Clinton public service school attracts students worldwide

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 21, 2011 12:03 PM
Clinton public service school attracts students worldwide

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - In his native country of Thailand, Eakpot Nimkulrat is a neurologist.

But at age 43, Nimkulrat has embarked on a new adventure as a graduate student at the Clinton School of Public Service, founded by the former U.S. president and the first school in the nation to offer a Master of Public Service degree.

Nimkulrat and his 37 classmates gathered in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, on Friday -- Bill Clinton's 65th birthday -- to write on a public art project that asks people what they want to accomplish before they die. It was one of their first assignments.

Nimkulrat's answer? To become Thailand's prime minister.

"I believe that you can do anything with power and knowledge," Nimkulrat said.

That's why he chose to attend the school that bears his role model's name.

Clinton founded the school, which is part of the University of Arkansas system and funded by the state, in 2005. Students take classes in a restored 1800s red brick train station adjacent to his presidential library that opened in 2004. To date, more than 115 students have graduated from the school.

This fall's incoming class is the largest one yet, said Skip Rutherford, the school's dean. The students come from diverse backgrounds and countries, including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Portugal, as well as the United States.

"What makes the Clinton School unique is a significant portion of the academic study is in-the-field public service work with students serving all over the country and the world," Rutherford told Reuters on Saturday.

"It's all about civic engagement, and our classrooms range from homeless shelters in Little Rock to orphanages in Uganda."

The students take classes in communications, social change, ethics and leadership.

Rutherford said the two-year curriculum is enhanced with a renowned speaker series that allows students to have unprecedented interaction with leaders in public service, government, business, education, health and the arts.

Previous speakers include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Republican strategist Karl Rove, former Obama administration official Elizabeth Warren and Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Fernando Cardoso of Brazil.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will speak to the class.

Students also get the chance to meet Clinton, who occasionally pops into the school when he returns to his home state of Arkansas.

Kellen Utecht, 28, of Underwood, North Dakota, will work on his masters of public service at the school while also obtaining a graduate degree in business administration at the Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

A former Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria, Utecht has focused on sustainability issues. But saving the planet isn't all he wants to do before he dies.

"I want to be a dad," Utecht said. "I've been fortunate to do a lot of things, and that's one thing I want to do."

The Clinton School has allowed 27-year-old Todun Afolabi of Nigeria to visit the United States for the first time. She arrived six months ago and has already gotten involved in a local project where she supervises food and clothing distribution to the homeless.

Afolabi, who holds a law degree from a Nigerian university, said her goal is to learn more about humanitarian efforts.

"I want to help not only Nigeria but Africa in whole," she said.

All the students share one common goal -- to meet Clinton.

"He did a lot for the people in the U.S. and our world," said Nimkulrat, who saw the former president in Thailand in 2004 and waved. "That's my inspiration to come here."

(Edited by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)