Paradoxically, it took a government shutdown for Lee Ho to assess his long career in government. Ho was working for the Minnesota Department of Revenue in 2011 when a fiscal dispute brought state government to a halt. “I had 20 days off work, and it gave me time to think about what I wanted to accomplish,” says Ho, who is assistant commissioner and chief operating officer for the Minnesota Department of Health. “I wanted to ask bigger questions, to explore how to strengthen public policy to support better outcomes.”
When Ho returned to work, he received an email about Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) online program. “My daughter had just graduated from Northwestern,” says Ho. “Having spent the better part of four years going back and forth to Evanston, I had warm feelings for the University.” The online MPPA program offered the mix of theoretical and practical perspectives Ho sought, and by January 2012 he was enrolled in his first classes.
Ho graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in business administration in 1980 and worked for 10 years as a program analyst for the U.S. Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C. “Working with the GAO taught me to question assumptions about how government works and helped me develop my moral compass,” says Ho, whose duties included providing support for congressional ethics investigations. His family moved to Minnesota in 1994, in part because of the state’s reputation for innovative government.
MPPA classes in analytical methods and statistics have proved helpful in Ho’s work in a data-driven organization. “Microeconomics challenges our thinking about things we sometimes accept in the policy world,” says Ho, who connects with his classmates on discussion boards. “We’re all wrestling with the same problems, and that connection carries over from class to class. With online learning you’re in the classroom all the time.” Fitting that intense study into a demanding work schedule is worth it, says Ho: “We’re exploring what makes public policy successful and how government can become more relevant.”