By: Shelby Steuart

Justin Nixon has always felt a calling to help people.

As a criminal justice major at the University of Georgia, his career goal was to connect communities to their governments through community policing. He is continuing to work towards that goal today as a graduate student earning his master’s degree in public administration and policy (MPA) at the School of Public and International Affairs.

After he earned his bachelor’s degree, Justin took a job in sales. While this was not his professional passion, he managed to utilize his leadership skills to improve his company’s policies.

“After two weeks in my first job, I told my manager that if he wanted less turnover and higher quality employees, he had to pay more and offer training,” he recalled. “I thought I was going to be fired.”

Instead, Justin’s manager created a new position, putting Justin in charge of hiring and training.

Justin enjoyed the opportunity to help employees reach their potential, but life threw him a curveball when his great aunt, who was like a grandmother to him, became terminally ill.

He put his career on hold to care for her. During this time, she reminded him of his passion for public service. She saw that he was a public servant at heart and encouraged him to pursue what he loved.

Eventually he was ready to return to work. He serendipitously received an email announcing an open house at the Gwinnett Campus for the MPA program. The following semester, he entered the program as a full-time student.

During the summer, Justin interned at the City of Decatur through the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). The ELP provides an opportunity for students from underrepresented groups to intern with local governments and nonprofit organizations in order to make a difference in the lives of Georgians.

“I loved it,” he said. “It was my first chance to use the skills I learned in the classroom.”

His first task: analyze the city budget. “I knew this was something I wouldn’t have been able to do before the MPA program,” he explained. “But I took it slow, thought back to what I learned in public finance, and I actually understood it.” Beyond understanding the facts and figures, Justin was able to learn about the City of Decatur and the values of that city’s public servants.

Justin will graduate this spring and is excited to combine his academic skills with the hands-on experience he gained through the Emerging Leaders Program. He is currently applying to be a police officer with the City of Decatur.

The SPIA Experiential Learning Fund gives students who are interested in working in the public or nonprofit sector the opportunity to get compensated for their unpaid internships with priority to underrepresented groups. To qualify as underrepresented students must satisfy at least two of the following conditions: (1) history of overcoming unique challenges; (2) first generation college student; (3) member of a low income family; (4) reside in a rural or inner-city location; (5) raised in a single parent household. If you are interested in supporting the Emerging Leaders Program to ensure a greater number of opportunities for students to pursue their public affairs interests then give to the Experiential Learning Fund.