensive cohort and you need to do a lot of work. But it’s worth it. Worth the time. Worth the money.”
Are you interested in learning more about the Master of Public Administration program at CU Denver? Click here....
oa’s advice: Don’t be afraid to try something new. You can do it! You don’t need to have tons of working experience to get into the program, however during the program you can make some connections, do internships, and more.