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The degree with the right connections

by Monica Smith

Oct 26, 2021, 12:00 PM.

Leveraging FIU’s cachet in public service, the new, yearlong Hybrid Executive Master of Public Administration degree includes three in-person residency experiences with local, state and federal agencies.

No matter the industry, many times, it all comes down to who you know. Understanding this, the 12-month Hybrid Executive Master of Public Administration leverages the power of FIU’s more than 270,000 alumni worldwide, and the university’s extensive influence and deep connections in local, state and federal government for the benefit of learners.

The program’s blended curriculum couples online courses with three immersive, in-person residencies in Washington, D.C., Tallahassee, FL, and in Miami to provide learners with unprecedented access to veteran leaders in public service.

“We want to help students speak to policy and learn what’s really going on from the people who are currently in those positions,” states Susannah Bruns Ali, associate professor for the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.

Online convenience, same program

Ali is gearing up for the summer 2022 launch of the Hybrid Executive Master of Public Administration, which she says offers the most flexibility for working professionals. All classwork is modeled after the face-to-face EMPA program with the same professors and courses, but is completed online. Like the in-person EMPA program, the Hybrid EMPA’s three residencies are face-to-face and take place over a weekend for two to four days.

Tailored for applicability

The residencies for the Executive Master of Public Administration are unique each year, whether face-to-face or hybrid, as they are custom designed based on current affairs, the desires of the students who vote on what they’d like to learn, and the availability of FIU’s vast network of connections in public service. A recent cohort focused on municipal policies for COVID-19, for example, allowing students to graduate with immediately applicable skills. 

“One year, the focus was on housing, so we took students to Washington, D.C., to meet with officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Ali offers and explains that the events offer a deep understanding of the relevance of the program as well as camaraderie between the students.

Creating contacts

Ali notes that it’s about building connections to help students synthesize the information they are learning.

“We’re facing different questions now. Our hybrid EMPA fills a need for working professionals with an online format, and our residencies provide invaluable experiential learning, using FIU’s far-reaching influence for impact,” she states.

Students have an opportunity to gain considerable inroads with the agencies featured, taking advantage of the extensive number of government, nonprofit offices, and bureaus. The immersive residencies are like fast-passes to an “insider view” of public administration as it functions in the real world, Ali describes.

Valuable exposure

“Everything that I was learning, I was doing. I was living it, doing it and rebuilding a data structure,” affirms Jason Ochoa ’20, police major at North Miami Beach Police Department, who completed the in person EMPA and residencies.

Classmate and alumna Lauren Linville ’20 agrees with Ochoa and notes that in her EMPA cohort, FIU’s diversity among the students added to the class conversations and residencies as they provided context and new perspectives.

“The diversity added a level of value that you don’t really get—it allowed us to have open dialogue with professionals with experience,” recalls Linville, president and co-founder at Optimum Consulting.

Networking and camaraderie

Because those pursuing the EMPA are managers with considerable experience, conversations in online coursework offer perspectives from students who currently fill leadership roles—the hybrid EMPA degree is specifically designed for executives who have five to 10 years of experience and are in management positions.

“Our students will have the benefit of learning from their classmates in the lockstep cohort and from the three in-person residencies,” Ali explains. Most students become lifelong contacts with fellow classmates, expanding their networking circles in the public service sphere, she adds. The residencies, where they work on group projects, help build the rapport.

Along these lines, alumna Tamecka McKay ’18, ’20, says she made friendships in her face-to-face EMPA cohort that will “last a lifetime.” 

“I speak to them on a daily basis,” confirms McKay, who is the director of infrastructure and operations (division manager) for the City of Fort Lauderdale.

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