EKU instructor, Matthew Howell, believes in relationship building and taking an active part in his student’s educational experience. He goes above and beyond to ensure his online students have opportunities to interact and engage with him. Howell’s personal attention and dedication to helping students prepare to make their mark in the field makes him a particular point of pride on EKU’s campuses, both in-person and virtual. We take great pride in offering the chance to get to know him a little better.
What brought you to EKU?
After receiving my PhD from University of Kentucky, I began doing research on Kentucky local government when the job came open. I was very interested in teaching after a couple years at UK and Morehead State University, so I was excited to interview for a local, teaching, graduate program. I was fortunate to get the interview and the job.
Tell us a little about your work in your field.
I study local government organization, social networking, and policy questions. In organization, I am interested in the reason why local governments form, consolidate, split, or share tasks, and generally find that main driver of these decisions is diversity and resources. Americans are smart -they understand that working with other people is cheaper and more efficient, but the price includes -when making one-size-fits-all decisions -governments that aren’t as responsive as they could be. So, Americans create local governments that balance cost savings with the different needs and desires of diverse populations, whether racial, linguistic, religious, economic, or something else.
One way to balance those needs is via cooperation with other governments. I study how local officials connect with each other, but unfortunately it is very hard for officials to do so. Most mayors only speak with one or two of their neighbors, and recent surveys of senior staff members show the same result. Everyone is busy in their own city, and so they do not have the ability to keep up with their neighbors, even if doing so could benefit their residents. One area where non-profits organizations (like universities or intergovernmental organizations) can help is by routinely providing forums that allow local officials to meet and talk with each other.
Finally, I am always interested in policy problems, and have written on how to design class curricula, respond to COVID-19, determine the proper size of a university athletics department, and whatever other interesting questions come across my desk.
What moment at EKU stands out as most memorable?
I serve on a number of scholarship committees around the university, and I always enjoy reading the applications. There are a lot of very talented and gifted students at EKU, and EKU offers a lot of great opportunities for all its students. It is also memorable to me when some of the students report back about how a scholarship helped them graduate, or study abroad gave them new ideas for how to live their life.
What is your approach to online teaching?
Podcasts and YouTube have really revolutionized the way people learn. To be a good student, you still have to do the reading -but technology has made it a lot easier for me to teach. I am very proud of the videos I’ve made that break concepts down into short segments that students can watch when they have time, or on their commutes. Combined with discussion boards to share ideas and weekly or biweekly assignments, students no longer have to set aside a huge chunk of your time to “come to class.”
The root word for “school” in Greek means “leisure,” and is the reason school used to be for the rich. School is a lot easier when you don’t have other concerns, like work or family. But the new technology makes education a lot more available to those who can’t take 4 years off from the rest of life.
What tactics or approaches do you use to aid in your student’s success?
Communication between faculty and students is key -I try to be very available by e-mail or phone during the week, and I am more than happy to be flexible with students when things happen. A lot of students at EKU are working or taking care of family, especially those taking classes online. If students need an extension on an assignment -and doing so won’t cause problems elsewhere in the course -I am happy to be flexible. So long as the student is proactive about making arrangements, I’d rather they turn in good work. Class is about learning, not hitting arbitrary deadlines. (Though students do need to hit the non-arbitrary deadlines.)
What do you believe are the biggest advantages to online learning?
The flexibility of online is its biggest advantage. Students do get more out of being on campus and being in personal classes -but that takes a tremendous amount of time and resources, and not everyone has that. Online cuts out some of the time (especially commuting) and offers flexibility to work on nights or weekends, and while the technology isn’t there to make it “just like being in class,” it is much better than the days of correspondence courses.
What have you been up to lately? (Research, projects, awards, etc.)
I’m currently working on several research projects -continuing to study local government and networking in Kentucky, university athletics, and looking for other projects of interest to me.
I am also currently working to bring the Southeast Conference for Public Administration (SECoPA) to EKU in Fall 2022 -and especially to bring in more practitioners and students to the conference. Students should definitely think about submitting papers!
What advice would you give to someone who’s considering finishing their degree, or starting for the first time as an adult?
Getting a degree is a challenge -so you should go into it with your eyes open. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. But it is also very rewarding. In addition to the new options in your career, it will also give you more insight into the world around you and make you more aware of your life and your surroundings. Talk to your family and friends to line up support so that you can spend your time focusing on your studies. You’ll miss some nights out, or maybe your spouse will need to watch the kids while you are on the computer.
But, if you can do it, it is very much worth it.
Interested in a rewarding career in public administration?
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