By Scholarship Winners: Julie Ayers and Jerene Watson
This past summer I was fortunate enough to be selected to attend the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program held
at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. It sounds so cliché to say that it was a life-changing
experience - but mere words do not capture the shift that takes place professionally and personally. How often do you get to
"check-out" of life and simply focus on studying how to change the world?
The program lasts three weeks and at first I was overwhelmed at the thought of leaving my children and my job as Yavapai County
Administrator for that period of time. However, I received great support and the world didn't end in my absence. My class had 70
participants from across our nation and even eight international students. We worked hard together and the bonds that were
formed during this experience will stay with me for a lifetime.
During the program I was challenged to re-think my assumptions about leadership in the public sector, relationships between
government and its citizens, and how public policy issues are addressed. I was provided tools for improved decision-making,
negotiating and collaborating. But most importantly I was challenged to rethink my role as a local government manager and how to
make a difference in my community. I would not hesitate to recommend this program to anyone who has made a commitment to the
city/town/county manager profession.
There are times in our lives we all can point to as enriching, unforgettable experiences. It is with heartfelt thanks to our ACMA
sponsors such as APS, Carollo, Stone & Youngberg, W.C. Scoutten and many others that I was privileged to spend three coveted
weeks last July at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in the Sr. Executives in State & Local Government program. It was
a rare opportunity to move out of the practitioner setting of my municipality into an amalgam of learning and sharing with
others in the public milieu. If you count our evening "learning" it was about 18 hours a day! Many of my colleagues tried to
capture it with these phrases which I share to provide a flavor of the magnitude of the experience: "I have been absolutely
transformed."; " I was picked up, shaken all around, changed forever, and then sent home to make my world a better place- no
pressure."; "An intense, exhausting, magnificent and frustrating experience that forced me to question and challenge my own
assumptions about government, public service and the 'public good' - where I was able to move outside of my own boundaries and
not just listen, but really hear other and differing points of view and approaches about processing decisions, management and
policy."; "Some of my classmates will be my friends, confidants and advisors for years to come." ; "A time where we were all in
a 'safe' environment."
Being engaged in the Socratic method of teaching/learning once again took me back more than 30 years when I audited some classes
during my husband's graduate school in Switzerland. The Harvard experience was filled in part with case studies,
perspective-sharing and animated discussion. Topics ranged across a broad spectrum, including our Founding Fathers-Jefferson,
Madison, Hamilton, and the Federalist Papers-revisiting a historical understanding of the complexities of conducting the
public's business. We were also stimulated toward a new definition and practice of "exercising leadership"." Some spirited
discourse involved examination of the "power wheel" concept, "dancing at the edge of authority" and the opportunity for some
role playing practice in the art of negotiation. My very favorite was the fascinating presentation by MD and clergyman Ron
David of UCLA Medical Center "On the Mystery of...Inter-relatedness," demonstrating the importance of the rhythm of
relationships in the universe. He taught us through a mesmerizing dance of compelling science, using illustrations from
relationships within the human body, Einstein's theories, and the resonance of two tuning harps a few feet apart that both hum
even when only one is struck. His challenge was for each of us to "resonate at A above middle C" in our relationships to one
another and creation.
During meal times we heard first-hand oral history from a former aide in the Kennedy White House and powerful testimony from a
Chinese scholar turned democracy activist who passionately proclaimed his adopted America, THE best country in the world, with a
spine-tingling strength that only one who has suffered imprisonment and loss of personal freedom in his own homeland could
convey. The thread of our academic climate was also interwoven with tours, field trips, a clambake at the program director's
home and night life "sharing" (yes, gatherings at Fenway Park and watering holes around Boston). Personal physical and
emotional challenge was the order of an all-day outing with Outward Bound team exercises on Thompson Island. Unexpected
lessons of trust and the value of teamwork were learned through discovery and doing rather than readings, lecture and
A serendipity that particularly struck me was the care and respect for us--the public servants in the program--verbalized by the
outstanding faculty and amazing presenters who came in from around the country to give us the best of their wisdom and personal
experiences. These were individuals who held high profile positions of authority and numerous degrees and specializations. They
openly thanked us and expressed to us it was their privilege to share a classroom with us. Many presenters held
multi-discipline expertise and degrees as medical and behavioral health professionals, economists, clergy, chiefs of staff to
Governors and Mayors and some were themselves former elected officials. Our program director is a subject matter expert on the
national election process who works with Congress, providing new congressional member orientations.
Lingering benefits from the time in Cambridge are the relationships established among the 70 participants whose lives now
intersect as a result of our meeting there. As we travel to destinations where one of our classmates works and lives, we
memorialize the visits through photos with each other posted to a closed HKSG Facebook page to keep in touch. This, along with
Twitter messages, direct email exchanges, Skyping and even taking some vacation days together, have created long-term bonds!
Indeed our international classmates from Ireland, Denmark, Australia, and New Zealand have gone beyond anyone's expectation with
their hospitality. They enriched our time together with their customs, friendship and unique global perspectives.
The rewards of the program continue to ripple from those three weeks and flow back to our communities. Some graduates have
gained creative energy to remain in a job they thought they would be resigning. Others have recognized life changes are
needed-job change, pursue another degree, take risks in new ways or commit to a partner. When the application is open, I urge
you to apply. The take-away is immeasurable for those who are lucky enough to be given such a tremendous life-shaping