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You Have Your MPA! Now What?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Donta Council
July 24, 2015

Welcome to public service! Now you hold a Master of Public Administration degree. What do you do with it? Work and connect! As simple as it sounds, work experience and networking with peers in the public sector will be key in truly merging your theoretical framework and academic background into practitioner based practices in your new career.

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As a recent graduate of a MPA program, the postgraduate life has been exciting yet humbling. I was fortunate to intern at a local community foundation during my graduate school tenure. Post graduation, they offered me a job immediately as a program officer. However, the reality is that graduation is not always coupled with job security.

Being that the public sector offers myriad federal, state, local and nonprofit careers, many public administration programs offer areas of concentration that will allow you to excel in a chosen profession. Use that area of concentration to your advantage when applying for jobs. Employers are seeking certain skills and knowledge that will benefit their organization or agency that others do not possess – many MPA programs will provide you with that background.

Let’s face it, having a master’s degree speaks volumes to the amount of dedication, persistence and resilience an individual must possess in order to complete a graduate program. However, in a trendy world where America’s job market fluctuates, a strong educational background must be complemented with work experience and employable skills. There are a few things you can do to develop your commitment to leadership in public service.

  • Join a board. Find a local nonprofit agency to contribute your talents. Nonprofits need board of director members that can attribute their leadership/management skills, areas of expertise and provide strategic governance for the agency. The role of a board member for any nonprofit is essential for driving staff and volunteers in fulfilling the organization’s mission. Programmatic measures, policy development and resource development are nonprofits opportunities in which a MPA graduate can apply classroom theory to real world experiences. Becoming a board member also exposes you to a network of individuals in different areas in your local community. Take advantage of the opportunity to gain connections with like-minded individuals that will create long lasting relationships. The role of being a board member is not only self-gratifying, but also a true testament to the knowledge and skills you acquired in your MPA program.
  • Attend city council meetings. Get to know local city council members, commissioners, mayor and city manager. City council meetings are not always the hot topic of the town. However, the constituents and representatives that attend these meetings carry great influence throughout the community. Their commitment to public service is evident in the positions they are elected to, and in most cases, are excited to see others who possess the same passion and values about their community. There are often opportunities to join city boards and committees such as development and planning, finance, public safety, transportation, housing, police advisory, etc. City council members, the mayor or city manager are seeking individuals that want to contribute to their communities. The MPA gives credibility to those who are seeking to become involved on the local government level. Visit your local government’s website to see the ways in which you can get involved in public service by way of board or committee commitment.
  • Attend conferences. Being able to attend conferences gives you the opportunity to meet academics and practitioners in your respective sector and to expand your network. Whether you are interested in leadership, emergency management, social equity, economic development, higher education, grant management or other areas, there are conferences for you to attend. Seek out the national and/or regional associations, council, network groups that are specific to your area of interest and attend the conference. Your employer may even cover the expenses. If they don’t, save. The return on the investment will surpass any costs that you will incur. Conferences provide you additional educational opportunities, expose you to new ways of conducting business and increase awareness of the most up to date principles and practices. The conference experience nurtures you into becoming a better leader and employee. 

Conferences are also a great time to network. Attending conferences allows you to build your reputation as an expert in your field. Networking with peers helps gain credibility and eventually they will ask you to collaborate or assist them in future endeavors in your sector such as speaking or publishing. Be sure to take business cards. People love them and they are the easiest way to exchange contact information with peers and acquire new colleagues in your sector. Invest time into making new conversations, learning new ideas and having fun. A few conferences that may be of interest for public administrators are:

  1. Social Equity Leadership Conference.
  2. Urban Affairs Association.
  3. American Society for Public Administrators.
  4. Conference of Minority Public Administration.
  5. Association for Research on Nonprofit Organization and Voluntary Actions.
  6. Public Administration Theory Network.

Author:  Donta Council is a project coordinator at the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama. You can him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/dontacouncil.

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