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MPA Student Presents in 3MT Competition

MPA Student Presents in 3MT Competition

Michelle Pahlen is from Crookston, MN. She graduated with her B.A. in Political Science from UND in May 2023. She currently works at the Teaching Transformation and Development (TTaDA) and the Pancratz Career Center at UND. She will be graduating with her Master of Public Administration in May 2024. Michelle had the opportunity to present at the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition earlier this semester. She presented results from an evaluation of the Alice T. Clark program that she began planning last year during POLS 537 – Program Evaluation, a course taught by Dr. Laura Hand in the MPA Program.

What made you decide to evaluate and present on the Alice T. Clark program?

When it came to having this assignment for POLS 537, I was at a loss on what program I wanted to do. At the time though, the ATC Mentoring Program 2022-23 session was a big focus in the department (TTaDA), so I reached out to Dr. Hand to see if it would work for the assignment. When it was approved, I brought the idea to Dr. Anne Kelsch, the Director of Faculty Development who leads ATC to get some more information on the program for the assignment. I have been working at TTaDA since Fall of 2021, so I have been surrounded by this faculty development type of work, and I really enjoy higher education, so I found the potential benefits of this program very fascinating.

How did the evaluation process unveil?

There was an extensive amount of planning prior to doing this evaluation. The assignment itself consisted of gathering information about the program (a description and program theory), creating a logic model, and stakeholder mapping. It also included discussing the purpose of the evaluation, crafting evaluation questions, a research design, and a data collection plan to guide the more hands-on research. Once this was all completed, I then had to create the structure of the focus groups and survey and then a plan on how the data would be analyzed. Dr. Kelsch would meet with me after each section was submitted; we would go back through the sections together and find any areas that needed editing or more information added to be sure it was accurate.

She also provided information on suggested time frame, question selection, and recommended number of participants for the focus groups, and worked with me to facilitate any changes to their post-survey they would send out to the year’s mentees. After everything was ready to go, Dr. Kelsch helped me reach out to the mentees and department chairs for their participation in the focus groups, which had to move quickly as we had about two weeks until most instructors would be off contract for the summer. The focus groups’ planning was also extensive, including crafting surveys to organize times, crafting messages and reminders to send, setting up the technology, and then holding the focus groups; it was all very time-consuming. After all of this came compiling the information and coding it to find the main focal points of the survey, mentee focus groups, and then department chair focus groups.

How did you prepare for the 3MT to describe your research in a clear and compelling way?

I had never had an experience quite like this before and it was difficult to start. Prior to our first training session for the competition, I was mainly focused on the research that was done and the results. But, when it came to this kind of writing it needed to be more personalized, and the trainers really helped with refining this information to be informative but with that personalization. The biggest piece that I had actually been struggling with was the analogy to start off the presentation and my trainer at the time suggested the ‘favorite teacher’ analogy I ended up using. Finding a kind of structure and balance too was particularly important because you do not want to confine yourself to only showing the research in one light. After I got the structure I liked down, I attended a few more training sessions to continue refining it and getting feedback. To prepare myself for the speaking portion of the competition, I ran through it a bunch, talking slowly and taking a few pauses in between sections to make sure that during the competition I did not go overtime.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing the opportunity to compete in the 3MT?

As someone that truly does not like public speaking, the idea of participating in this competition was very nerve-wracking but, in the end, it was worth it. I remember for the first training session; I was overthinking all of it and was not confident in what I had. When I got there, it was obvious that this first version was not perfect for everyone, and it was not expected to be. Those training sessions really helped with building confidence because you were getting the feedback and refining it to make it better, which also helped me get to know the information I was focusing on a lot better too. After the whole thing it felt really rewarding to successfully craft this story of my research.