Communication and Advocacy: Alumnus Champions Cleveland, its School Kids through Work

Michael J. Houser headshot

As a Kent State student, Michael J. Houser, ’11, learned the value of good communication, and those lessons have propelled him throughout his career.

"From the first class to the last," he says, "you are assisted in learning the necessary skills to advocate and organize."

Houser majored in communication studies, and his career has spanned advocacy and public service. Today, he’s Executive Director of the Bond Accountability Commission, which is responsible for monitoring the construction and renovation program of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). On a given day, he might travel to Columbus to advocate on behalf of CMSD; he might be working with community partners to improve the educational experience for Cleveland students; or he might be reviewing a report to ensure all of the “i’s are dotted and t's are crossed.”

He learned what it takes to do all these things first at Kent State.

"When you go before the State House, you need to be able to articulate, manage your time and communicate effectively," he said. "Kent State was the foundation on which I built my career. I would be a different person had I not attended Kent."

Houser, who attended Cleveland public schools himself, cites Kent State’s Academic S.T.A.R.S. program, run by the E. Timothy Moore Student Multicultural Center, as one of the first experiences that shaped him. The program brings admitted Black, Latinx, Native American and multi-race students who have achieved a 3.0 or higher in high school to campus the summer before the fall semester. Students take two college courses, build a community, engage in peer mentorship and more.

"I think that helped because I got to spend time on campus before anybody got there and get to know the campus," he said. "… Coming from Cleveland public schools, our work was not as intensive as in college so that I could have easily gone home after the first year. But, you know, I stuck with it."

He said there was a learning curve, but after being on academic probation his first semester, Houser leaned into his studies, and all that Kent State had to offer. He became a Resident Assistant, where he developed leadership skills. He got his first experience in public service through the Columbus Program in State Issues, which exposes students to the public policy-making process in Ohio's state capital.

That semester in Columbus opened Houser's eyes to the need for more young people to engage in public service and uplift their communities. Since graduation, he's done just that. As Government Affairs and Educational Policy Liaison for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District from 2019-2022, he was part of the team under CEO Eric Gordon that ensured Cleveland school children had internet access and hot meals, even while remote learning was in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. He's experienced a course of "full circle" moments working to improve the school district that he graduated from.

 "I grew up in a single-mother household in the inner city of Cleveland, so I know what they're going through," he said. "Being able to … work with people in my community to help keep schools open that I used to go to … those memories will last a lifetime. I did it from my heart because those kids don't know me, and I don't know them personally. We just did it because it was the right thing to do."

Since his time at Kent State, Houser has also worked in workforce development for the city of Cincinnati; in education and community engagement for nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland and Famicos Foundation; as a county councilman; and in various government jobs. He is the Democratic nominee for Cuyahoga County District 10.

"If I can be at the table and fight and advocate on behalf of people—if I do that and nothing else with my life, I'm good," Houser said.

POSTED: Friday, March 8, 2024 03:58 PM
Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2024 08:26 AM