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Fire chief finds his fit in Oregon State’s online Executive Master of Public Policy program

Bob Horton, a student in Oregon State's Executive Master of Public Policy program, stands at a podium to give a speech in his role as fire chief in White City, Oregon. The flags of the United States and the state of Oregon are on either side of him.

Bob Horton, a fire chief whose entire 20-year career has been devoted to public service, is able to apply the concepts he learns in his public policy courses directly to his work serving the local community.

By Tyler Hansen
July 1, 2020

It’s human nature for someone to celebrate the start of a new project and the completion of one. We do it all the time at Oregon State University Ecampus.

We applaud our new students as they embark on their academic journeys, and we hold a big celebration when they graduate.

Bob Horton understands why those start-and-finish moments are special, but he subscribes to a different educational philosophy.

“Somewhere between enrollment and graduation is the education, and that is the most important part,” says Horton, a student in Oregon State’s online Executive Master of Public Policy program.

He’s right, of course. The exciting, first-day-of-school butterflies don’t mean much and the joy of graduation day never happens if students don’t excel in the middle.

Horton has made a habit of excelling in the middle of his many academic journeys over the years – and now he’s doing the same online with Oregon State Ecampus. He revels in the rigorous Executive Master of Public Policy coursework, embraces the program’s supportive learning community and appreciates that he can immediately apply what he learns to his career and life.

The EMPP program is designed for mid-career professionals like Horton, who has worked as a firefighter and in the fire service for 20 years. The coursework aims to help students strengthen their foothold as policy practitioners – and give them career mobility – by focusing on leadership in the public and nonprofit sectors.

In short, Oregon State offered Horton everything he wanted.

“I have high standards for which academic institutions I want to be a part of,” says Horton, who serves as the chief and CEO of Fire District 3 in southern Oregon. “I wanted a program that had a research focus, was academically rigorous and had a strong reputation for online learning.”

Executive Master of Public Policy student Bob Horton stands on the back of a fire truck during a parade in White City, Oregon.

Bob Horton says OSU’s EMPP program can help students change careers or, in his case, be better suited for success in his current job.

He says that Oregon State has thus far lived up to his high standards in a variety of ways. That stands to positively influence not only his long-term career goals but also the communities he serves.

Here are some of the other benefits of the Executive Master of Public Policy program according to Horton.

Faculty are eager to interact with and support students

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily forced all instruction to be conducted online, Oregon State’s School of Public Policy hosted regular online meetings for Ecampus students to interact with classmates and faculty.

It’s one example of how Oregon State “makes a deliberate effort to provide inclusion opportunities for their distance learners.”

“It absolutely makes the experience more personal. It is palpable how committed the School of Public Policy faculty are to student success,” Horton says. “If I have felt stuck on a concept, needed feedback on an assignment or just wanted mentorship on how to best apply what I am learning into practice, the professors have been there to help out.”

EMPP students are set up for career growth

Horton and his classmates are working professionals with collective experience in a variety of industries across the nation. What they have in common is a desire to gain new knowledge and add to their skill sets in order to create more career opportunities.

“The EMPP degree is giving me the tools to not only be a consumer of the public policy literature, but also to contribute to the literature by conducting my own peer-reviewed research,” says Horton, who holds public administration bachelor’s (Nevada State College) and master’s (University of Oklahoma) degrees.

“Some students in the program will seek new jobs or even new careers. Others, like me, are just looking to be better suited to be successful in the positions we currently hold.”

He can apply the coursework directly to his day job

“Every step of the core curriculum is applicable to the work I am doing for my community,” Horton says. “As a government official, we are influencing or implementing public policy daily. Being able to grab from the (EMPP) literature and theories and apply them into practice is the most exciting part being a practitioner committed to graduate education.”

While taking Applied Research Methods with assistant professor Ana K. Spalding last spring, Horton and his peers conducted real-time research with a client that culminated in a report and presentation. Horton worked with partners in his local area to evaluate a program that was used in the community’s response to COVID-19.

“It does not get any more practical and timely than that,” he says now.

The expertise of program faculty is as good as it gets

Horton speaks with confidence on all topics related to public policy, but he has a harder time finding the right words when asked how the Executive Master of Public Policy program has benefited him most thus far.

In the end, he lauded the interdisciplinary expertise of faculty in the School of Public Policy.

“There are not many programs where you could easily get such exposure to experts in sociology, economics, political science and other key disciplines,” he says. “I feel like each professor treats all the students as their own, whether you have taken their specific course or not.”


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