Written by Dwain Hebda
Arkansas native Valerie Carpenter’s ('20) path in life wasn’t a direct one, but as she is quick to tell you, it’s not the road one travels so much as where it leads. It's one of the lasting lessons she learned during her two years at the Clinton School of Public Service.
“I have had to change some of my thought processes along the way,” she said. “In my cohort, I think we started out with 35 people. Having so many people surrounding me with different opinions helped me grow. No one person is the same as another and you have to be humble and work with humility to understand that.”
Carpenter graduated from the University of Arkansas Little Rock with a degree in anthropology in 2010. The original plan called for medical school next, but by that time life had interfered.
“I had gotten sick in school, something that lasted longer than I had expected,” she said. “The next three years of my life I was getting blood transfusions and the doctors didn’t know what was going on with me. So, I had to put [medical school] on hold and by the time I overcame my sickness, I was so far behind, I was just like I can’t do it.”
Carpenter instead focused on her career and was working as director of admissions at the Arkansas School for Math Sciences and the Arts when the Clinton School crossed her field of view. It wasn’t the first time she’d considered it – her sister had recommended it to her a decade before – but this time the timing felt right. She began taking classes in 2018.
“When I first started off with this program, I had an interest in wanting to do something with homelessness, even though I was working in education,” she said. “I wanted to look at policies and look at ways that we can end homelessness.”
Carpenter began applying what she was learning in Little Rock then finished her coursework in 2020 while living and working in California. Today, she’s enrolled in the Doctor of Law and Policy program at Northeastern University in Boston, a program designed for experienced professionals who are interested in the origins, development, implementation and analysis of legal and public policy decisions in government and related institutions.
She said the demanding curriculum of the Clinton School was an apt proving ground for the coursework and field work she’s doing today.
“I’m definitely grateful that the Clinton School gave us those courses, especially on how to do research,” she said. “I’m in a program with people who have their master’s degree, and we just did our first research methods course at Northeastern and that was their first time taking a class like that. That really helped build my confidence, knowing how well the Clinton School prepared me.
“In the future, I wouldn’t mind going the government route or sticking in the nonprofit sector. I want to leave my options open. That’s what makes [the Clinton School] special: It’s basically an open degree you can tailor to wherever you are led.”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.