Matt Smith: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Masters of Community and Regional Planning graduate Matt Smith

This year wasn’t a hat trick for the Department of Community and Regional Planning — it was a step above. Matt Smith made it a fourpeat.

Smith was the fourth semi-finalist for the Presidential Management Fellows program from Temple’s Community and Regional Planning (CRP) program in four years and the third finalist during the same time frame — an almost unheard of accomplishment among planning programs in the country.

“This year they only selected 609 out of more than 7,000 candidates. I think this run of success says only good things for the Temple CRP program,” said Smith, who will graduate this month with a Master’s in Community and Regional Planning after completing his coursework at Temple University Harrisburg. “The program has an outstanding staff and a group of very dedicated professors and does a good job of presenting a diverse yet comprehensive approach to planning that I would think goes beyond what competitive programs can offer. The Temple program is certified and one of few graduate level programs in the Greater Harrisburg area.”

The Presidential Management Fellows program is a prestigious two-year paid government fellowship that provides the opportunity to work with a variety of United States government agencies. The rigorous selection process includes hours of interviews, tests, and assessments, which take place in Washington, D.C.

“I think I originally decided to pursue the fellowship just to see if I could compete with peers from around the country,” said Smith, 26, of Camp Hill, who is currently Housing Coordinator at The Family Health Council of Central PA. “The application is a very extensive process that requires a candidate to really consider both their career path and what motivates them.”

Even as Presidential Management Fellows finalist, “there is no guarantee that you will be selected to work with any government department,” said Smith.

“Fortunately, I’ve received an offer to work with the U.S. Forest Service at their national headquarters in Washington. I will be working with the Director of Financial Policy in the office of the Chief Financial Officer as a Management and Program Analyst,” said Smith, who with his wife Amber, recently welcomed his first child, Alexander John-Scott Smith, in March. “I think this process was a valuable experience that helped me narrow my focus and become reenergized. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learned in the CRP program to this next stage of my life.”

Smith came to the Community and Regional Planning master’s program building on his time in the U.S. Army as active duty infantry with Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division stationed out of Fort Drum, NY, and a set of bachelor’s degrees in American Studies and Political Science.

“My advice to other veterans would be to go full-time and maximize the number of classes that you take while you can put GI Bill assistance to good use. Education is always worth it in the long-term and just like everything else, you get what you put into it,” he said. “I entered my undergraduate studies right out of the service. I’ve always wanted to be involved in local politics because I think that is where an individual can make the most difference.”

It was the political environment in the City of Harrisburg that led him to planning, Smith said.

“There has been so much turbulence and little achievement or progress. I think my dual undergraduate degrees provided the background knowledge required to successfully be a planner and the CRP program taught me how to use that knowledge to achieve results,” he said. “My experiences in the Army helped me to forge a very detailed and organized character and my life has become focused on efficiency and effectiveness and I use that base to concentrate on achieving results — essentially, ‘accomplishing the mission.’”

Smith said his efficient, results-oriented approach fit well with the Family Health Council (FHCCP), where he held a full-time position while taking all 14 Community and Regional Planning classes at the Harrisburg Campus.  

“FHCCP brought me on to create a regional program to oversee and administer housing programs supporting 14 Pennsylvania counties. Because this was a completely new way of doing things for these programs, I was able to be innovative and basically create everything from the ground up,” he said. “This has been a great organization to work for because as a nonprofit we have a lot of flexibility and a very supportive culture of empowerment.

While he was taking classes, Smith said, he was able to apply what her was learning in courses like Community Development Financing, Regional Development and Communication right on the job.

“There was a practical application with immediate benefits,” he said. “I know that in the long-term I would like to one day be a professor to help shape the next generation of planners.”