As an analyst in the Bureau of Legislative Research, he has worked alongside lawmakers to draft resolutions, track how funds flow through the state’s budget system, study the impact of bills, and review agency rules.
He didn’t start out wanting to work in government, but the master of public administration program at UALR inspired him to change his career path from museum administration to public service.
Upon receiving his undergraduate degree, Ralston worked at museums for five years, first on the curatorial staff of the Arkansas Museum of Science and History, then as Registrar (Collections Curator) for the Anniston Museum of Natural History in Alabama. He had his sights set on one day becoming a museum director, and was encouraged by a political science professor in Alabama to consider pursuing graduate studies at the UALR Institute of Government.
“I came back to Arkansas and enrolled in UALR’s Masters of Public Administration program with the idea that it would help me land a museum directorship, but the program also introduced me to many other public service opportunities. I was familiar with UALR’s reputation as a diverse metropolitan university here in the state’s government and commercial capital,” Ralston said.
The master of public administration program turned Ralston on to policymaking. He was hooked, thanks in large part to his professors.
“I credit Drs. Roby Robertson and David Sink, both of the UALR Institute of Government, for cultivating my interest in public policy as a career,” he said. “Dr. Robertson, through his work with the General Assembly, introduced me to the intricacies of Arkansas legislative tradition. Dr. Sink, my capstone advisor, fostered a service ethic in his students, no matter where their careers led them.”
In his last semester of study, Ralston was recruited by the Bureau of Legislative Research. He began in 1995 as a fiscal analyst for the Joint Budget Committee, tracing the flow of money through the state’s budget system and drafting legislation to control that flow.
For the past six years, he has staffed committees on agriculture, economic development, judiciary, lottery oversight, and higher education policy. In his current position, Ralston serves as staff analyst for the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the Higher Education Subcommittee, and the Lottery Oversight Committee.
He works closely with the leadership to determine legislative priorities, deciding what matters receive a hearing. He also advises committees on parliamentary procedure.
While it wasn’t his first choice of a career, it is clear Ralston found what he was born to do.
“My time as a graduate student at UALR’s Institute of Government instilled in me a broad appreciation of both the academic and applied sides of state and local government policy making, and prepared me for what has become a rich and fulfilling career in the study and formulation of public policy,” he said.
Q&A with Patrick
What was your favorite class? Dr. Roby Robertson’s Politics and Bureaucracy course. That’s where i got interested in the use of political power and process to shape broad public policy.
What is your favorite memory of your time at UALR? My MPA classes included people from all career fields, not just bureaucrats. Lobbyists, bankers, political scientists, and career public servants all had to work together and share ideas as they studied public policy fundamentals.
If you could spend one day anywhere, where would it be and why? I spent a week in training in Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River. I’d love to take my family there.
If you could talk to anyone alive or dead, who would it be and why? I’d love to have known my grandfather, a decorated WWII bomber pilot in the Pacific who later served as Little Rock Air Force Base’s first Vice Commander.
What is your hands-down favorite meal? It doesn’t get any better than Craig’s Barbecue in DeVall’s Bluff. The local county judge and I once ate there during an ice storm, with an inch of water on the floor, and diners were still lined up waiting for tables.
Complete this sentence: When I was a child, I was always … daydreaming.
What one word sums you up? Well-versed.