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Student view: How my job in research is preparing me for a career in public policy

June 8, 2023 - Sean Farnum

Sean Farnum is a senior majoring in social relations and policy with minors in political economy and economics, graduating in December. He is currently a research assistant for the Regional Economic Development (REI) branch of the center.

Sean Farnum

When I decided to work for Michigan State’s Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED) in January, the trajectory of my life changed. In five short months, I have learned so much from the wonderful colleagues and mentors around me as we have worked towards improving the capacity of the university and affiliated organizations around Michigan to impact local communities.

The center, run through the University’s Office of Outreach and Engagement, is dedicated to building a more equitable and sustainable future for underserved communities while also being a base of academic learning for applying those needs to modern society. CCED tackles problems that pose unique challenges to distressed communities around Michigan.

Established in 1969, the center has spent over six decades conducting programs in partnership with public and private organizations to address local concerns, while also working with students, scholars, and communities to build a foundation for future projects.

Before joining CCED, I felt lost about the direction that I wanted to take with my career. Throughout college, I have always hopped from place to place, working for campaigns, legislative staffing and fundraising, but I never felt like they were the fit I sought. I wanted to be at a place where I could help others and make changes while honing my skills in administration, finance, organization, research and policy development.

When I was referred to the organization by Professor Louise Jezierski, I knew that CCED presented a critical opportunity for my future. Working at a center that combines collaborative learning, community engagement, building partnerships and professional development provided a way for me to explore my interests while working on substantial projects. I applied for the student research assistantship, which is geared for students interested in project planning, research design and implementation, event organization, networking, and program evaluation. Additionally, there are faculty-guided, student-led technical assistance projects that students can apply and gain funding for.  

During my time at CCED, I have worked on a variety of projects in different programs that the office provides, like Regional Economic Innovation (REI), Domicology and other individual project-based programs. One of these projects has been to work with the MSU Board of Trustees to develop an investment fund for community development organizations. I became the lead editor on a feasibility study to accompany this initiative, where I collaborated with other research assistants and a board of advisers over the course of the project.

Soon, the center will also be holding a roundtable discussion with the Board and community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to discuss a potential investment strategy. Additionally, I am currently compiling an operating manual for Michigan Inventors Coalition and working on another feasibility study for deconstruction initiatives in Michigan. There are numerous other projects available to students based on their interests, which can range from graphic design and website management to program coordination and research.

Working at CCED has been an incredible experience for me. The staff is heavily invested in helping me develop my network and professional qualifications by offering me projects that match my learning goals. The center also helps to cover the costs of certain certification programs while holding training sessions for important skills like grant writing. I would strongly recommend the center to anyone looking to pursue a career in public policy, urban planning or social work, especially if they are interested in improving local communities.