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Retired city executive to connect with urban management students as fellowship program manager

Kari Kent could understandably have hung up her public service hat for good when she retired from 30 years in municipal and state government.

But that didn’t happen.

“When I retired from Mesa in 2021, I took some time for myself. But one thing I really missed was connecting with students,” said Kent, who is the new local government fellowship program manager in the Arizona State University School of Public Affairs.

“One of the most exciting parts of my career had been that mentoring component, sharing with students my passion for public service and making them aware of the variety of positions available in local government, because a lot of students aren’t aware of the careers available to them,” Kent said.

During her time in city government, Kent had been a frequent guest lecturer in the School of Public Affairs' Master of Public Administration courses and in 2014 was a founding member of the Master of Public Administration Advisory Board, where she continues to serve today. Kent also had served on the school’s accreditation board. After her retirement as an assistant city manager, she was still mentoring students.

When she learned that Cynthia Seelhammer was retiring this year from administering the Marvin Andrews-Jane Morris Fellowship in Urban Management, Kent said she realized it was an opening she didn’t want to pass up.

“When I got approached about coming back to oversee the fellowship, I really thought, this is an opportunity to reconnect even more than I have been with the program,” she said.

Kari Kent. Courtesy photo

Fellowship has 62 alumni

The duties of Kent’s part-time position include program administration and partnering with the ASU Foundation on fundraising activities for the fellowship. The fellowship is in its 19th year training students pursuing Master of Public Administration and Master of Public Policy degrees for roles as top executives in local government.

The Andrews-Morris fellowship, which places students with top local government executives working on city and county projects, has 62 alumni who serve as city managers, assistant city managers and other leadership roles in Arizona and nationwide.

Fellowship alumni also are department heads and assistant department heads in such areas as budget, public works and neighborhoods, and administrators in solid waste and transportation divisions. Others are management assistants or analysts in city manager, city council, economic development and human resources offices.

While most work in municipal or county government, many alumni serve in other types of government roles, as well as in nonprofits and the private sector.

“I’ll be sharing with the fellows my experience from 27 years in Mesa and help them gain the knowledge of many professionals in the field of local government,” Kent said. “I am fortunate to have a network of brilliant colleagues including fellowship alumni here in Arizona and across the country who are willing to assist me in helping the fellows learn and grow.”

Kent has other ties with her new responsibilities. She was involved in the 2023 creation of the Jane L. Morris Fellowship, named for a dedicated former Phoenix deputy city manager and former executive director of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

A generous gift from the family of Morris, who died in 2016, and her late husband, former Mesa assistant city manager Bryan Raines, who died in 2023, funds one of the fellows chosen each year for the two-year Marvin Andrews Fellowship in Urban Management. The selected student is designated as the Morris Fellow. Morris’ name is included with the fellowships’ original namesake, former Phoenix City Manager Marvin Andrews, who served for 13 years in that capacity. Andrews died in 2004.

In 2023, the Harrell-Hutchinson Visiting Professional program was added to the school, bringing a seasoned city management professional to ASU for a year to work with students preparing for local government careers. Kent said this part of the job excited her, because during her time with Mesa, she often worked with the position’s namesakes and benefactors, former Chandler City Manager Lloyd Harrell and former Mesa City Manager Mike Hutchinson, each of whom she had known for decades.

Plans to expand cohort

Kent said her goals include expanding the number of Andrews-Morris fellows from the current cohort of 14, which in recent years had grown from eight. Such plans are possible because local cities and towns are increasing their financial support for the program, she said. Participants for 2024–25 include Phoenix, Buckeye, Tempe, Scottsdale, Avondale, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, El Mirage and Wickenburg.

School of Public Affairs Director and Professor Shannon Portillo said she is looking forward to Kent’s help in expanding the school’s local government fellowships and connections to local government professionals.

“Kari brings a wealth of experience and connections to a strong network of local government leaders,” Portillo said. “Her work with our local government fellowships will continue to further (the school's) mission of preparing students and professionals for ethical, inclusive, and effective public service.”  

Kent earned her Master of Public Administration from ASU in 1994, and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Northern Arizona University. She is an inducted Life Member in the Arizona City/County Management Association, previously having served as its board president.

About the Andrews-Morris Urban Management Fellowship

  • Eight fellows comprise the class of 2026 first-year cohort of the Marvin Andrews and Jane Morris Urban Management Fellowship for graduate students, the largest number in the history of the 18-year-old program.
  • The two-year program enjoys recently expanded funding to offer the program to more students. Ten Maricopa County municipalities fund one or both years of the program for the 14 fellows, eight first-year fellows and six second-year fellows: Avondale, Buckeye, Chandler, El Mirage, Gilbert, Glendale, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Wickenburg.
  • Incoming fellows include graduates of all three state universities. Many are first-generation graduates.
  • Since its founding in 2006, the fellowship has 62 alumni. Most alumni go into municipal and county government, while 5% are in state government; 11% serve in nonprofits supporting local communities in areas such as international building code development, environmental conservation and innovation collaborations; and 10% are self-employed or in the private sector supporting public agencies in activities such as strategic planning and the utilization of technology for service delivery.