Tom Browning MPA’06, PhD’09
Get to know your classmates; they are interesting, talented, and will become an important part of your professional network.
Home: Dallas, Texas
UT Dallas Degrees: Master of Public Affairs, 2006; PhD – Public Affairs, 2009
Profession: Co-founder & Partner, FootCardigan.com
FootCardigan.com is a funky sock-of-the-month club with a twist: we choose the socks and our customers get a delightful surprise in the mail each month!
Part of the fun of owning a small business is that I do a lot of different things. My partners handle web development, copy writing, marketing, search-engine optimization, as well as sock design and manufacturing. This leaves me with pretty much everything else, including shipping, customer service, business analysis, accounting, tax payment, project management, and whatever else needs to be done.
The Value of My Degree
The public affairs program taught me a broad range of management skills and encouraged me to be willing to take on complicated tasks that I’ve never done before. It also gave me the tools to “learn how to learn” completely new skills and how to build and contribute to the work of productive teams.
My EPPS Success
I began the MPA program at UT Dallas in 2004 after leaving a benefits consultancy where I worked in the communications consulting practice. While a student at UT Dallas, I was a founding member of Pi Alpha Alpha, the national honor society for the public affairs program, and I served as the chapter’s first treasurer and its second president. Like many graduate students, I had a job on campus and was a research assistant for Dr. James Murdoch. I was also assigned to the executive committee of the SACS accreditation effort led at that time by Dr. Robert Nelsen.
As part of the course requirements for completion of the MPA degree, I secured an internship working in the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. After six months as an intern, I graduated with my MPA and was hired full time at the OIG as a program analyst looking for fraud, waste, and abuse in federal healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. I ultimately progressed to a team lead position (GS-13), and was responsible for all aspects of conducting national-scope program evaluations and drafting the publicly released reports with the Inspector General’s findings and recommendations. While at the OIG, I won various awards for my work including the HHS Regional Director’s Leadership Award and the Inspector General’s Exceptional Achievement Award.
UT Dallas’ public affairs cohort program and evening classes enabled me to continue my PhD course work part time while working full time at the OIG. I credit the excellent public affairs faculty and the highly relevant coursework with teaching me the “hard” skills of research design, policy analysis, and writing while also helping me polish the “softer,” but equally important, skills of productive teamwork, negotiation, and management.
I also have a healthy respect and appreciation for the faculty’s expertise and their availability to students. Lastly, the other students in my cohort program were impressive and provided a great source of camaraderie and mutual encouragement. I’ve kept in touch with many of them.
Advice for EPPS Students
Get to know your classmates; they are interesting, talented, and will become an important part of your professional network. Find a way to complete your projects and papers on topics that are relevant to your field. Take advantage of your status as a graduate student and of class assignments to talk with people who work in fields that interest you. Most people are happy to talk to a graduate student who is completing a class assignment in their area of expertise.