Making Connections


By: Natalie Roberts - Miami University (SOPA)



On an evening this past November, Dr. Philip Russo, the Director for the Center for Public Management and Regional Affairs at Miami University, was explaining to a group of Miami students that they had been selected as Ohio Public Leaders (OPL) Fellows. This fellowship consists of working with a mentor who works for an entity in the public or nonprofit sector to complete a project. It also includes learning more about that entity and what it does. All of this was going to happen during Miami University’s January term.

As a senior Public Administration, major and Finance minor at Miami, I was one of the students selected, and I was excited to use the skills I had cultivated in the classroom in the real world. As Dr. Russo was going through his list, he finally got to my name, “Natalie Roberts paired with Jason Kester at the Southern Ohio Port Authority.” Since I am from the south side of Indianapolis, I had no idea where Portsmouth was located, let alone what type of city it was. And to be honest, I didn’t know much about Port Authorities. After many web searches, emails, and miles driven, I arrived in Portsmouth with nerves of excitement about what my three weeks here would bring me.

While I have been in Portsmouth, I have had no shortage of learning, work, and fun. On my first official day of work, I found that I had two main projects. The first was to research benchmark communities to see what type of economic development entities existed there along with a list of their best practices. I did a mix of web based research as well as emailing to find answers for Jason regarding a series of questions ranging from population of the community to the budget and staff size of the economic development entity. After completing this research, I reported my findings.

The second project was a case study dealing with free public Wi-Fi. Portsmouth has partnered with the EPA through the Cool and Connected Program which seeks to help small towns implement public Wi-Fi to revitalize main streets. I researched cities that not only had similar demographics to Portsmouth but free public Wi-Fi as well. Through web based searches, public Wi-Fi questionnaires, and phone calls, I saw that each comparison city successfully implemented public Wi-Fi in different ways. My hope is that the case study can be used by the city when it comes time to strategize about the implementation of free public Wi-Fi in certain locations in the downtown Portsmouth area.

During the times that I was not researching or emailing, I met with city, county, and business leaders. Where Jason Kester and Adam Phillips went, I went along with them. From board meetings to local business meetings, I met so many amazing people in Portsmouth. In my free time, the other OPL Fellow working at the Scioto Foundation, Libby Edger, and I would venture out to Shawnee State Forest, eat at local restaurants, and take a tour of the murals.

As I come to the end of my three short weeks in Portsmouth, I can’t express how much I have loved my experience. From the work, I was doing at the Port Authority to the people I have met, I am very honored that I got to spend the days I did in Portsmouth. I can now say that I know what a Port Authority does, and I know why it is so important to have a strong economic development team in an area. I have also learned that it is important to make connections with people across all different industries and sectors. These relationships have not only been of benefit to me personally, but they also have helped me to find out the needs of my counterparts.

Finally, I have learned that no matter what area of the public sector I work in after college, the experiences I have had here in Portsmouth have made me that much better of a public servant. Thank you to Jason Kester and the Port Authority for mentoring me, thank you to Shawnee State University for housing Libby and I, and thank you to everyone in Portsmouth for your generosity and hospitality.

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By: Natalie Roberts

Miami University (SOPA)

Natalie Roberts

2017, B.A., Public Administration, Miami University

Natalie Roberts

2017, B.A., Public Administration, Miami University