A Day in the Life of a Binghamton University MPA Alum

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.

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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!).

Joann Lindstrom, MPA ’07
Director of Recruitment & Internship Placement
Department of Public Administration
Binghamton University

Learning about Social Media and Helping Local Nonprofits

fb twitSocial media is changing the way organizations operate. Public and nonprofit organizations are no exception. The use of social media presents both opportunities and challenges for public and nonprofit organizations. Students in my PAFF 526 course this fall have a chance to apply the lessons that they are learning in the classroom about how public and nonprofit organizations use social media to a real-life context by working with three nonprofit organizations and making suggestions about how these organizations can improve their Facebook pages.

In PAFF 526: Managing Information and Technology, students gain an understanding of the complexities of managing information in the public and nonprofit sectors and how technology can facilitate this process. They also discuss the challenges of using technology when accountability is paramount. The overall goal of the course is to increase student interest in the role of technology in public and nonprofit administration.

As part of their work for PAFF 526, students will be assigned to work with one of the three following nonprofit agencies: Family & Children’s Society, Action for Older Persons and Broome County Habitat for Humanity. All of these organizations are located in the Southern Tier and provide essential services to the community. Family & Children’s Society delivers a wide array of human services to individuals at all different stages of their lives, such as counseling, home care and afterschool programming. Action for Older Persons focuses on serving older adults and offers education, counseling and advocacy programming. Finally, Broome County Habitat for Humanity builds and renovates housing for low-income individuals and families. Each of these organizations is interesting in improving the way that their organizations use social media, especially Facebook, to better meet their respective missions. This where the PAFF 526 students come in!

Representatives from the nonprofits came to our class on September 30th. They provided background information on their organization, information about their organization’s current use of Facebook, and information about their organization’s goals for social media.  They also discussed what their goals for this project were.  Following the presentations by the agencies, students had an opportunity to ask the representatives questions.

Students are now working on critiquing the Facebook page of the organization to which they are assigned. As part of their critiques, students are assessing whether the primary audiences for their organization’s Facebook page and the primary reasons for using Facebook identified by their organization’s representative correspond with how the organization is actually using Facebook. They also are identifying strengths and weaknesses of how their organization is using Facebook and will be making specific recommendations about how their organization could better use Facebook in the future. Key things students will be considering when making their recommendations include: (1) the strategies their organization could use to increase the number of visitors their Facebook page; (2) the additional constituencies their organization could target and the specific information the organization could share with these constituents on their Facebook page, and (3) the additional goals their organization could try to achieve by using Facebook and the specific information they could add to their Facebook page to achieve these goals. Finally, students are identifying the next steps their organization should take to implement their recommendations. Each student needs to write a two page memo summarizing their critique and recommendations. I will then select the best written memo for each organization and forward it to the organization.

I am hoping that the project will be a win-win situation for everybody involved. It’s one thing to read about social media in a book or talk about it in class. It’s another to be able to assess the opportunities social media offers for public and nonprofit organizations in real life! By completing this project, students will hopefully have an opportunity to apply some of the key concepts we are discussing in class when they are critiquing their assigned organization’s Facebook page. This will help deepen their understanding of the course material. I am also hoping that the project will benefit the nonprofit organizations by giving them concrete ideas to consider in order to get gain more leverage from their use of social media in the future. I am looking forward to watching the project evolve and the students grow from their experiences.

Kristina Lambright
Associate Professor

Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs
Binghamton University