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FIU program inspires public service and leadership in South Florida and beyond

by Monica Smith

Sep 03, 2020, 9:00 AM.

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The new hybrid executive master of public administration empowers communities while it addresses social challenges, environmental resilience and hurricane preparedness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic, social climate and environment call for public service, public leadership, and effective public policies. FIU offers a myriad of ways for students and alumni to apply their degrees—especially those with or pursuing an executive master of public administration.

Summer term 2021, the EMPA degree will be offered in a hybrid format to reach even more professionals in the nation and even internationally. The curricula, rooted in equity, diversity, and inclusion, provides the tools to build civic engagement, programs and policies needed to empower minority and disadvantaged residents and further social good, said Shaoming Cheng, associate professor and MPA program director at the Department of Public Policy and Administration, Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs .

Career advancement

“Many of our graduates are leaders within our communities managing the most relevant issues of our time such as equitable and inclusive governance and engagement, economic development, municipal management, public budgeting, affordable housing, public transportation, police-community relations, smart cities, public policy analytics, and community sustainability and resilience,” pointed out Cheng. 

The new hybrid EMPA format relies on online teaching and can be completed in 12 months. The program builds on the strengths, experience, and success of FIU’s existing fully online MPA and executive MPA tracks, said Cheng. The hybrid EMPA also offers in-person academic residences, which enable cohort bonding, networking and experiential learning.

Cheng noted that professionals often pursue the EMPA degree to advance their careers in public service and leadership because it is open to all undergraduate disciplines and individuals with five to 10 years of professional experience. According to Tamecka McKay, whose background is information and technology, this inclusivity was key.

Leadership skills

Tamecka McKay
Tamecka McKay

McKay knew that to pursue a leadership or management position working for Broward County Public Schools (BCPS), she’d need an advanced degree, but one with versatility. She was working for the Town of Davie when she started her program.

“The courses were so diverse—I rely on the tools I learned to help me with business units within the district that service students and teachers,” stated McKay, who graduated in 2018 and obtained a position with BCPS. She currently works as an enterprise infrastructure services manager for the BCPS information and technology department.

While preparing for the 2020-2021 school year, McKay worked tirelessly to ensure a smooth digital transition for Broward’s K-12 schools. This shift involved strategic planning, negotiating and going well beyond what’s expected in order to support her district’s schools and communities, she detailed.

“The degree teaches you how to adapt and re-strategize and, because of it, I feel more confident to take on a director’s position,” she offered.

Engagement in police-community relations

Captain Cyntheoria Renéa Peterson
Captain Cyntheoria Renéa Peterson

For alumna Cyntheoria Renéa Peterson, captain at the Broward Sheriff’s Office, engagement has been the key to helping her community. Peterson graduated in 2020 and has already put her skills to work with outreach programs to maintain a dialogue with protestors.

“The program offers you the tools to handle today’s world. With the pandemic, we’re flying a plane while we’re building it,” she divulged and explained that her strategic plan has been to forge relationships “before cities are burning.”

“I was able to bring a group of community leaders together to make sure this doesn’t happen in our city,” disclosed Peterson. “The messaging can be helpful or dangerous. I totally ‘get’ the frustration about how people feel.”

Resilience through public office

Isabel Carballo
Isabel Carballo

Understanding the issues, public sentiment and data is part of Isabel Cosio Carballo’s duties as the executive director at the South Florida Regional Planning Council. Carballo graduated in 2014 and has worked in policy making for many years. Currently, she manages the master development programs for South Florida to help economic development, emergency preparedness, coastal resilience and environmental sustainability, to name a few topics.

“The program offered me knowledge and exposure to things that I had not thought of. It expands your horizons,” she affirmed. It also helped her move up in her career, she indicated.

The professors teach ways to create strategic plans such as those for resilience—this is especially practical with the current economy and the prediction of an overactive hurricane season amid a pandemic, she declared.

Highly ranked and relevant

The MPA program and its constituent evening, online and executive tracks are highly recognized in the nation, reported Cheng. Among its many recognitions, U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks FIU’s MPA as the Best Public Affairs Program in South Florida, within the top three in the State of Florida, and top six in the nation among Hispanic Serving Institutions.

“Whether it’s online, in person or the hybrid format, FIU’s EMPA is an innovative and effective program that meets and educates public and nonprofit professionals and leaders no matter where they are and for today’s real world,” summed up Cheng.

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