by Melissa Bell:
The coronavirus pandemic is a different kind of emergency than others I have encountered. Just like everyone else, I am personally impacted: suddenly working from home, adjusting my MPA study schedule, keeping up with quickly developing news, and making sure my family is safe, well, and has the provisions needed. Even with these unexpected changes, I have no complaints. My household has so far not been infected, and we still have our jobs, though my husband’s hours were drastically reduced at first. Everyone I know has a stockpile of toilet paper, and I am confident disinfecting wipes will someday return to store shelves. here are students who are not comfortable with online instruction. They are either struggling through their online courses or deferring to a later semester when things get back to normal. Many people also take technology for granted. Not every student has access to computers or Internet connections suitable for their work and education. We must understand that such resources may be basic to some people, but unavailable to many. Inclusion does not only refer to racial or gender demographics but financial resources as well.
Despite the minor and short-term inconveniences of the pandemic, devoting extra time to responding to it has not been possible. Previous local disasters such as hurricanes had me working overtime at a non-profit organization, serving people who are deaf or hard of hearing and making sure those who evacuated to shelters and temporary housing had access to information and communication so they could receive the same benefits and services as everyone else. While the motivation is still there for this emergency, I am being forced to balance. I put in my full effort during work hours, then turn to schoolwork, family needs, and a personal project to disconnect from the stress: revitalizing my back yard.
When the coronavirus spread to the U.S., I wondered how public administrators were responding. Professors at Texas State University connected me with organizations that offered electronic news feeds, and I am finding it valuable to read about the actions of government on all levels and the values they promote during the crisis: responsibility, perseverance, transparency, innovation, compassion.
The complex nature of the pandemic has made me reflect deeply about the real-world applicability of everything I have learned during the MPA program. How are government budgets impacted? In what specific ways should leaders guide people through a crisis? How should organizations implement change quickly? What role does intergovernmental relationships play? Now I am more mindful and aware of the roles of state and local governments in emergencies. Critical thinking skills and evidence-based decision-making emphasized in my MPA program have helped me educate myself on my role as a government employee and private citizen during unprecedented times like these.
My Public Policy class is reading about governments that failed to respond adequately to natural and man-made disasters throughout history. As depressing as that topic sounds during a global pandemic, it inspires me to endeavor to get this one right and to protect the health and wellbeing of the people we serve. For me at the state agency where I now oversee the advocacy and technology program, it means supporting specialists as they work with government entities to provide live captioning and sign language interpreters at press conferences. It involves answering inquiries about how to communicate effectively since everyone is now wearing masks that cover their mouths, making it difficult to communicate. I value the information and skills I’ve gained from the MPA program and am applying it in my role in state government. Now if my phone would just pop up with an alert about those elusive disinfecting wipes!
About the author:
Melissa Bell is a graduate student at Texas State University and a member of its MPA Advisory Board. She has worked as a program specialist with Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services since 2013, passionately serving alongside the community to make the world a more equal, accessible place for this population. Her newfound 2020 hobbies include attending Zoom meetings, touring nearby cities and countryside (without getting out of the car), and hunting for household cleaning supplies with her husband of 22 years. @TexasStateUniversityMPA