The Road to Fels: Passion and Public Service in Philadelphia

March 15, 2012

Allyson Davis, Executive MPA '12

Growing up in Philadelphia—the birthplace of democracy—cultivated my passion for history, government and public service.  As a student in the Philadelphia public schools, I saw firsthand the challenging conditions, the racial tensions, and the other fault lines of social inequality.  Wanting to learn more to help make sense of my experience, I attended the University of Michigan to study political science and then Temple for law school. 

During law school, I fell in love with Philadelphia once again, so while I briefly contemplated job offers in different cities, I ultimately took a private sector position as a commercial litigation associate at a large Philadelphia firm.  I soon discovered, however, that this sort of legal practice did not match my interests, as I wanted to play a role in societal progress.  So I started a new job search and was fortunate to be offered a clerkship on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and then to join the City of Philadelphia Law Department, first serving as Assistant City Solicitor for the Philadelphia International and Northeast Airports and currently representing the City in Real Estate and Economic Development matters.

During the recent financial crisis, many qualified lawyers were laid off and had great difficulty finding another legal job.  As I realized that a law degree did not bring the same job security it once did, I began to consider additional graduate education to help me and my resume stand out.  I wanted any further study to complement my legal practice but also to provide a stronger foundation for public sector work.     

When it came time to apply to schools, I thought about the professional contacts I admired most.  In Philadelphia, it seems as though all the distinguished public sector players attended Fels and I was extremely impressed with all of the Fels graduates I knew.  It seemed that a degree from Fels would not only provide a superior education, but also extend my professional network. 

Through my coursework, I’ve gained a better understanding of public finance and management, which I’ve already put to work in my law practice for the Airport.  For example, I was part of the team working on a major Airport expansion.  This required the Airport to issue bonds, review financial documents, and negotiate contracts and my studies at Fels enabled me to be part of the conversation.  My Fels education has also helped me in my role on the boards of Operation Understanding and the Idea Coalition.  Coursework in performance management has meant that I make better, more evidence-based decisions and of course the finance classes helped me to better evaluate the fiscal health of the organizations.  I’m so proud to be serving this city that I love and I appreciate that the skills, perspectives and contacts that I’ve gained from Fels are allowing me to increase my impact and help move Philadelphia forward. 


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