UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For professionals who work in local, state, or federal government, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on new challenges in maintaining public and government operations while keeping essential employees and residents safe.
Jennifer Roper Gulsrud and Tyler Rost, recent graduates of the Master of Public Administration program offered through Penn State World Campus, said that earning an MPA not only trained them for careers in the public sector, but prepared them to take on these new COVID-related challenges.
Roper Gulsrud said that after working in both the private and public sectors in finance, she realized she preferred working for the government, which motivated her to earn an MPA.
She enrolled at Penn State World Campus in 2017 and was soon able to leverage her ongoing education to earn her current position as business and finance officer for the King County, Washington, Metro System.
“The MPA program gave me the confidence to apply for this position while I was still earning my degree,” said Roper Gulsrud, who graduated in fall 2019. “It was exciting to use my education to get a position that I really wanted and enjoy.”
As business and finance officer, Roper Gulsrud creates, tracks, and reports on the budget of the bus system and supports various superintendents in the organization. When COVID-19 began affecting the greater Seattle area in late February, Roper Gulsrud said, she was able to fall back on her education to determine how she would reallocate resources to mitigate the pandemic’s financial effect on her department.
“When the pandemic hit, I used different theories and examples I was taught to figure out how to calculate the new variables that COVID-19 had created and how they would impact the metro system’s revenue and budget,” said Roper Gulsrud.
Roper Gulsrud said that the pandemic’s impact will affect the timeline and creation of the metro system’s budgets for years to come, but despite these new challenges, she feels well-equipped to handle them.
“My MPA has been invaluable,” said Roper Gulsrud. “I definitely feel that I was well-prepared for this because of my degree and brought those skills to my position.”
Courses in the online Master of Public Administration program are taught by faculty from Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Public Affairs. The program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA).
The 36-credit program aims to prepare students for leadership positions in public service careers and strengthen their professional skills to successfully work in government and nonprofit organizations. The program’s core courses include organizational behavior, governmental fiscal decision-making, public organization and management, human resources in the public and nonprofit sectors, introduction to policy analysis, and research methods.
Students can also take electives in homeland security, human resources, nonprofit management, policy analysis and evaluation, public budgeting and financial management, and state-local government and administration.
Many MPA graduates work as administrators for government agencies, larger corporations in the public and private sectors, and community organizations, or in various other areas such as tribal politics, charities, criminal justice, and academia.
“We are proud of the achievements accomplished by our MPA students and alumni in all levels of governments and in nonprofits, NGOs, business organizations, and consulting companies,” said Dr. Bing Ran, professor-in-charge of the MPA program at Penn State Harrisburg.
“The MPA program prepares our students well for career advancements to more senior positions with larger managerial responsibilities, and our courses are designed to facilitate students’ academic interests and professional goals.”
Tyler Rost, a spring 2020 graduate, said that earning an MPA was necessary for the progression of his career as an assistant administrator of a New Jersey municipality. Rost said he grew up a Penn State fan and knew that he needed to earn his master’s degree online, making his decision to attend Penn State World Campus easy.
As an assistant administrator, Rost oversees the day-to-day operations of the town by communicating with officials in various departments, such as water and sewer, construction, and finance, to ensure that each department is running smoothly.
“The program not only taught me useful theories but prepared me to apply these theories to real-life situations,” said Rost. “It also taught me how to be an effective communicator and leader, and it gave me the skills to accommodate residents’ needs while adhering to the new pandemic safety guidelines.”
Because many of the employees in the departments Rost oversees are essential to the functioning of the municipality, Rost said, his team had to quickly figure out how to keep both the essential government employees and town residents safe while still getting necessary work done.
“Government work is notoriously slow, but in two weeks we went from full operation to shutting down the building,” said Rost. “We’ve slowly been able to open back up because we learned how to safely deal with the pandemic and still get things done.”
Beyond the ways their degrees helped them navigate through the pandemic, Rost and Roper Gulsrud said they are confident that earning a master’s in public administration will prove to be beneficial in moving their careers forward.
“The MPA program has really helped me to advance into my upper-level management position; it's taken me to the next level,” said Roper Gulsrud. “I know I have the ability to move further up the ladder, should I choose, and I think I'll be well-suited because of my Penn State World Campus degree.”