Arizona State University welcomed the first cohort of its new executive master of public administration program last week, bringing together a diverse group of emerging public service leaders.
“We’ve attracted a very strong group of individuals from a range of sectors — city management, national security, universities, nonprofits — all seeking leadership and management skills. We could not be more proud of the cohort that we’ve brought together,” said Professor Ethan B. Kapstein, academic director of the new executive MPA program and senior director for research at The McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington, D.C.
The program is offered by the ASU School of Public Affairs, part of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, in collaboration with The McCain Institute, but it draws on faculty from across ASU, including the W. P. Carey School and the Thunderbird School of Management, along with adjunct faculty with strong professional expertise in public administration.
“The program exemplifies the interdisciplinary strengths of ASU,” said Kapstein. “There are very few peer institutions that can bring together faculty from across the university and broader community the way we do.”
Professor Donald Siegel, director of the School of Public Affairs — which is ranked 13th in the nation according to U.S News (ahead of Columbia and tied with Duke, Carnegie-Mellon, and the University of Chicago) — stated, “The faculty teaching in this elite, world-class program are among the best in the nation, making it an exceptional value for students.”
Convenience and connections
The new ASU degree addresses the growing complexity of challenges faced by public sector leaders.
“I was looking for a program with a university that was well-recognized and well-respected, but also one that gave me flexibility," said Justin Stoker, deputy director of public works for the city of West Jordan in Utah. "None of the programs I researched are doing something similar to ASU.”
The unique “hybrid” program structure — predominantly online with three in-person sessions — creates an opportunity for the students to maximize the flexibility of online learning with the benefits of deepening their professional networks nationally.
The three-day launch event combined cohort-building with classroom activities. The next in-person session will be in Washington, D.C., and the final capstone workshop will be held in Phoenix.
“It is so interesting to have such a wide variety of professionals, not just from Arizona — their backgrounds, the levels of government in which they work are different than me, so there is a ton of learning opportunity,” said Gretchen Conger, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s chief of staff for budget and policy.
“We are creating a cohort and a social network, and that’s crucial for executive programs,” said Kapstein. “That’s a large part of what the students are looking for — peers with whom they can share their professional challenges.”
Addressing big challenges
The program is the result of three years of studying and planning to create a unique curriculum. It is strongly focused on leadership of public organizations but also takes on issues that are pressing but not yet widely taught, such as managing big data and e-government.
“These are important challenges for public executives at every level of government. Fortunately, ASU is a leader in those fields. We are really able to capitalize on our strengths,” said Kapstein.
He will be teaching a course in the program on global public policy.
“In this day and age, our students need to have a global perspective. Even if you are a city manager, you may confront issues like immigration. You may feel the impacts of a global financial crisis. We are embedded in a global environment if you think of problems like climate change. It is crucial that students gain a perspective on how different countries are grappling with these common problems and where we in the United States can learn from their policy approaches,” he said.
Matthew Simon, director of government affairs for the Arizona Charter Schools Association, said, “One of the challenges of being in the public sector is that there is an assumption that it doesn’t change and that it’s not a rapidly growing environment. This program challenges that assumption.”
Erin Hart is focused on finding solutions to improve education. She has worked in the government and nonprofit sectors locally and nationally, and she currently serves as chief operating officer for Expect More Arizona.
“I enrolled in the first cohort because I believe this is the program that will empower me to find solutions to the biggest problems Arizona is facing in education,” she said.
The 19-month program will culminate in a capstone presentation where students will take on challenges they face in their organizations and present those projects to one another.