Fels Student and TFA Alumna Tracy MacArthur
By Michael Cecire (MGA '09) When Tracy MacArthur’s ambitions began to outgrow her skills, she did what many people would do – she looked for a graduate program to suit her needs and interests. But MacArthur was not looking for another way to climb the corporate ladder or to jump into a brand new career. Instead, her decision was borne from spending time working in education development in Louisiana first as a Teach for America member and then in a small Baton Rouge nonprofit. MacArthur, who is from Bloomington, Indiana, was accepted into the highly-selective Teach for America program after graduating from Ithaca College. Posted to a rural school in Opelousas, Louisiana, MacArthur’s professional interest in education and education development really took off in what she called the “hardest two years” of her “entire life.” “It takes a lot of time and a lot of commitment,” says MacArthur. “You learn so much about yourself; you learn what your passions are.” MacArthur’s passion was education – so much so that after her Teach for America service ended, she stayed in Louisiana and accepted a job with Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS), a small Baton Rouge grass roots nonprofit where she helped recruit and manage volunteers to go into public schools and work directly with students who were struggling academically. Although the organization had a long history – almost three decades – they it had become known in the community as being only moderately functional itself. “We were known as the cookie people,” recalls MacArthur, alluding to the organization’s once-longstanding fundraising strategy to sell baked goods to sustain their operations. But with the arrival of a new executive director and MacArthur, the old complacency was gone – as were the cookies. The organization focused on its core activities and, with the leadership of the new executive director and the hard work of MacArthur, began to see earnest results. But as the organization’s capacity grew, MacArthur decided it was time to upgrade and expand her own skill set to be a better advocate for proper education reform and development. “I was in my position and I wasn’t as effective as I thought I could be,” she says, “I just didn’t have the knowledge base – I needed a stronger foundation to be effective for my kids.” Interested in the public management aspect of education development, MacArthur applied to some of the biggest names in public affairs like American University, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, and Penn – in the end, she ended up choosing Fels, easily the smallest and, some would say, the most intimate and practical public policy program. “From the minute I called, it was very welcoming.” Although it’s small, Fels thrives on big ideas and real-world considerations. MacArthur is particularly happy with the range of ages and backgrounds of the students in her Fels classes. “It’s really nice to hear everyone’s different perspectives – it really broadens the conversation.” Although her direct interest lies in education, MacArthur’s outlook is broadening to other important considerations, many of which may have some effect on her own ideas for education. In her budgeting class, MacArthur and a group of 12 other students were assigned to put together an entire city budget, where she’s learning about the zero-sum environment that often characterizes budget discussions in cities around the country. With that bigger picture in mind, MacArthur is better equipped to not only draw upon a wider world to help improve education, but now has the ability to better navigate what is often a politically-charged environment. Now, she is doing an internship with a Philadelphia education consulting firm working on charter schools. When she graduates, with the Fels education behind her, MacArthur will have the foundation to carry her to success, wherever she goes.
Michael Cecire (MGA '09) is a policy consultant and freelance writer based in Tbilisi.