BikeWalkKC Education Specialist David Hansen spent his summer deep-diving into local policy and non-profit work. Read on to learn more about his experience and find out how employment, early childhood education, and transportation are linked:
For seven weeks this summer, I had the opportunity to be a part of the Urban Leaders Fellowship program, conducted annually in 9 US cities. ULF is a paid summer fellowship for early- to mid-career professionals looking to accelerate their career paths through policy and practice. Each of the ten fellows in this year’s Kansas City cohort worked half-time with a local non-profit organization, such as MARC (where I was placed), The DeBruce Foundation, or The United Way, and half-time on policy initiatives for Missouri State Senator Lauren Arthur.
During the course of my work at MARC, I studied the effects of Missouri’s rising minimum wage on the early childhood education and home care industries. What I discovered was often quite disheartening. Many workers in these industries make little more than the current minimum wage, even though they are providing vital care to the most vulnerable members of our population. Without increased public investment and improved wages in early childhood education and home care programs, workers are likely to flee the already-understaffed industry in favor of lower-stress, higher-paying jobs.
Missouri has some of the most dismal state rankings for public health and education. For instance, it ranks 6th worst in maternal mortality, 12th in deadliest roads, and 9th worst in education access for 4-year-olds. Sen. Arthur is keenly interested in addressing these and other shortfalls, and the cohort split into three policy teams to conduct policy research projects for the Senator. One team researched pre-K education expansion in Missouri, another addressed teacher retention strategies, and the third explored how Missouri can engage in evidence-based practices to improve outcomes and fiscal responsibility in its statewide programs.
Our ULF cohort regularly engaged with the Senator and local leaders to discuss these issues and more. We had the opportunity to meet with Joni Wickham, then-Mayor Sly James’ Chief of Staff, as well as Julie Holland, Mayor James’ Education Advisor, to discuss the policy initiatives as they related to KCMO, as well as how we as professionals can expand our networks and careers.
The ULF experience was formative in that it expanded my experience with policy and renewed my passion for active transportation advocacy in KC. While researching topics outside of my own knowledge-base, I realized that the critical issues facing our city and region are too numerous for any one individual or organization to address; we must all work together to support the good work of others, whether it is expanding access to and improving early childhood education, or reducing traffic deaths and emissions by advocating for safer street design.
It’s the latter that will remain the focus of my career. Kansas City and the surrounding municipalities are dominated by cars. We as a region cannot make meaningful progress against the threat of climate change without reducing our dependence on automobiles. Cities must build integrated networks of safe walking and bicycling infrastructure if they’re ever going to convince the “interested but concerned” population to drive less.
ULF was a wonderful program which I highly recommend to anyone interested in building a career in public service. The skills and contacts I developed during the fellowship will help me for years to come. Thank you to ULF for cultivating professionals, and to BikeWalkKC for supporting professional development within its ranks.