Executive Master of Public Leadership Graduate Transforms Career with Enhanced Leadership Skills and Network

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May 31, 2024
Nathan McDaniel's family at graduation 2024

Nathan McDaniel ’24, a recent Executive Master of Public Leadership (EMPL) graduate at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, shares his experience and the profound impact the program has had on his development as a leader. 

McDaniel’s journey to the EMPL program began in 2022 when a colleague recommended it. Despite being unable to apply due to the program restructuring, his interest was reignited in the spring of 2023 after attending an event at the LBJ Presidential Library where Admiral McRaven promoted his new book. McDaniel said McRaven’s enthusiasm and optimism for the next generation of leaders encouraged him to apply to the newly relaunched EMPL program.  

Nathan McDaniel being interviewed during the LBJ School graduation in 2024.

Nathan McDaniel was interviewed during the LBJ School graduation in 2024.

Returning to academia ten years after completing his undergraduate degree, McDaniel found the program's coursework intellectually stimulating and engaging. He praised the outstanding faculty for their approach, treating students as professional peers rather than subordinates. However, McDaniel emphasizes that the true highlight of the EMPL program has been the camaraderie and collaborative spirit among the Cohort 9 students.   

"The absolute best part of the program is my Cohort 9 colleagues. Because EMPL is structured so that students take classes as a unit, I have gotten to know my classmates very well, heard their perspectives on diverse classroom topics and worked with different individuals in our group assignments in almost every class," McDaniel explains.  

This collaborative environment has been instrumental in his learning experience, allowing him to gain insights from diverse perspectives and fostering a supportive network. McDaniel believes this aspect makes the program "100% worth the time and cost." 

Executive Master of Public Leadership Cohort 9 in Washington D.C.

Executive Master of Public Leadership Cohort 9 in Washington D.C.

The program's curriculum imparted several significant lessons in public leadership. McDaniel emphasizes the importance of preparation, time management, and collaboration as critical skills for effective leadership. Group projects, which often involved coordinating with other working professionals, provided real-life practice in teamwork and deadline management. Realistic exercises, such as role-playing and policy debates, were particularly impactful. McDaniel noted, "Public leaders are often pulled in many different directions and work with a wide range of stakeholders. This program has helped me hone my management skills while engaging with new colleagues and faculty." 

McDaniel's newfound knowledge and skills have already begun to open doors. He recently accepted a position as the Director of Government Relations at the Railroad Commission and is being vetted for advisory boards and public commissions. Driven by a passion for community service and a desire to set a positive example for his children, McDaniel is eager to embrace new leadership opportunities.   

Nathan McDaniel and his family.

Nathan McDaniel and his family.

Reflecting on the program's impact, McDaniel said EMPL has prepared him to be an effective public leader and collaborator, a sentiment echoed by the strong group dynamic within his cohort. He fondly recalls a conversation during graduation where a Master of Public Affairs student asked McDaniel who his group was. "I told him it was our EMPL cohort. He replied that it seemed like we were ‘a really cohesive group’ - and I couldn’t have said it better myself," McDaniel shares. 

In his parting advice to future students, McDaniel underscores the importance of time management and early planning, especially for group projects and the capstone. By staying organized and proactive, students can maximize their learning experience and produce high-quality work. 

McDaniel's journey through the EMPL program exemplifies the transformative power of advanced public leadership education, which equips graduates with the tools, networks and confidence to significantly impact their communities and beyond. 

For more information on the Executive Master of Public Leadership degree, visit our Executive Education page.