Jonathan Rush, a 2022 graduate of the Master of Public Administration program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, exemplifies how the program helps aspiring public servants build meaningful and impactful careers in their local communities.
Rush just finished his first year out of graduate school as a regional planner at the Southeast Tennessee Development District, where he is responsible for helping communities in the region grow in positive ways.
He works with local officials and community leaders to create sustainable development plans, promote economic growth and provide essential public services to underserved areas.
“Every time I walk with a mayor or city official, they tell me they appreciate my work,” he said, “and that means a lot to me. They don’t always agree with me, but they appreciate the work and the options I bring to the table.”
Part of his job includes research and analysis—skills he developed and sharpened in graduate school—to identify trends and needs within the communities he serves to help inform policy decisions that can have a lasting impact.
Through his work, Rush contributes to the long-term health and prosperity of the region. He said his experience in the MPA program at UTC has been instrumental in preparing him for this important role.
Rush’s graduate school journey began when he was an undergraduate at UTC, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and public service in 2020. As he contemplated his career path, Rush, who grew up in Red Bank, knew he wanted to stay in Chattanooga and serve the community where he grew up.
In his junior year, he interned with the City of East Ridge thanks to assistance from Dr. Christopher Horne, UTC professor of public administration and MPA program coordinator. Rush said the internship ignited his passion for working in local government.
“I can help my community and help make positive changes that I can see almost immediately. That’s what I do now and I really enjoy it,” Rush said.
He considered law school but chose the MPA program at UTC because he could level up his skills and grow his career without entering the corporate world.
“I’ve always wanted to work with and serve the public, and Chattanooga is great. It’s probably true that I could earn more in a corporate setting but I enjoy my job and I’m satisfied with my salary,” he said.
Rush, an Eagle Scout, said he often volunteered as a child.
“Knowing that when you’re given a lot you have to give back was engrained from me since a young age,” he said.
Still, his experience in the MPA program was transformative, he said. Rush gained comprehensive knowledge and experience in community development, planning and zoning, and economic development.
He also honed his ability for astute decision-making and picked up valuable skills in research methodology, particularly how to analyze data to develop sustainable solutions to public challenges.
Several fellow staff members at the development district also earned their MPA degrees at UTC, providing Rush with a built-in professional network while working toward his degree.
The MPA program at UTC has developed a reputation for thoroughly preparing its students for leadership roles in government, nonprofit organizations and the private sector.
The program provides students with the knowledge, skills and experiences they need to succeed in public service professions, including policy analysis, program evaluation, public budgeting and finance, and organizational management.
MPA students receive additional hands-on experience through internships, research projects and other experiential learning modules.
The MPA program at UTC is ideal for students like Rush who are passionate about public service and want to increase their marketability in the workforce and their earning potential.
“Getting my MPA was a big achievement, and being able to go directly into a government job was ideal,” he said.
Rush said his experience is a testament to the quality of the UTC MPA program and its impact on students’ lives, careers and communities.
As cities and towns across the U.S. continue to grow, the need for skilled and knowledgeable public servants is rising.
The MPA program at UTC is an important part of the University’s efforts to meet this need and to build a bright future for the residents of Chattanooga and the state of Tennessee.