Tanja Hernandez was working in community nonprofits and sought additional knowledge about how to inspire change in her community. She had a background in public policy and administration but experienced a need for more specialized information about community development and engagement.

Hernandez found the knowledge she wanted through the Master of Professional Studies in Community and Economic Development, which is offered online through Penn State World Campus.

“I wanted to better understand how to help the work I was doing in communities,” said Hernandez, who graduated in 2021.

Since 2007, the program has helped students like Hernandez develop the necessary skills to positively impact their communities. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the program.

What is the community and economic development program?

The Master of Professional Studies in Community and Economic Development is a graduate degree program offered online through Penn State World Campus in partnership with the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.

This 30-credit program focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to economic and community development.

A woman poses in front of a stone wall.
Kate Berardi
Courtesy photo

Kate Berardi, who serves as a professor and program coordinator, said the program is a unique blend of theory and practicality for those who are on the ground doing the work in community and economic development.

Graduates and enrolled students work in a variety of fields, including local government, nonprofit organizations, health care, and higher education. Berardi said students bring a wide range of undergraduate degrees to the program but share a common bond through their dedication and work in their communities.

The community and economic development program aims to prepare graduates to navigate the complexities of communities and local governments and inspire change at the local, regional, and national levels. Students can expand on their knowledge and skills acquired through previous work in the field and learn new applications and approaches to creating change in their communities.

“The program is producing students who are really going out and being agents of change in their communities,” Berardi said.

Developing skills and gaining experience

Throughout the program's 15-year history, more than 230 students have earned their degrees.

A headshot of Tanja Hernandez.
Tanja Hernandez
Courtesy photo

Hernandez is one of those students. She graduated in 2021 and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Education, Development, and Community Engagement at Penn State University Park.

As a single mom of three children, she enrolled in the online master's degree program because of its flexibility.

“Being able to take my learning with me wherever I was going was really important,” Hernandez said. “I was not guaranteed to be where I was for the next two years to pursue a graduate degree.”

Hernandez grew up in the military, and home was never a single place or neighborhood. So, when it came time to work, Hernandez did not limit herself to one place but rather where she could make the most impact. She completed her course work while in Asia.

“I know the skills I had growing up and the knowledge I’ve learned in graduate school can help me help others anywhere,” she said.

Hernandez hopes to continue working internationally through nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). She said the case studies and discussions shared with her peers enhanced her experience and that she enjoyed the collaboration with those in different communities.

Lasting partnerships

Laszlo Kulcsar, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education in the College of Agricultural Sciences, expressed pride in the 15-year-long program partnership with Penn State World Campus.

“CEDEV has not only been proven to be a successful partnership between the department, the college, and World Campus in the past 15 years, but it has been an excellent example for practical knowledge dissemination and community capacity-building in the best traditions of the land-grant university system,” Kulcsar said.

Learn more about the Master of Professional Studies in Community and Economic Development that is offered online through Penn State World Campus.

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