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 the University of Idaho assistant professor’s 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.
Overton’s research has been published in top-tier public administration journals and funded by many organizations. His most recent major project – Community development block grant activities and local economic development – was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Despite these achievements, Overton said what he really wants is to be able to look back on his career and say he made a positive and lasting impact on local communities.
Called to Serve the Community
Overton’s journey into public service at U of I has been anything but conventional. After initially graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of North Texas in 2007, the Texas native soon realized he might have overestimated his musical talents. He 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,” he said. “I loved 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 selected as 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 worked 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, he hoped to make a broader impact on society. His chance arose in fall 2017 at the University of Idaho.
Teaching the Next Generation of Local Leaders
“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 that 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 courses on local government politics, administration and budgeting.
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.
“My previous jobs really allowed me to take the ‘ivory tower’ perspective on what was important and put those theories into practice,” he said. “At U of I, I am 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.”
One way he does this is by connecting with students in ways that work for them – which has included a local government class that uses episodes of the television show “Parks and Recreation” instead of a textbook.
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.
“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,” he said. “It’s to develop a program that really helps Idaho and communities in the Pacific Northwest.”
Overton’s project, “Community development block grant activities and local economic development ” is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under Award Number H-21678 CA. The total anticipated amount of federal funds for the project is $243,763, which amounts to 100 percent of the total cost of the project.
Article by Olivia Heersink
Published January 2019