Cassandra Arnold (MPA): Rutgers SPAA Student Selected as Columnist for PA Times Online



OCTOBER 10, 2016
By Jade McClain

Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) student Cassandra Arnold was recently selected as a monthly columnist for PA Times Online, an electronic publication by the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) that highlights news, trends, emerging research, and best practices in public administration and management. Arnold’s first article, “Inequity in the use of Digital Tools” was released in July 2016, and her last article will be published at the conclusion of her six-month term in December 2016.

Arnold is in the MPA program (’17) with a concentration in nonprofit management and is pursuing a career in nonprofit operations. Currently, she works part time as an advocacy intern for the AARP New Jersey State Office where she helps facilitate tele-town halls, and assists with mass communications, outreach, and events. She is simultaneously earning a certificate in technology education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

We sat down with Arnold to discuss her latest achievement in being chosen as a columnist, and her contribution to understanding issues in public administration.

Read Cassandra Arnold's articles:

What interested you in writing for PA Times Online?

I signed up as a member of ASPA through SPAA, and ASPA sent an email looking for columnists. It’s rare that you get an open call for students like that, and I just decided to take a chance.

I’ve always been thinking about my credentials, and wondering if I’m qualified and it was the first time I just said ‘do it.’

Is this your first time writing for a publication?

I’ve had writing experience, but not with articles. With my former job at an accounting firm, I helped write a whitepaper and proposals, but it’s very different because we had an established process, and people who helped with editing as opposed to writing a column by myself.

What kind of topics will you be addressing?

When I started in SPAA, my primary focus was around working with not-for-profits to deal with education technology, digital literacy, and similar topics. I still am not sure if that’s the avenue that I’m going to take, but I am going to cover the digital divide based on socioeconomic factors. I also want to discuss what I would call the “human considerations,” of technology, which are the basic needs of people when creating new technologies, such as human motivations, needs, and differences. A few of my articles will address education policy and technology, digital governance, and digital activism, and I’ll also spotlight certain organizations and entities that have been active in the movement of digital literacy. And finally, an article about what’s next, what’s still unanswered?

What do you hope to achieve through your column?

I hope to provide awareness that even though we’re moving into this information and technology age, there are still human needs behind the technology.  Even in public service, many of the services are being digitized and there’s still a disconnect for people without the access or knowledge. Even if the disparities of the digital divide are only 15 to 20% between certain demographics, that’s still millions of people and the very people whom governments want to service are the people with limited resources. So when you’re thinking about technology and digital innovations, you really need to think about the human aspect.

Research shows that the most prominent differences between those with access and high-skill levels with technology and those without the access and skills are educational and economic differences. As a result, you need to have different approaches and multiple approaches. I want to explicitly explain in my column that the disparities aren’t because these people are unskilled and don’t have the capabilities to get up to speed, it’s just that they need a different conceptual framework because they’re already starting off without that exposure to these technologies.

In my second article, I said that smart phones are as smart as the user’s ability to manipulate them, but if someone has never had exposure to these phones, then the new techniques and tools aren’t going to be as effective. There are a lot of assumptions with the information age that we need to break down, and that’s what I want to do.

What are some of your solutions for breaking down assumptions and decreasing the digital divide?

One of the most important things to do is to create an ‘enabling environment’ in which people who want to learn about new technologies aren’t feeling intimidated, or ashamed or anxious. The demographics that are shown as lagging can thrive if given the proper support and context that showcase relevance and power of technology to meet their needs.

There’s a lot of anxiety in situations where you don’t want to feel like you’re left behind, and these people are already left behind.  The people who are over 65, the people who don’t have a high school diploma, and people who speak different languages – the programs that are offered to help with their digital literacy don’t consider possible challenges or barriers for them.

For example, if you have a potential audience that includes Spanish speakers who want to attend classes at the library, the classes need to be multilingual,  and classes need to consider the needs of older students.

It’s about putting people in an environment where they feel safer, and more confident and motivated. And there are some people who say, ‘well I’ve lived so long without computers, I don’t need a computer for this’ but they don’t know that they can use Uber when they can’t find a cab service, or that they can use Airbnb when they want to go visit relatives, but can’t find a hotel. Some of the research is showing that many folks who might need or benefit from certain technologies the most because of the cost savings are not aware of them, and so we need to educate people about their options and empower them in their usage.

What has the reaction been by family, friends, and associates upon seeing that you’re a columnist now?

I’ve gotten a lot of likes, but I would really love comments. There definitely has been a lot of positive encouragement in doing something that’s a little different by writing.  When I started at SPAA, I’d always give my friends sample papers or outlines of assignments to critique for me, and I’ve always been very sensitive about my writing. So it’s been a good motivator to hear them say ‘see you’re a good writer, you should have more confidence.’

So, I appreciate the positive encouragement, but I would like more feedback on my work.  For better or worse, I’d also like debate because the articles are at the surface level – they’re only 750 to 850 words – so I’d love some feedback in terms of people asking if I’ve considered something that I missed or telling me about a particular program.

Do you want to continue writing after your term ends?

Not for the next term, because I don’t think I’d be able to give it the time I’d like with my course load, but it is something I think I’d like to pursue in the future. 




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