The Masters of Public Administration at UWM has been one of the most rewarding programs I have had the pleasure of being a part of. I would like to take this opportunity to describe to you how this program offers students more than just a masters degree.
When I began the program in the Fall of 1998, I was somewhat overwhelmed at the idea of actually working towards a masters degree in a field that really interested me. There were some new professors, new students, and new ideas and concepts. It seemed like there was more work and more time that would have to be divulged into working for this degree. But I also noticed that some of the instructors and professors teaching us had practical experience in the field, and they were able to bring this into the course structure as well. Two classes that stand out are Municipal Management and Bureaucratic Theory.
The following Spring, I took a course in Policy Analysis. I was surprised to learn that the professor teaching this was at one time a legislator. Since this was a class on policy analysis, I learned that an actual policy maker (former Wisconsin State legislator) made the ideal instructor for this course. And taking a course in Intergovernmental Relations with a professor who specialized in the field made that class more worthwhile also.
The following Fall, I took a course in Physical Planning and Municipal Engineering. This was not a class taught through the Masters of Public Administration Department, but rather, it was a class that was taught through the Engineering Department. There was so much work that was involved, but the professor kept the class interesting, the material was really exciting, and the work really paid off. If anyone has an option to take this course, don’t even hesitate for a second… go for it! The following semester, I took a course in learning what a Geographical Information System (GIS) does. Another “hands-on” class, I learned how to really articulate my analytical and technical skills. What really surprised me were the students that sat in this class, which included business, geography, architecture, and even an engineering student. I would definitely recommend this class.
The bottom line is that the MPA program at UWM offers more than just your basic classes. They offer classes that are hands-on, classes that are not only informative but also intriguing, and instructors that show a genuine concern about their students. This last item, concern for students, is another thing I really want to discuss.
As an undergraduate student at UWM, I earned my Bachelors of Arts in Political Science. As a student in that program, I became a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, and was involved in the Epsilon Chi chapter at UWM. I even spent a semester as chapter secretary. But all we did was hold one big event in the Spring, and we had a recognition luncheon. Beyond that, I only saw my fellow students in class, assuming I shared the same classes. But it was different when I went to that first orientation for the Masters of Public Administration.
One of the big things that impressed me with the orientation was the commitment the faculty showed for the students that were in this program. They wanted to begin a student organization for those of us who were interested in public administration. This became the Public Administration Student Society (PASS). What was unique about this was that it was open to students who were interested in public administration, not just those that were in the program (although anyone in the program was automatically a member with voting privileges). As PASS progressed through the first year, we saw minimum participation. Many of us were very discouraged.
PASS’ second year saw a change in leadership. In the first year, many of the officers were involved in many other things, making it difficult for them to put forth much commitment into the program. As charter officer and secretary, I had more time to devote to PASS, since I did not have the various work-related obligations my fellow officers had. I became president in Winter 2000, and the new officers that were elected showed much more commitment and enthusiasm to helping this organization really move forward.
This past year, we have had a panel discussion with professionals from the field of public administration to help students work on getting their first jobs, and our Spring orientation was successful, with three alumni that came and spoke to us about opportunities and lessons in public administration, and what their degree helped them to achieve. We’ve also had some fun activities, such as attending a Brewers game, complete with (what else?) a tailgate party, and we’ve spent time meeting professorial candidates for the MPA program. And in July, we will join the Milwaukee Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration to tour the Milwaukee River on the Edelweiss Cruise.
What are the ingredients to a successful organization such as ours? First of all, you have a group of students who are concerned about this field. Let’s face it, we’re working on this degree because it is related to a field in which we will spend our lives working in. And a masters degree requires so much more commitment than a bachelors degree. Furthermore, the officers have goals for the events as well as the organization as a whole. Their commitment and time has really been a key factor in helping to propel this organization.
Finally, we have had support from the professors and staff. Our director has a genuine concern for the students, and he has been an important contact for all of our events. He continues to ask for student participation at many of these events, as well as other events that will help us continue to grow. Other professors in the program have also been very helpful in distributing materials and attending many of our functions. And now that we have support from a professional organization, we have the ability to network with the finest members of the field of public administration, including administrators in municipal government, state government, and non-profit organizations.
In conclusion, I just want to say that I am grateful to all of those that I have had the pleasure of knowing through the Masters of Public Administration, including students, faculty, and professionals. I know that other students will also have the opportunities I’ve had in this program to really get a true feeling about what public administration is all about. Anyone who joins this program will have many wonderful experiences in the time they spend at UWM, and these experiences will help them over time in the field of public administration.