A Journey To Become Policy Pioneers

January 28, 2016

Michigan Education Policy Fellowship Program, now 40 years running, prepares fellows to lead change in the state

By: Cynthia Kyle

Their names ring forth from history—Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, The Peach Orchard.

Here, on this ridged and sloped Pennsylvania terrain, 50,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, lost or captured.

And here, at Gettysburg, the Fellows from the Michigan Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) are awed to learn battlefield lessons from the great military commanders of the American Civil War—150 years past—can be linked to their leadership challenges of today.

Together, joined with counterparts from sister programs across the country, Michigan Fellows learn that wins and losses from a major U.S. battlefield can be applied to their own leadership successes within district, community, classroom, nonprofit and state government roles.

It may not be, at first look, the most natural of connections.

“I have to admit that, at first, I was a little skeptical. Public schools and Gettysburg?” recalls Madeline Mavrogordato, assistant professor of K-12 educational administration, about the October trip during her year as an EPFP Fellow.

She quickly discovered the trip was precisely framed around leadership and closely aligned with her work with principals and other school leaders. During the trip, specially trained tour guides focus on how leaders reacted and how they made decisions under fire when facing sharp limits on personnel, time, resources, weather and the ground they have to cover.

The emotionally charged tour of terrain, almost as it existed during the crucial battle, joins Michigan’s Education Policy Fellows with Fellows from the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Their interaction and engagement seal new bonds in a national network of dedicated interest.

The battlefield engagement helped shape Mavrogordato’s work. “I walked away from that experience having a number of visuals that I continue to use in my teaching,” she says. “The Gettysburg trip was a really fascinating experience.”

The experience is also closely aligned with the program’s goal: to help early- to mid-career education and human service professionals gain knowledge and leadership skills for policy design and implementation—the tools needed to understand, advocate, explain and enhance state policy.

EPFP is naturally at home in Michigan State University’s College of Education. It is affiliated with the College of Education’s Office of K-12 Outreach, where programs support research, teaching and service, and the Education Policy Center at MSU (EPC). The EPC provides research findings on key policy issues, reliable education data and expert, non-partisan analysis.

“The Education Policy Fellowship program is something that has helped policy students and faculty to gain a better understanding of issues, process and players, particularly in Michigan,” says EPC co-director Robert Floden. Floden is the new dean of the College of Education as of January 2016.

Leaders, Workshops, Forums, Learning Groups and Networks

Michigan Education Policy Fellows hail from state government, public and private schools, intermediate school districts, universities, professional associations, businesses and nonprofit organizations. They are diverse in gender, age, race, geography, background and experience.

Michigan’s EPFP is part of a 14-state national network, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), founded in 1964 in Washington, D.C. Michigan’s program has become nationally renowned for its ability to cross instructional boundaries and foster personal interaction.

The program creatively encourages learning through small teams, workshops, forums, in-depth analysis and sessions with some of the state’s most knowledgeable policy leaders.

It strives to introduce new MSU faculty members and administrators from K-12, nonprofit and state government executives at an early to mid-point in their careers to the history, complexities and intricacies of public policy. It’s also designed to encourage an understanding of Michigan’s governing structure, its up-and-down economy and changing political landscape. Throughout, personal leadership skills are stressed.

“It’s a great way for Fellows to learn what’s going on in Michigan from some of the people who have shaped the policies or who shape the policies,” says Floden. Involved with the program since he became the EPC co-director in 2010, Floden shares with the Fellows his expertise in teacher quality, evaluation, preparation and recruiting.

“It’s very valuable for the new faculty we bring in who aren’t from Michigan,” he adds.

Mavrogordato was new to Michigan and an EPFP Fellow during the 2012-13 academic year. She grew up in Washington, D.C. She attended universities in South Carolina and Tennessee and taught in Texas and California. “I really don’t know what I would have done to better get my feet under me during my first year here in Michigan,” she says.

Assistant Dean Barbara Markle in the college’s Office of K-12 Outreach, an EPFP graduate and continuing supporter, suggested Mavrogordato apply for the program and Marilyn Amey, chairperson of the Department of Educational Administration, sponsored her participation.

Here’s How It Works

Fellows begin their fellowship with an orientation session, followed by monthly seminars and interactive sessions focused on key policy issues. They attend policy conferences in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., and integrate the year’s experiences by dividing into small learning teams to develop critical collaborative skills.

The result: leaders with advanced skills in collaborating, planning, directing, evaluating programs and policies; identifying personal preferences and styles; sharing in social and cultural experiences and effective leadership that helps build capacity across the state.

For example, Markle leads Fellows through exercises assessing their personal skills in leadership, decision-making and conflict management. “When is it time to compromise? When is it time to collaborate?” she asks. “The more we know about ourselves the better we can lead.”

Fellows complemented their Gettysburg tour with a visit to the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. At the War College, U.S. military leaders lectured on vision and culture, preparing strategic leaders, managing change and curriculum reform in challenging times.

By early spring, Fellows are at Michigan’s Capitol for the Michigan Policy Seminar, a behind-the-scenes look at policy and decision-making. This year’s agenda included sessions with legislators in education-related roles, along with specialists from intermediate school districts, Gov. Rick Snyder’s office and educational advocacy groups.

The 2014-15 Michigan EPFP Fellows with Senator Gary Peters.

The 2014-15 Michigan EPFP Fellows with Senator Gary Peters.

Later in the year, Fellows are off to Capitol Hill for the prized Washington Policy Seminar. The 2014-15 EPFP Fellows were delighted by extended briefings from Michigan’s U.S. Reps. Mike Bishop, Dan Kildee and John Moolenaar and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters.

Bishop and Moolenaar spoke of challenges in their transition from Michigan’s Legislature to the U.S. Congress. Moolenaar touched on science and STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—education, issues of interest to the Fellows. A chemist, he serves on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Peters reflected on his first term as a U.S. Senator, his support for bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the need to promote a healthy and vibrant Michigan business climate.

The Washington Policy Seminar was the highlight of Markle’s EPFP Fellowship year. “It’s a rare opportunity … to go behind the scenes, to see how the system really works,” she says. “It really changes people’s perspectives and reveals the complexities of the system.”

Intervening months bring some of the state’s most knowledgeable experts before the Fellows in seminars, panel discussions and a special invitation to the President’s Education Forums, a series of policy briefings sponsored by MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and the College of Education.

Michigan State University Extension specialist Eric Scorsone has appeared before the Fellows since 2010, and shared his expertise in local control. “I try to challenge the Fellows to think about policy connections and consequences,” he said.

Early in the year, Education Policy Fellows were organized into learning teams, small groups charged with consensus decision-making to develop a seminar around their learning priorities and objectives. They are encouraged to dive deeply into complex topics by integrating research, conferences, panels and presentations.

Past seminar topics have explored ballot initiatives as policy alternatives, district size and structure, school reform, teacher training, ethics in public policy, leadership styles, technology and global change’s role in transforming education.

David Arsen, an economist and Educational Administration professor in the College of Education, was part of a panel invited by Fellows to speak about the Detroit Public Schools’ history and future. “It was an opportunity for the Fellows to hear from a diverse set of speakers, their take on what’s going on and what might represent positive steps,” he says.

A well-regarded book and an oft-cited policy model grew out of former Lansing Mayor David Hollister’s presentations to EPFP. “A Public Policy Primer: How to Get Off the Sidelines and into the Game,” was published in 2007. He’s been involved with EPFP for all but five years of the program’s existence.

“I created this framework of good politics, good policy, different ways policy is made. It resonated wherever I went,” said Hollister, a former state representative and state department director. He wrote the book as his Parkinson’s disease was diagnosed, making typing at a single sitting tricky. EPFP offered dictation software and the book was born.

“I don’t come at it from a partisan point of view. I come at it from ‘here’s how it works.’ I consider EPFP a wonderful way to impact educators, to open their eyes to citizen engagement, to be effective,” Hollister says.

Four Decades and 1,000 Fellows

Each EPFP year wraps up with a conference, a special dinner or event.

In 2015, EPFP celebrated two milestones—its 40th anniversary and 1,000th Fellow. The year-ending 40th anniversary alumni seminar recognized Douglas B. Roberts, Ph.D., director of MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, with a National Leadership Award for 25 years of contributions to the Michigan EPFP.

Roberts has shared with Fellows his insider views of the state’s budget and tax structure from his 10 years of experience as Michigan treasurer and 30 years of work for five state governors.

Michigan’s EPFP was born during another time of turmoil, as the nation emerged from the Vietnam War and Michigan debated the necessity for economic renaissance and emerging interests in school finance reform.

The program survives because of strong support from the College of Education, educators across the state and Fellowship sponsors, says Daniel Schultz, an EPFP alumnus who has directed the program for the past 35 years. Brian Boggs, a 2012-13 Fellow and College of Education outreach specialist, is co-coordinator of the program. He took over from Chris Reimann as co-coordinator in 2014.

Among sponsors are businesses, schools, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and individuals. Currently, an estimated 70 percent of the Fellows are sponsored by an individual who came through the program, says Schultz. “That’s a record to be proud of,” he adds.

A proud future’s ahead for Michigan’s EPFP, Schultz predicts.

Michigan’s EPFP “is a fantastic opportunity,” says Marilyn Amey, a longtime EPFP sponsor of new MSU faculty members interested in policy content.

“It’s an added benefit of joining the faculty here,” she said. “The return on the investment is significant. It’s one of the best professional development opportunities I can think of. The sooner you can get it … the better off all of your efforts will be.”


On the web

For more information on the Michigan Education Policy Fellowship Program, including presentations, lists of alumni and current fellows and application, visit: