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Professionalism in Public Administration at the University of Miami

Source: University of Miami

Climate change, an aging population, growing homelessness; these issues scrape the surface of the US government’s problems. And they’re not alone in this.

Many nations in the developed and developing world are grappling to solve similar problems affecting the global community.

It’s going to take a concerted effort to make a tiny dent in this. As such, talented civil servants will be indispensable.

The University of Miami understands this dire need. Its Master of Public Administration (MPA) graduate course aims to fill demand for a new global elite who will be able to manage people, money, and technology regardless of where they are.

Professor Jonathan P West, who has directed the graduate MPA program for more than three decades, says:

“It is an ideal time to have a Master of Public Administration with the impending retirement of tens of thousands of civil servants and the explosive growth of outsourcing of government work to non-profit and private organizations. These changes have created a demand from all sectors for students who want to ‘make an impact’ and who have the skills that come with an MPA.”

Jonathan West with a MPA student. Source: University of Miami

A holistic, internationally-applicable curriculum

Since 1979, the MPA program has been a mainstay at the University of Miami’s Department of Politics, located at the highly diverse area of Coral Gables, Florida. It’s typically a two-year, 48-credit program, but current UM students can choose to get both their undergraduate degree and MPA through a five-year, two-degree option.

The MPA is available in two separate formats: on-campus and online. There’s also an option to combine an MPA with a Juris Doctorate or a Master of Public Health. Undergraduate students can major in public administration and/or political science.

Students get a wide selection of courses in public and non-profit service, as well as interesting electives – all of which are taught by an award-winning, student-oriented faculty.

Core subjects include Budgeting and Financial Management and Administration, Political Analysis, Public Affairs Internship, Introduction to Graduate Public Administration, Public Policy and Implementation, Organizational Dynamics, Government and Business, Human Resource Management, and Productivity in the Public and Non-Profit Sectors.

The goal is simple: to provide a comprehensive, holistic understanding for students to become effective leaders in public service. Weaved through both core and elective modules is a lot of context. The study isn’t one that’s exclusively US-centric, but one with international application. That means students learn about poverty in both Detroit and Kenya, wars fought in Iraq and Burma, on top of climate change in Montana and India.

Source: University of Miami

With an average undergraduate GPA of 3.2 and more than two-thirds of the class derived from abroad, lecture hours include lively debate sessions, with the benefits of opinions spanning the globe.

Faculty have been published in nationally- and internationally-recognized publications, while talks and seminars by foreign academics and public policy experts are regular features at UM. The school has hosted talks by former US President Bill Clinton, Uruguay’s former Vice Minister of Education Dr Fernando Filgueira, then TIME editor Amy Sullivan, and “Redeem the Vote” founding chair Dr. Randy Brinson.

It’s a program that gave Vanessa Joseph (MPA, 2012) a whole load of exposure to new ideas. She explains: “Not only are you learning a lot from seasoned professors who have been doing this for work and who know a lot about what they teach, but you are also in a classroom filled with students from diverse backgrounds who have diverse experiences, and you get learn a little bit from every single person.”

Soft skills are emphasised in the program. As any person dealing with public service will know, communicating well will determine whether you can survive and thrive in this sector. Indeed, it is this focus on communication and leadership skills that would drive current MPA student Yishan Liu to recommend the MPA program to others.

“I also learned…how to communicate…the personal skills and organizational administration. I recommend this program for students – international or domestic.”

Internships across the globe

Every MPA student at Miami will have to undergo a public service internship as a requirement for this program. It’s a great opportunity for meaningful on-the-job work experience; arranged and monitored by a faculty member.

For 400 hours, students get the chance to examine a functioning agency, to review its major policies and management processes and participate in work experiences related to the administration of that agency. Examples of institutions Miami MPA students have interned at include Miami-Dade County, the US Office of Personnel Management, the United Nations, the Center for Disease Control, and even the White House itself.

Recently, the school’s European Union “Jean Monnet” chair offered an innovative program, blending internship training and individualised research supervision in fall 2018, through a grant awarded by the European Union.

MPA program internships have seen a good run, with many students taking on challenging work, often landing full-time jobs after graduation.

“My career started as a result of my time as a graduate [MPA] student at the University of Miami,” former program student, now Miami-Dade County Deputy Mayor, Alina Hudak says.

The list of notable alumni goes beyond Hudak and locations in Florida alone, with many scoring jobs on the international front, be it as a professor at the United Arab Emirates’ Alhosn University, Deputy Manager in China Huarong Asset Management company, Data Visualization Designer at Equinox, or an Energy Trader for Morgan Stanley in Canada. Several MPA graduates have continued their studies towards a Ph.D, law degree or second master’s qualification.

Source: University of Miami

Whether you’re planning to work at The Hague, return to join the Chinese civil service or join a non-profit to help marginalised communities in India, an MPA from Miami will open a world of opportunities. As 2014 MPA student Brendan Carrigan says:

“Through my studies in the Master of Public Administration degree I have been able to really develop a phenomenal understanding of both the legislative process, the federal role-making process and also the intricacies and logistics of running a government agency or NGO. And with that educational foundation—that will enable me to have a wide variety of options.”

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