Serving the Public
Michael Overton is a public administration scholar on a mission to improve the way governments and non-profit organizations are managed. While his research focuses on the intersection of local government management, economic development, and taxation, he is always looking to better understand how technology and data analysis can be applied in unique ways to benefit the public.
Though still early in his career, Overton’s research has been published in top-tier public administration journals and has been funded by many organizations, including his most recent major project funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite these achievements, Overton says that what he really wants is to be able to look back on his career when it is all over and honestly say that he made a positive and lasting impact on local communities.
Michael Overton’s journey into public service at the University of Idaho has been anything but conventional after initially graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of North Texas [UNT] in 2007. The Texas native said he soon realized that path wasn’t for him, freely admitting he might have overestimated his musical talents. Overton returned to his alma mater three years later, entering the school’s Master of Public Administration program before earning his doctorate in the same field.
“I wanted to do something more. My skill set for music was very different than what every employer was looking for, so I went back [to school],” he said. “I love the idea of this quiet life with dignity, which is what careers in public service really do — although, I don’t know if quiet is the right word to describe my life.” Overton has made his fair share of noise in the field. He was a Hatton W. Sumners scholar during graduate school, won the 2015 Toulouse Dissertation Award in Social Science at UNT, and more recently was given the prestigious honor of being both a junior scholar through the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s Scholars Program and an American Society of Public Administration Founders Fellow. Following his graduation in 2015, Overton took what he describes as an unconventional path and began working in the public sector as a transportation planner for the North Central Texas Council of Governments and later as a grant manager for a public hospital foundation.
Despite success in both jobs, they were not quite what he wanted to do. Rather, he wanted and hoped to make a broader impact on society by shaping the next generation of government professionals — an opportunity that arose at the University of Idaho in fall 2017.
“Those jobs really allowed me to take the ‘ivory tower’ perspective on what was important and actually put it into practice,” he said. “When I’m approaching this job (at U of I) and my research, it is definitely influenced by the idea of what is actually important, what is going to help local government managers or public sector individuals do their jobs better.”
“I think U of I drew me in because it’s the kind of place where as long as you have the vision and drive, you can make it [your] dream job,” Overton said. “This university is looking for smart people who are hard workers who want to develop their programs — coming here was a natural fit.”
As an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and Philosophy, Overton teaches Local Government Politics and Administration during the fall semester, as well as Governmental Budgeting in the spring. He also teaches less conventional courses like one where no textbook is assigned, but instead, students are required to watch episodes of the TV show Parks and Recreation. Overton wants to connect with students in ways that work for them—plus he says he loves the show and the way it represents local governments.
He tries to teach his students how to apply abstract concepts learned in the classroom to real world issues and events, utilizing his experience in the public sector.
As he moves forward, Overton said his research has started to focus more on local governments’ use of data, as well as their ability to understand and interpret certain information.
He said he hopes to continue creating more transformative learning opportunities for students that provide University of Idaho students with the best practical skill set in the country — improving communities through University of Idaho alumni.
“My purpose behind coming [to the University of Idaho] isn’t just to research and be a good scholar under the U of I banner, but it’s to develop a program that really helps Idaho and communities in the Pacific Northwest,” Overton said.
Article by Olivia Heersink
Published January 2019