French House Focus: Honors Alum Kyle Homan
Kyle Homan graduated from LSU Honors in 2008, and when he did, there were a lot of people on campus who were sad to see him go. Kyle was integral in establishing Volunteer LSU (Tiger headquarters for all things community service). He also helped to organize the very first Community Bound Service Plunge for incoming LSU freshmen - an event that's still going (very) strong today! This year's Community Bound is this coming Saturday, August 23; students will help repair and clean Baton Rouge public schools. Interested freshmen can register that morning in the lobby of the LSU Student Union.
Tell me a little bit about your background—where you grew up, and how you wound up at LSU….
I grew up in Coldwater, Ohio. It’s a small farming community. My sister ended up going to McNeese, in Lake Charles. I wanted to get out of state [for college]. Didn’t want to stay in Ohio. So I checked out LSU when I went to visit her one time, and I fell in love with the campus. It was a bigger city, the Southern hospitality, the oak trees, and obviously LSU football, although I grew up an Ohio State fan. And the food! I absolutely love it. Don’t know how I was eating just meat and potatoes growing up. So when I got accepted to LSU, it was kind of hard not to go!
How did you decide to apply for the Honors College?
When I applied to LSU I also applied to the Honors College. I knew that, if I was going to a big state school, I wanted to be in an Honors program. I had been used to being challenged in school, so I wanted to make sure I still had that kind of academic rigor in classes. And that’s how, kind of from day one, a lot of the people, a lot of the groups I became involved with were through the Honors College. It was nice to have those connections right away. I lived in Laville, and that’s how I met pretty much all of my friends - through living in the Honors dorm and through my roommate, who was randomly assigned, so it worked out really well!
And that was in 2004—so one year before Hurricane Katrina.
Oh my gosh—what was your experience like at LSU during that time?
Well, I was living in a three-bedroom apartment, and luckily each bedroom had a bathroom, because we had about sixteen people living in our apartment for a month and a half. All my friends are from New Orleans. So when their families evacuated, they ended up staying with us - entire families, and some of their friends as well. And then a month later, Rita hit, and my sister ended up moving in with me for another month.
After Hurricane Katrina, I started to get involved with different volunteer organizations. A lot of people wanted to help out, but they didn’t know how. There was a large response on LSU’s campus. We knew that we had 25,000, 30,000 students that could help out in situations like this. So there was a need for an organization to manage volunteer opportunities, to share and create service opportunities, as well as be a sort of clearinghouse, so that people, if they wanted to serve, they knew there was a way to get to that through the university. There was a group of about eight of us that were really interested in doing that. So we kept on meeting and talking about what it would look like, and what the needs were. From there, it just really took off.
And that’s what ultimately became Volunteer LSU, right?
Yes. I was involved in its development in that first year, and then in my senior year, I led it, as the director.
So what were some of the service projects that you helped to organize?
The best one, still, is the one at the beginning of the school year: Community Bound. I think the Honors College had originally organized it. So when Volunteer LSU was created, we kind of took it over. It’s a huge undertaking. The summer before my senior year, that’s what I spent my summer doing. Every day. It was a lot of work, but it was very successful. We do this service project for the elementary schools, whatever the schools need, moving stuff, painting stuff, landscaping. We’ve started working with Aramark, which provides maintenance services to East Baton Rouge schools. It went from - my senior year we had 350 people, and now they have 900 people! It’s huge. It’s a part of the Honors College orientation, and professors have become involved too. It’s a great way of connecting all these students, right away, before they even get to school - connecting them with being in Louisiana, connecting them to other like-minded individuals, encouraging a passion for community service right off the bat.
What did you end up majoring in at LSU?
I started off as a Political Science major, and I picked up an Animal Sciences major, too, in my sophomore year. I took Honors biology, which was taught by an Animal Sciences professor, Dr. Dennis Ingram. I really fell in love with the research that we were doing in lab. So I ended up taking a lot of the classes he taught and he became kind of a mentor for me at LSU.
Ultimately I did an Honors Thesis in Animal Sciences, on egg production in the poultry industry. I could have done my Honors Thesis in political science, but I like the more hands-on research. It was part of a larger research project Dr. Ingram was working on at the time, but I did my own trial runs and analyzed the data by myself. The subject of my thesis, poultry, is not related to what I’m doing now, but the skill sets I gained have definitely become an advantage. I had to refine my communication skills, my research skills. I learned how to use stats programs. And you know, when you write a thesis, people know the involvement of what you’ve done. So that helps with getting into a good graduate program.
Tell me what you did after LSU.
After I graduated I started working for Teach for America. I was not a teacher; I worked on staff. I was the team lead on implementing a new program and training the teachers in that, as well as gathering data. I did that for a year. I love education - I think it’s the most important thing for people - but that’s just not my career interest. I knew pretty much after a couple of months of working that I wanted to go back to school to get my master’s of public administration.
Where did you go for graduate school?
The Maxwell School at Syracuse. It’s one of the top-ranked MPA programs—and it was also a yearlong program, which is cheaper than a two-year program at, say, Harvard. I didn’t want to have all that debt. So I chose Syracuse. It was an excellent program. I met amazing people. You immerse yourself in groups, so I got to know almost every one of the 100 people in my class really, really well. And I have strong friendships with a lot of those people still.
What are the skills that an MPA confers? What are you being equipped to handle by that masters?
Well, it’s very broad. Anything from financial management to negotiations to organization-building, and across all sectors. A lot of people go into government, become analysts, become public consultants who improve and administer government programs. A lot of people go to work for non-profits. It’s a wide range. I knew I wanted to work in government. Being at LSU during Hurricane Katrina, I experience how all government levels - federal, state, local - had failed people. So I really wanted to get involved in government and make programs more effective and more helpful for people.
Did you plan to move back to Louisiana after grad school? How did you end up in New Orleans?
I was split between Washington, DC, and Louisiana. But after I graduated - I graduated in 2010, it was so hard to get a job, especially in government. It was really bad timing; the federal government wasn’t hiring at all. So I just put my heart into going to New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The majority of my friends from LSU were here in New Orleans, and I wanted to get back here. I fell in love with it during undergrad and so I knew that long-term, that was what I wanted to do.
Where do you work now?
I work for the City of New Orleans, and I manage our database for all of the capital projects budgets. I do a lot of reporting, data analysis. And I love it. It fits exactly what I wanted to do. I mean, you know, it can be frustrating, working in government. But you try to keep a cool head, step back and kind of look at the progress that has been made. A lot of our projects our FEMA-funded, at least partially, so I’m a part of the rebuilding process of New Orleans. There’s a lot of growth, too. Companies are coming to New Orleans - technologies companies, the new hospital - there’s construction everywhere. So it’s a good time to be in New Orleans.
As an alumni looking back on your LSU Honors experience, what advice would you give yourself as a student?
When I was going into school, I felt like I had to know exactly what I wanted to do. I think the advice I would give an Honors student is to broaden your classes and broaden your experience. Get involved with a lot of things, because at some point you’ll be able to really identify what you want to do long term. Experience all that you can and don’t worry about what you’re going to do for the rest of your life, because that will sort itself out.