A new career path for current UNC MPA student Mariel Takamura emerges after her Professional Work Experience

Written by Cara Robinson

This post was written by current UNC MPA student Mariel Takamura

*Since the writing of this post, Mariel has taken on more responsibility in ASLRRA’s education department in addition to her role with the communications team. She will be assisting with projects including compiling program reports and managing ASLRRA member resources.

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What first started as a simple writing gig to supplement my husband’s income has morphed into a new vocation. Although I am not sure that government work as I have experienced it through the PWE is exactly the right career path for me, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about this part of ASLRRA’s mission. I am especially glad to have been able to experience this intersection between nonprofit and government work. Where I may have once had the idea of nonprofits as being a more “noble” cause and government work as primarily utilitarian, I now see the importance of both in the world of public service.

The PWE has also changed my understanding of what it means to be a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. The word lobbyist, to many, might conjure images of sketchy back-room deals, but for the small railroads I’ve encountered in my years at ASLRRA, having a voice on Capitol Hill is an absolute necessity. These railroad companies and many of their suppliers are often small mom-and-pop businesses. I’ve heard countless stories of railroads built by one enterprising individual that now are economic drivers in their communities. I’ve talked with business owners excited about their children’s growing interest in taking over the family company and learned that the S&S in S&S Sales and Leasing, a locomotive supplier, stands for the names of the couple who started the company, and whose son now runs the business. With ASLRRA’s railroad members averaging less than 30 employees – and railroads that operate with only two people – these are not the most powerful, most easily recognized industry group. And they are definitely not the same as the Class I railroads most Americans are seeing in today’s news.

Still, when my PWE ends, I hope to explore other opportunities to help ASLRRA members through different departments within the Association. The education department is responsible for planning and holding webinars and training seminars and developing other resources for members, and I am in talks to assist with projects in that area. I am excited at the prospect of working to help members understand and comply with federal regulations. I came into the MPA program with a desire to learn more about serving communities, and helping create resources that ASLRRA members need to sustain their operations fits a bit better with that original ideal than government advocacy, although both are vital to the industry.

The ability to broaden my knowledge of the short line railroad industry, build connections with ASLRRA’s members and participate in the government process all while applying knowledge gained through the MPA program has been a win-win-win-win situation. The courses I’ve taken through the UNC MPA program have served as a foundation and guide for this PWE experience.

All of my studies have contributed to a broad understanding of nonprofit and government work as it relates to ASLRRA and its mission, though I have found myself to have relied more specifically on concepts relating to leadership and organizational management, law and finance. And the Introduction to Grant Writing course is what largely spurred my interest in working in ASLRRA’s education department, as one project could be pursuit of funding for industry-wide workforce development initiatives.

Altogether, the support I’ve received from everyone at ASLRRA and in the MPA program has been exceptional, and it helps me see that even though I’m no longer in Hawaii, I am still in the right place.

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