URP alumnus Joel Arnold discusses Mitchell Scholarship experience in Ireland

Joel Arnold, an alumnus from the Urban & Regional Planning Program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction, was one of the awardees of the prestigious Mitchell Scholarship in 2016.

Photo of Joel Arnold.
Joel Arnold recipient of Mitchell Scholarship.

Joel Arnold, an alumnus from the Urban & Regional Planning Program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction, was one of the awardees of the prestigious Mitchell Scholarship in 2016.

Since receiving the award in November 2016, Arnold says, “The Mitchell Scholarship provided an opportunity to expand on the knowledge I gained at MSU by studying international examples of communities who have grappled with similar challenges.”

Since fall 2017, he’s been living in Ireland working on his scholarship. SPDC Communications caught up with him to find out how his experience is going. Arnold is now pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree with a focus on urban policy at University College Dublin.

Growing up in the Flint area, Arnold has long had a passion for public policy, specifically urban policy, and how it impacts communities that have undergone deep economic shocks. Ireland's experience with a economic recession after the financial crisis in 2008 and its location within Europe have provided a unique environment to study how governments responded to economic shocks.

When quizzed about how his education at MSU has influenced his scholarship in Ireland, Arnold explained that the experience gained working on PlacePlans (a partnership with the Michigan Municipal League) and Safe Routes to School Plans for Wayne Beyea, a senior specialist in the Urban & Regional Planning Program, was invaluable. The opportunity gave him real-world experience in applying planning principles and working with residents to improve their communities, which in turn solidified his passion for studying urban policy.

Arnold added that during his time at MSU as a double major student studying within the James Madison College (social relations and policy) and the School of Planning, Design, and Construction (urban and regional planning) gave him the tools to better understand what he wanted to study in a master’s degree, specifically how communities redevelop after economic shocks.

He credits MSU for also giving him a grounding in topics like public and urban policy, and instilled in him the importance of responsible citizenship.

Going back to his roots, after graduating from MSU in May 2015, Arnold spent the next two-and-a-half years working for the City of Flint on blight elimination issues, working with residents to turn the passion and dedication they had for their neighborhoods into tangible change.

When asked what it is like to be working on his scholarship in Ireland and the experience it has given him, Arnold says that it has allowed him to see these issues from an international perspective.

“Studying issues of urban policy or public administration by seeing how Irish or German or French societies understand them has been eye opening and compliments my degree at MSU, which was more focused, appropriately, on how the United States addresses challenging issues,” Arnold said.

“I've been fortunate to share classes with not only Irish students, but British, Belgian, Canadian, Chinese, Australian, Norwegian, French, Dutch and German students, and their life experiences make the discussions of pressing issues much richer. In short, my time in Ireland has broadened my understanding of what we can do to address the big issues of our time,” he continued.

Talking about rewarding experiences Arnold shared about meeting with academics and community leaders and learning about both the peace process and the industrial history of Belfast along with other Mitchell Scholars.

Learning how Belfast has dealt with ethnic tensions, deindustrialization and community development issues and discussing these issues with those who live in the community reminded him of Flint.

Arnold said that he has a deeper understanding of these issues from listening to the people who actually live in these communities, which has been incredibly rewarding and made some of the more abstract scholarship around these issues more tangible.

His current area if research involves comparing the impacts of geographically targeted tax-incentive-based urban redevelopment programs in the United States and the Republic of Ireland.

Arnold is expecting to see the impacts that these programs have had over the last three decades on issues like poverty, educational attainment, and unemployment. Both Ireland and the U.S. have extensively used these types of programs to encourage urban redevelopment and the new tax bill passed in December 2017 includes a new program of just this type.

When asked to share a few words of wisdom for future Mitchell Scholarship aspirants Arnold said, “Focus on what you care about. If applicants display a true passion for their area of interest, and understand how Ireland, in specific, can help them broaden their understanding and improve the world around them, they'll be in a good place.”

When asked about his future plans, Arnold spoke of the fact that his family has lived in Flint area for generations. He completes his studies in Ireland in Fall 2018. On his return to this U.S., he plans to ultimately settle back in Flint and commit himself to doing whatever he can to improve the quality of life for residents in the City, whether that be in urban planning, public policy or politics.

He wraps things up by saying “Flint is where my heart is, and I can't imagine being in any other place long term.”

Did you find this article useful?