It had been six years since Joseph Dant was in a classroom. Six years since he dealt with the pressures of coursework. Six years since he since he left college after realizing he wasn’t ready.
“I knew I wanted to go back eventually, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go,” Dant says.
After taking a career aptitude test, Dant became interested in a career in government. It was the test administrator who first introduced him to SPEA and its connection to work in the public sector. Dant reached out, met with a SPEA advisor, and enrolled in SPEA’s civic leadership program, focusing on nonprofit management.
While Dant’s six years away had provided career clarity, the hurdles he and other nontraditional students face can be daunting. Since he worked during the day, he could only take courses part time in the evenings. He was 25 years old and recently married, yet motivated to get his degree.
So he made another life-altering decision. He quit his job and took a position as a third-shift custodian with IUPUI. He worked at night so he could attend classes full time during the day.
The change allowed him to focus on his new future. He could fully embrace his courses and take on new challenges, including an internship with the Indiana General Assembly. After graduation, he landed a full-time position as a legislative assistant in the General Assembly.
But it would be four years before Dant decided to return to graduate school. Once again he found himself in the role of a nontraditional student. Now a father to three with another baby on the way, he knew he needed to balance coursework with his employer and his growing family. But he also knew that returning to his SPEA family could help him deepen his knowledge and advance his work.
“I know the value of a SPEA degree,” Dant says. “People in government across the country recognize that SPEA sets the bar for public service degrees.”
Dant has seen that value from both sides of the diploma. As a student, it helped him make connections in state government. Now, as the director of industry and governmental affairs for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, he sees that degree as an asset in potential employees.
“We know SPEA produces quality students,” he says. “When somebody looks at a resume and it has a SPEA degree on it, it’s an instant differentiator. We know they’ll have a solid base, an innovative thought process, and a data- and solutions-based approach to addressing problems.”
Dant says that approach is a critical part of a student’s journey through SPEA’s undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
“Even though I don’t work in the nonprofit sector, the lessons I learned during my undergrad courses were important because I now work around the nonprofit sector,” Dant says.
He says that while many people in government often excel in their specialized area, they may not understand the bigger impact their work has or how to interact with those in the private or nonprofit sectors.
“My SPEA education provided that baseline understanding of the interactions of the private, public, and nonprofit sectors,” he says. “I can now explain to those in government where someone from the nonprofit sector is coming from and the type of conversation we need to have with them.”
SPEA’s graduate program helped Dant take his undergrad degree one step further by deepening his knowledge through a public management certificate that offered real-world lessons in the classroom.
“The practicality of the courses gave students the ability to speak authoritatively about these kinds of things and to have confidence that we knew what we were doing.”
Dant credits much of that confidence to having instructors who worked or were working in the public sector. But he says the SPEA network also played a key part in his education and still helps build important relationships in his work today. Now that he’s part of that network, he says it’s his turn to give back to SPEA.
“If my experience can help someone get a foot in the door or decide if a government career is—or is not—for them, that’s huge,” he says. “If an hour or half-hour with someone can have a major impact on their career path and life, my time is a small price to pay. It’s incumbent upon any available alumni to give back to the next generation of our SPEA network.”