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From Graduate Student to City Manager

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Danielle Metcalfe

Danielle Metcalfe (MPA '19) credits networking and joining professional associations with helping her obtain her dream full-time job opportunity before even walking across the stage at graduation.

Graduate student Danielle Metcalfe (MPA 19) found herself with a full-time job offer in local government management even before her midterm examsas the city manager of Delaware City.

It was such a surreal moment for me because at the start of the MPA program I felt I could see myself in a city management role, and then a year later Im in front of a city council and theyre voting on whether or not to select me as their next city manager, said Metcalfe.

Unlike many of her peers, Metcalfes final months of her grad school career werent spent on an arduous job search. Instead, in March of 2019 Metcalfe was offered the position of Delaware Citys next city manager. She attributes her passion for public service, strong professional connections through networking and internships, and time as both a Biden School MPA student and graduate public administration fellow at the schools Institute for Public Administration (IPA) to jump-starting her post-grad career.

Metcalfes interest in working in the local government management field was sparked in part due to an assignment in IPA Director Dr. Jerome Lewis Seminar in Public Administration, which required students to attend a city council meeting and report out on its agenda.

When she decided to attend a city council meeting in Delaware City, Metcalfe admitted that she was both surprised and impressed by the role and delegation of the city manager. I had never been to Delaware City before, I had never been to a city council meeting, and I didnt even know what a city manager was at that point, said Metcalfe. But through that experience, I was able to see and appreciate how Delaware Citys then-city manager, Carol Houck, both managed the meeting and ran the city. I thought to myself, Oh, wow, a strong leadership position that doesnt require campaigns or elections? This role sounds amazing.

An informational interview with Houck for another class assignment allowed Metcalfe to fully grasp what managing a city meant while also giving her the opportunity to network. Houck encouraged Metcalfe to continue to pursue her interest in local government management and invited her to join the professional group Delaware Women Leading Government. This was a great way for me to stay in touch with Carol while meeting many other women working in government at the municipal and state level, said Metcalfe, who is now the vice president of that very group.

Houcks advice to continue to grow a networking circle encouraged Metcalfe to expand her horizon. I knew that if I wanted to be a city manager I may be lacking some of the technical skills required to fulfill the role, but I also knew that having a large group of diverse professional contacts to share advice with would be an asset as well. Because of that, I looked up every group that was associated with local government and plugged myself into it. As such, Metcalfe also joined the American Planning Association and the Delaware Society for Human Resource Management and helped create the University of Delaware International City/County Management Association Student Chapter, all while attending Delaware League of Local Governments meetings with Dr. Lewis.

As Metcalfe concluded her first year of the MPA program, Houck reached out to invite her to work as an intern with Delaware City for the summer. It was time for Delaware City to update their comprehensive plan and I had learned that Danielle had the opportunity to work on a comprehensive plan for Houston, Delaware, during her time with IPA, said Houck. I loaded her up with a table full of work and let her at it. Through her connection with IPA, she was also able to help us with community outreach during the process.

Metcalfe credited her time working on the comprehensive planthe citys law-bound, guiding document for future planning and endeavorswith the administrative staff and planning commission of Delaware City as a major part in allowing her to get her foot in the door, which ultimately led to her applying for the city manager position when Houck left the role.

If youre really not ready to accept the responsibility to improve a community, which often can require long hours, a role in local government management might not be the right job for you, said Houck, who now serves as the city manager for Ocean View, Delaware. However, I was impressed with Danielles communication skills, her poise, and her hands-on nature in attacking whatever the issue or problem it was we were trying to solve. I know that Delaware City is fortunate to have Danielle as the city manager.

Its a really exciting time to be stepping into the position of city manager in Delaware City, said Metcalfe of her new role. Not only does this mean that Im going to be able to finish the plan for the city I helped develop, but Ill be helping to execute that vision of the future. Metcalfe added that she is particularly excited to help Delaware City as it looks to transition into a destination town in Delaware while capitalizing on its riverfront location.

Throughout my professional and academic career, Ive had the opportunity to work or intern at the federal level, at the state level through IPAs Legislative Fellows Program, and at the local level, said Metcalfe. I feel that ultimately I prefer the local government space the best because I feel like its the most gratifying in that you get to see your work come to fruition. Whether its trash pick-up, keeping the community safe, or helping to preserve local parks, youre helping citizens with stuff that really matters in their day-to-day lives.

Metcalfes advice to students interested in pursuing a role in local government is threefold. Put yourself out there, network, and get involved. I would encourage students to join professional associations long before they are professionals. I was given this opportunity because people in those networks knew who I was and what I was doing and they were able to vouch for me. At the end of the day, peopleand who you knowmake everything happen, but people cant give you an opportunity if they dont know who you are.

About the Institute for Public Administration

The University of Delaware's Institute for Public Administration  (IPA) addresses the policy, planning, and management needs of its partners through the integration of applied research, professional development and the education of tomorrow's leader

Article by Chris Kelley.

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Danielle Metcalfe (MPA '19) received a job offer even before her midtermsas the city manager of Delaware City.
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