Buckwalter Award Honors MPA Students

PROVO, Utah – Apr 22, 2019 – Two remarkable BYU Marriott School of Business students were recently recognized for their outstanding performance in their internships by The Doyle W. Buckwalter Award. The winner, Aaron Shirley, and a finalist, Shantel Sanders, were presented with the award and a cash prize at the annual Alumnus of the Year luncheon.

Shirley, a senior from Stafford, Virginia, applied for the Buckwalter award after successfully completing two internships as a research analyst for the Utah Office of the State Auditor and Sandy (Utah) City Hall. At the State Auditor’s office, Shirley was able to identify fiscal health indicators, establish a non-audit services contract, and increase the validity of the state transparency website. 

Shirley first heard about the internship at the state auditor’s office from a project he worked on in his first year of the BYU Marriott MPA program. His project analyzed data from Transparent Utah, a government website dedicated to maintaining transparency in government finances. Shirley used the data to attempt to find indicators in demographic data that would correlate with potential for financial success. Based on his research, Shirley concluded that the data on Transparency Utah was unreliable and needed auditing. 

Shirley’s passion for proper data in public administration piqued the interest of Michael Jensen, an analyst from the state auditor’s office, who attended Shirley’s final project presentation and encouraged him to apply for the internship. 

Under the state auditor, Shirley took part in various projects and consulted with other state auditing offices from around the country to add credibility to the Transparency Utah database. “The most important thing I learned from my internship was the ability to get key stakeholders in projects to buy into my vision,” he says. “Until you come to understand the way your colleagues are thinking and respect that, you won’t get anything done.” Shirley recently signed on to return as a full-time employee in the spring of 2019.

Sanders, a senior finalist from Houston, Texas, applied for the Buckwalter award after working at the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, where she tackled data mining projects and DNA testing, and conducted interviews to determine the validity of visa applications. Sanders found her internship without any internal networking, likely because her ability to speak Tagalog— a skill she gained during her mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines—easily set her apart from the competition. 

Sanders worked on the investigative side of immigration, inspecting the validity of each visa application and exposing crime rings that provided false documentation for visas. She personally managed over three hundred cases of potential familial relationship fraud. 

The most important thing she gained from her internship was understanding the value of identifying with the mission of an organization. “I learned to appreciate the importance of following systems and procedures while gaining a deeper appreciation for the protections the law provides,” she says. “It’s difficult to do your job effectively if you don’t understand the reason why you are doing it.” Sanders is interested in pursuing a career in public administration with a focus on immigration. 

Doyle W. Buckwalter, the namesake of the award, served as the associate director of the Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics as the institute's internship coordinator for 28 years. The award is given annually to students that demonstrate the lasting value they add to their internships and show an ability to share the skills they learned with fellow students after their internship is completed. 

Finalist Shantel Sanders
Finalist Shantel Sanders
Aaron Shirley, the Buckwalter Award winner stands at the State Capitol Building
Aaron Shirley, the Buckwalter Award Winner

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Katie Harris