Ron Pannell has worked in schools and universities from Hawaii to Massachusetts, in offices ranging from study abroad to enrollment.
Now he works in the Office of Student Engagement at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, where he helps students make connections outside the classroom through clubs, educational field trips, campus events and recreational outings.
“You want to make it a community and get students involved, because once you get students engaged, they build a support system, they learn to advocate for themselves and they learn they can be competitive and go on to pursue what they like,” he says. “It’s rewarding because I get to see students from orientation through to commencement.”
Lots of those Middlesex Community College graduates transfer to UMass Lowell – and Pannell is taking a similar path. He’s now pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree part-time at UML while working full-time, learning lessons he can apply in his current position or as executive director of a housing authority, a long-term goal.
“The M.P.A. aligns with what I’ve already done in the field of education and provides flexibility if, later, I want to work in another area,” he says.
Pannell has long been concerned about the lack of affordable housing. He is already doing research into whether providing Section 8 housing for low-income families leads to upward mobility, a topic that could turn into his master’s thesis. He’s on track to graduate in late 2019.
“Low-income individuals and families face more barriers when purchasing a home, and those barriers are exacerbated by a lack of low-income housing options,” he says. “I see housing as a basic human right. There should be options for housing for people of all income levels, because a home can change a person's life.”
Pannell, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, says the M.P.A. program has opened up professional learning and networking opportunities. He’s joined the American Society of Public Administrators as a student council representative, and he’s meeting experienced administrators, including members of the Lowell Housing Authority.
But Pannell isn’t just interested in career advancement or gaining management skills. He wants to serve the public, whether it’s by boosting student engagement and confidence or building better communities through more affordable housing – and the M.P.A. program aligns with his ethic, he says.
“We’re always talking about how to create public value, but you can’t just measure that in dollars,” he says. “You also measure it in the resources and services you provide to the people you serve.”