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From CLA to HUD

September 29, 2017

James Baltazar

James Baltazar
James Baltazar

James Baltazar, a member of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe in Fallon, Nevada, developed a fascination with politics and government early in life. “Growing up towards the end of the Cold War made politics an inescapable fact of life,” he says.

From Potholes to Apps

The allure to policy and institutions plus the advice and recommendations he received about our department made it an easy decision to study political science at the University of Minnesota. The internships completed during his undergraduate years, with the support of the Department of Political Science’s internship director, helped prepare him for graduate school and a career in public service. Thinking critically and analytically, staking out and defending a position, and communicating effectively are all skills James developed while studying political science in the College of Liberal Arts.

In addition to learning in the classroom, the experiences James gained while enrolled in POL 3080, our faculty supervised internship course, were crucial to the success he is seeing at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Interning for a US senator and a Minnesota state senator allowed him to grapple with real world problems. “One call could be about why there are too many potholes on their street,” according to James, “and a follow up letter might ask whether we could ask for a status update on a passport application so it’s completed in time for an overseas wedding.” He learned the value that developing organizational skills can bring to completing school projects as well as developing projects at a federal agency.

After completing his undergraduate degree James was admitted to the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Upon receiving his Master in Urban and Regional Planning degree James became a presidential management fellow and found a position with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now a senior management analyst in the Office of Field Policy and Development for HUD in Minneapolis, Minnesota, James takes ideas for improving processes, makes the case for new projects, figures out implementation, and makes a positive impact on lives across the country. As James says, “It all began by choosing to study political science at the University of Minnesota.”

Two of the biggest, most successful projects James has worked on at HUD involve developing mobile apps and a website that helped spread HUD information and resources to low-income persons, social service professionals, as well as small business owners. The first project was developing the HUD Resource Locator, a website and mobile app for users to quickly discover local HUD and US Department of Agriculture Rural Development housing resources. The app has been used hundreds of thousands of times by people across the county.

James remembers being in a meeting with local social service professionals who help low income people find affordable housing. It was in this moment where he saw firsthand the application being put to use as participants pulled out their smartphone to use the HUD Resource Locator to find the closest public housing agency. “That was a very cool experience to see someone use the app exactly as we drew it up in the business case,” says James.

In addition, James ran a pilot project in the upper Midwest focusing on connecting local contractors to bid opportunities in construction and maintenance made available by HUD grantees. The pilot project was to create a website and mobile app, BusinessUSA, that would send push notifications to contractors when the system recognized that a new bid was posted in their area. James recently met a small business owner that showed him how the app he developed helped their company find contracting work after seeing a push notification. 

James credits his time in the Department of Political Science for preparing him and developing his professional skills. “Those internships were hugely beneficial for my professional development,” according to James, “particularly for my work with HUD, because I spoke directly with constituents each day about their real-world problems.”

Finding His Path

James wasn’t a traditional student, completing his undergraduate degree at 31 years of age. His experience taught him “life is not a race and we are not all sprinting to the same finish line. We all have different paths in life. My path took me through the University of Minnesota and I am very thankful for the experience and opportunity.”

In 2017 James was presented with an Emerging Alumni Award from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. The CLA Emerging Alumni Award honors alumni who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts who demonstrate leadership, creative excellence, community-mindedness, and who mirror the community at large.