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photo of Shelley MixShelley Mix

Investing herself in public engagement

Shelley (Cook) Mix, a 2008 MPA grad, had always been interested in writing. As an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she double majored in journalism and political science. Through her school and work experiences while at the University of Delaware, she found the right mix to suit her skill set and forge a career in public communications.

Mix currently works as the program coordinator in the Office of Public Engagement at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her husband, Troy (’04 MPA), whom she met at the University of Delaware, is working on his doctorate at Illinois.

In her position as program coordinator, Mix interacts with a wide range of people, from students to university presidents from around the world, and works on a similarly wide range of projects. She works closely with colleges and other campus units as well as external partners on these initiatives and continually provides strategic management support to senior staff, including her immediate supervisor, the University of Illinois’ associate chancellor.

Always invested in whatever she does, Mix explains why her job is so stimulating, as she describes the tri-fold mission of the institution. “Everyone expects the first two missions—research and teaching, but as a land-grant university, it’s the third mission—public engagement—that makes the university and my position different.” Mix adds, “What excites me [about my position] is using the university’s resources to effect positive change for community, state, and nation.”

Mix enjoys serving as a liaison to other campus units and external stakeholder groups for her office’s programs. “It is rewarding to conceptualize and develop new programs and initiatives to accomplish the strategic priorities of the office and oversee their implementation,” she says. “I have always enjoyed writing, too, and I get to do a lot of it as I prepare reports on the impact of various public engagement programs and initiatives.” She adds, “It can be challenging, though, to develop and manage such a wide variety of new initiatives for both the Office of Public Engagement and offices that report to it.”

Mix talks about her experiences while with IPA in the University of Delaware’s MPA Program and how they helped shape her career.

“I was fortunate that, because of the professional skills IPA had helped me develop, I was hired before graduation from the MPA program as an executive assistant for then–County Executive Chris Coons, now the junior U.S. senator from Delaware.” She explains, “I assisted with communications and scheduling as well as implementing a constituent-relations system for tracking and responding to correspondence.”

Mix goes on to say, “I am grateful IPA had such well-established programs such as Legislative Fellows and the Internship Program. I was a Legislative Fellow my first year as a graduate student, and during my second year, I was able to help coordinate the recruitment for and management of the program. As a research assistant, I served as editor of transportation, infrastructure, economic development, and education reports and documents. These experiences helped me in my first position to represent the New Castle County Executive’s Office in departmental meetings and at events, assist the county executive and senior staff in administration and management duties, and coordinate special projects.

“During the summer between my first and second years in graduate school,” Mix says, “I interned at the U.S. Small Business Administration in Wilmington. At the SBA, I developed marketing material, wrote press releases and public service radio announcements and publicized upcoming SBA events by coordinating and disseminating information to the media. Through internships like this and others throughout undergraduate and graduate school, I was able to sharpen my skills and clearly define what it was I wanted to do after graduation.”

After working for the county executive, Mix left to work as a business development analyst in a newly created office at UD—the Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships. She then married and found a position at Illinois when she and her husband moved there.

Mix concludes, “These experiences helped me find satisfying positions that were the right fit for not only my skills and previous experiences, but my interests, too. I owe a lot to the IPA staff and faculty and their efforts to match my interests with the right projects and to guide me to a valuable internship.”

So, what was it about what IPA uniquely offers that made the difference for Mix?

Mix is quick to answer, “IPA staff taught me project-management skills that have served me well in each of my positions. IPA staff taught me valuable skills about working together, the importance of completing projects in a timely manner, especially when a client is involved, and generally what it is like to work with professional staff as part of a team, which is very different than class assignments.”

As a business development analyst, these skills are what she now relies on in developing human-capital partnerships with external corporations and public and quasi-public entities in order to identify and develop strategies to attract high-value university partners.

When she’s not in the office, Mix enjoys volunteering and currently serves as a mentor for a University of Illinois Leadership Center undergraduate student and chapter adviser to the Mortar Board honor society group, of which she is an alumna. She has also enjoyed participating in a United Way program called “Emerging Community Leader.” She will graduate in January, marking the end of a yearlong commitment to learn about community issues and nonprofit operations through advancement seminars, large-group projects, and networking with other young professionals.

And if that’s not being invested enough, she adds, “Troy and I are expecting our first child in June!”

photo courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign