Student honored for work promoting women in government

By

Maryjo Douglas Zunk

Master of Public Administration student Kristen Ayers was nominated for an Outstanding Achievement and Contribution Student Award, given annually by the ASU Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  Ayers was nominated for the commitment she has shown to developing women’s leadership in local government. Ayers aspires to be a city manager and in the course of her studies and internship, she has dedicated herself to providing opportunities for others as well.  Given that nationally only 13 percent of city managers are women, Ayers’ work to provide support for women in the profession answers an important need.

Ayers is part of a unique cohort of MPA students: the Marvin Andrews Fellows. Each year, the School of Public Affairs selects 3-4 outstanding students for fellowships in the School in a program designed to prepare students to step into demanding positions in city management.  Students work 20 hours a week during their first year with ASU’s Center for Urban Innovation and the Alliance for Innovation, a national partnership that ASU’s School of Public Affairs has with 300 cities and the International City-County Management Association (ICMA).  Fellows do research and work with city managers from around the country in this capacity.  During their second year, they receive a 20-hour per week paid internship with one of the cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Throughout the program, they attend conferences, receive professional development, and become active in organizations like the Arizona City-County Management Association (ACMA).

Ayers is a second-year “Marvin” who has helped launch a chapter of Women Leading Government in ACMA.  Women Leading Government (WLG) was begun by female local government managers in California in 2006 and has since become affiliated with ICMA.  Last year Ayers volunteered to help with registration for the first Arizona WLG conference in June 2016, and this year she is on the planning committee for their second conference in June 2017. 

Ayers is a management intern in Surprise, Arizona, under the supervision of Deputy City Manager Nicole Lance (MPA ’08 and past Marvin Fellow), and has helped launch a WLG chapter in the City of Surprise, with 100 women members.  Involved from the beginning, Kristen researched how other state WLG chapters ran their organizations and spoke with four other chapters about best practices and lessons learned.  She communicated her findings to city leadership in Surprise, who ultimately decided to create a local chapter.

Ayers is leading an effort to develop a formal WLG mentoring program in the city. The mentoring program was launched in February when she presented the plan to city staff, management and the Mayor. The initial program will have 30 participants with 15 matches. All of the mentees are women, and the mentors are both men and women (including many department directors).  The matching is underway now, and the program will run a full year.

Based on her discussions with other chapters, Ayers believes that movements like WLG help to promote women’s leadership in local government.  As a school, we are proud of Ayers’ own professional accomplishments, and her commitment to creating a more inclusive and diverse public service.  Her contributions are important here in Arizona, and they contribute to the advancement of women in the profession overall.