We all know how a professional musician gets to Carnegie Hall. But how does a professional musician end up at Harvard Kennedy School? For Rob Simonds, it all started with a lateral move and the 2016 election.
"I was moving from the Lexington Orchestra in Kentucky to a similar position with the Rochester Philharmonic and found myself really wanting to bring something else to the job. I felt very strongly that the time was right for large performing arts organizations to be more than just an escape for people on a Friday or Saturday night. They needed to play a bigger role in solving public problems, working more closely with local government to bring about change in the community. And I wanted to be part of that."
So, Rob started looking for an educational program that could give him the skills and expertise to bring more value to the groups and committees he became involved with at his new job. The Public Leadership Credential at Harvard hit all the right notes.
"As a musician, you learn things in a certain order to get better, right? That was one of the things that attracted me to the PLC-- the fact that it was structured in a progressive, coherent way. And it was also flexible because it was entirely online."
While initially reticent of the one to two hours of weekly group work the PLC required, that feature of the curriculum soon became one of the high points for Rob.
"I got to interact with nonprofit folks, an environmental economist from New Mexico, a democratic activist from Peru, a doctor in rural Alaska, a jazz student at Berklee, even an officer in the Special Forces. Here were these people from all walks of life reading the same material, discussing the same problems, but each approaching the solution in a totally different way. The result was great learning."
Another aspect of the experience Rob found beneficial was the access to content created by renowned Harvard faculty. "Many of the names I recognized as being absolute leaders in their fields. And some of the taped conversations between faculty that we also had access to was extremely interesting."
Rob was originally only planning to take one or two PLC courses. However, the 20th anniversary of his music career changed all that.
"I felt that I was getting to the end of my best work as a performer and started considering ways to transition out of the business. Since I had an interest in public policy and how American institutions could help solve American problems, I decided to complete the PLC program and use it to bridge to a new chapter in life focused on an area I'm really passionate about."
This Fall, that "bridge" will lead Rob to Harvard Kennedy School's Mid-Career Master in Public Administration program, setting the stage for many exciting challenges ahead.