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Displaced autoworker finds new career through MPA program

Thursday, May 1, 2014
Displaced autoworker finds new career through MPA program

Patti HarlanBy Eric Reikowski, Public Information Specialist

Five years ago, Patti Harlan was one of thousands of autoworkers caught up in a global economic crisis that shook the industry, resulting in massive job losses and shuttered businesses. The Macomb County resident took a buyout from her job as a legal clerk for Delphi Corporation and pondered the next steps of her life and career. With aid from a federal job retraining program, she eventually enrolled in the Master of Public Administration program at Oakland University-Macomb, with a concentration in court administration.

Harlan says she always hoped for a career in the public sector and had contemplated going to law school before settling on court administration as an ideal path to her dream job. Her MPA program included courses in public budgeting and finance, human resources management in the public sector, program and policy evaluation and public sector information systems management. She said her favorite course was Court Administration, taught by Diane Hartmus, associate professor of political science.

The course introduces students to the history and organization of courts, along with a range of topics in the growing field of court administration. The class also features visits from court professionals, including a judge, a court administrator, and experts in court security and problem-solving courts.

“The concentration in court administration prepares students to deal with the management issues that face courts today, including budget cuts, increasing workloads, the use of technology and security issues,” Hartmus said. “Students learn by using real-life materials that are used by court administration professionals.”

In addition, students are encouraged to supplement their classroom education with appropriate field experience.  With help from MPA Program Coordinator Suzanne Rossi, Harlan landed an internship even before setting foot in a classroom.

 “Suzanne had me send her my resume, and she supplied it to her internship coordinator in Macomb County,” Harlan said. “I was contacted for an internship with Macomb County Friend of the Court within in a month, which I gladly accepted. I started my internship the same month I started classes for the MPA program.”

Through the internship, Harlan became familiar with FOC policies and procedures and gained experience with industry software programs. She also gained experience working on a grant project coordinated through the State of Michigan to reduce state-owed arrearages in child support. The pilot program, Compromise Arrears in Return for On Time Support (CAROTS), allowed non-compliant parents to eliminate arrears in exchange for making monthly support payments on time for two years.

“Studies have shown that children do better in homes where regular child support payments are received,” Harlan explained. “Three counties were part of this program and Macomb County has the largest success rate.”

In March, Harlan was hired full-time as a clerk in the FOC's enforcement division, where she assists clients and attorneys in determining their needs and refers clients to the appropriate case attorney.

“This is definitely a job I look forward to going to every day,” she said.

She credits her education and mentors at OU-Macomb for helping her realize her goal.

“The classes I took at OU-Macomb were exceptional,” Harlan said. “It's a fantastic campus and the classes were in a more professional setting than a traditional classroom, which I appreciated.”

For more information on programs offered at OU-Macomb, visit oakland.edu/macomb. To learn more about OU’s MPA program, visit the website or contact Rossi at (248) 370-4117 or ssrossi@oakland.edu.