There was a time when Isaac White was much more concerned with the snooze button than his future.
“I was not motivated in high school,” White said. “I overslept the day of my SAT test. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school, so I joined the Army. My undergraduate degree and my time in the Army helped me realize you’ve got to take care of the opportunities that you are given.”
White has come a long way since those carefree days of youth and abundant sleep. The Pennsylvania native recently became the first Arkansas State University online student selected to the prestigious Presidential Management Fellows Program.
“We are very excited about Isaac’s selection,” said Arkansas State University Political Science Department Associate Professor and Chair Dr. William McLean. “We couldn’t be happier. Isaac has worked very hard during the program to maintain excellent grades, and his selection is further reward for those efforts. The faculty and staff — from our admissions and financial aid counselors to our academic counselors and marketing specialists — in the A-State MPA program have worked very hard in a very short time to develop a selective, high quality, nationally accredited program.”
White, who is on pace to earn a Master of Public Administration in the Public Management Track in May 2017, was one of 6,370 applicants from 141 institutions and 417 finalists selected to the program on Jan. 11, 2017.
He will go through a two-year paid training and development fellowship with a government agency. White had some valuable insight into the program from his sister-in-law Emily White, who has a little less than a year to go on her own Presidential Management Fellows Program fellowship out of the Penn State University Class of 2015.
“You talk to agencies to find a good fit for yourself, and then the agency makes an offer,” White said. “It’s not a guaranteed thing. The Office of Personnel Management started posting some job announcements, and they are having a hiring fair that hasn’t been scheduled yet. After being selected as a finalist, you have one year to begin working for an agency.”
White said he is open to working for any government agency, but he would especially enjoy staying with the United States Department of Agriculture, where he was recently hired as a systems analyst in Riverdale, Maryland.
“Once you’re in there, the agency invests a lot of energy and resources into developing you into a leader in government for future generations,” he said. “You do developmental, rotational assignments where you circulate through different departments within an agency. Then, there are also external agencies, a rotation you can do with Congress, think tanks, different government organizations.
“It’s all while you’re collecting a salary from the government, and they are really investing that time. With government funding the way it is and limited resources, it’s one of the few programs where they really invest in you and your career.”
Developing a Passion
White had no choice but to grow up in the Army. He was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, and also served a year in Iraq, between 2004 and 2005, as a medic, one of two jobs he was able to do because he is colorblind.
“It was enlightening,” he said. “A big part of it was preparation. I was a medic, and it was one of those things where you need to invest the time in building your skills and be prepared because the outcome of not being prepared could mean somebody’s life.”
It was also where White discovered his calling.
“After being in the Army, I knew that public service was something that I wanted to pursue,” he said. “I really enjoy the challenges that government faces. There are big problems, and, unfortunately, I don’t think as a nation we’ve put our best people into solving those problems. Rather than going into business administration, public administration was what I wanted to focus on. It’s not always glamorous, but you are solving tough problems — and it’s really rewarding.”
After his four years of enlistment, White went home to Pennsylvania and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in economics from Edinboro University in 2009. After graduation, he went to work as a claims representative for the United States Social Security Administration, but saw the writing on the wall that there was not much room for advancement.
“When the opportunity came up, if I wasn’t prepared for it, I would have to wait quite a while for it to come up again,” White said. “So, I didn’t want to leave myself in a position where I felt like I hadn’t done everything that I could to prepare myself to be the best candidate for the position.”
That’s when he decided to earn an MPA online from A-State.
“My wife had also been encouraging me to go for a number of years,” White said. “She has her master’s and is in a Ph.D. program, so education is important to us. She was able to see the personal fulfillment you get through continuing education and wanted me to enjoy it, too.”
Why A-State Online?
White took about a year to find the right combination of program amenities he was looking for before deciding on A-State’s online program.
“I tend to be real analytical,” White said. “When I first started looking, after my first search, I think Arkansas passed a law that said online students would get the same rate as in-state. That came up later in my search, so when I saw that it made the program much more affordable than any of the others I was comparing it to.
“Being in Pennsylvania, I looked at the options available locally. I was pretty rural. There were no traditional schools with MPAs right in the area, so online was important to me. Arkansas State, the affordability and the accreditation through NASPAA (The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration) were my two big criteria.”
Soon after he began the A-State MPA online program, White was promoted to systems analyst.
“The biggest thing is when I went into it, I had an idea that ‘This is my career path goal,’ and it was with Social Security in that local office,” he said. “Then, as I got into it… because I was in the program, other opportunities opened up to me that I couldn’t foresee before. So, now I’m in a position where I wouldn’t have even conceived of as a career path when I started the program, but it’s really a much better fit for me. And it’s because of the MPA program.”
The online format proved especially beneficial for White with his new job in a new state.
“The flexibility is really important — both online with your time but also geographically,” he said. “Moving from one job to the other, had I been at a traditional school, I probably would have had to drop out and start all over at a different school.”
Preparing for the Future
One MPA online course in particular, Administrative Leadership [POSC 6613], is White’s favorite so far.
“Professor [Darrel] Phillips really challenged us to do a lot of self-analysis,” White said. “Through that course, there was quite a bit of self-discovery of my own leadership style and my communication styles, which opened my eyes to where my strengths and weaknesses are and helped me to improve my weaknesses and improve my strengths so I could really be an effective leader.”
White has also enjoyed the pacing of the courses.
“I’ve been doing one course at a time, which was also important to me,” he said. “The way the 7-week programs are laid out, you can take two courses a semester and not have them going on at the same time, so you can really focus on one area of study at a time.”
Plus, he has enhanced another skill while earning a degree.
“The program teaches you time management,” he said. “I’ve gotten so much better at it because you have to. That carried over into the growth and not knowing where it would take me. You think, ‘Okay, I have a degree. I can take this to another job,’ but it’s really those intangibles — time management and analytical skills that make you a more valuable employee.”
And those intangibles are what he hopes to bring to the Presidential Management Fellows Program while representing Arkansas State University.
“Isaac is exactly the type of high-character, achievement-driven student we hope to produce through the program,” McLean said. “He is the trailblazer for future students as they pursue a path of excellence. We are very confident that this is just the first step for Isaac in what is sure to be a long and prosperous career in public service.”
Learn more about the A-State online MPA program.