For the past year, I have been the Director of Recruitment and Internship Placement for the Department of Public Administration in the College of Community and Public Affairs. It’s a great job. On the recruitment side, I get to speak with bright, energetic young people who are interested in making a difference in the world. On the internship side, I help second year MPA students narrow their career interests and navigate internship options. From prospect to MPA student to intern to smartypants MPA grad. Seriously gratifying work.
When I am at a graduate school fair or other event, one of the most common questions I am asked is: What can I do with an MPA?
My usual answer is: you can use your career to make a positive difference in society. And that is true. But here’s the short of it: We get stuff done.
Our program specializes in local government management, nonprofit management, and sustainability. While 3% of our alumni go on to work in the federal service, many more work in regional nonprofit organizations and at the state or local levels of government. Often we look at local within a global perspective, and we now offer study abroad programs with China, Peru, Hungary, and Turkey.
Recently, I caught up with Heidi Kowalchyk, MPA ‘07 to find out more about her work.
Local Government: Where the Action Is
Heidi is a Contract Management Analyst in the Department of Economic Development and Planning for Suffolk County, New York. She had worked in the Greater Binghamton region before deciding to attend the college’s MPA program. After graduation she moved to Long Island when her husband, John (MPA ’05) was offered a position with the Town of Brookhaven. Heidi found out about the opening through a friend who also worked for the county.
I asked Heidi a series of questions about the nature of her work in local government. I was pleased to see that her experiences reinforced the advice we often give to students (“network, network, network!”) and that the program prepared her well for the challenging work that she does every day.
How would you describe a typical day?
My day includes managing the contract process for grants that Suffolk County gives to local non-profit organizations and municipalities. I approve budgets for grants, insure contract agencies have submitted the proper documentation for contracts, and audit expenditures. I communicate via phone and email with contract agencies to help them go through the contract process. I provide a training seminar every year in contracting with Suffolk County. In addition, I develop and manage timelines and grant application processes; and act as staff support for advisory committees.
What skills or knowledge from the MPA program prepared you for your current position?
Skills and knowledge learned in the MPA program that help me in my current position include: performance measurement, decision making, ethics, government budgeting, writing skills, and grants management.
What do you like most about your job?
The part of my job that I like the most is my interaction with community members. I see my role as that of helping local community groups get the money they need to conduct programs that make Long Island a better place to live. I always have a better day when I feel like I have helped someone.
What advice would you give to students with an interest in working in local government?
Take lots of civil service tests and keep taking them even after you get hired. During your time as a student, apply for internships in local government to give you a sample of what it is like.
This fall, we graduated our 407th student. Next year the department will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the conferral of MPA degrees at Binghamton (we originated from the Political Science department). Keep an eye on The Greater Good as we make plans to celebrate the success of our alumni and our program (and watch for falling confetti!).