“The future is happening here at UMass Boston.” Those were the words that Dean Ira A. Jackson used to welcome alumni, current students, prospects, faculty, and staff of the master of science degree program in public affairs (MSPA) to the program’s annual alumni career event.
Now 29 years old and the oldest graduate program at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, the MSPA program has been recognized by US News and World Report as a top tier graduate program. It boasts over 500 graduates who are gaining analytical, public policy, and leadership skills for effective public management.
On May 1, Associate Dean and Graduate Program Director Connie Chan hosted an MSPA alumni career panel and the inaugural honor society induction, noting that UMass Boston now has an official Pi Alpha Alpha chapter.
Five distinguished alumni representing the public sectors of health and human services, public works, and criminal justice joined a nonprofit program officer and law student who is also serving on his city’s school committee. The five praised the education and the cohort model of their graduate studies at McCormack.
Lily Mendez-Morgan, class of 2001, is the chief program officer at the American Red Cross and spoke of the vital mission of her organization, from feeding 47,000 families a year through the largest food bank in New England to providing 75% of the medical and mental health assistance at the Boston Marathon. Morgan-Mendez is charged with overseeing disaster relief, services to members of the armed forces, volunteer and youth programs, preparedness education, and the organization's food and nutrition programs.
“I found the cohort model phenomenal, offering me a lot of emotional support,” she noted.
Currently a second semester law student at Suffolk University and vice chair of the Lawrence School Committee, 2011 alumnus Pavel Payano spoke on how the MSPA program gave him the confidence to co-found the Greater Lawrence Young Professionals Network, an organization that bridges the gap between local government, business leaders, and young professionals who care about the development and wellbeing of the greater Lawrence communities.
Like Mendez-Morgan, he saluted the solidarity and friendships gained through enrollment in the program. “I miss the comradeship I had while in the MSPA program,” he stated.
During her graduate studies at UMass Boston, Rebecca Fuentes learned to look at issues through a different lens and was exposed to new ideas in the field. “State-of-the-art stuff is happening here,” she declared.
Fuentes was promoted to Cambridge’s assistant commissioner for administration after completing her master’s degree. In that role, she is responsible for personnel management, labor relations, human resources, training and career development, budgeting, fiscal administration, payroll, community relations, and information systems—many of the topics touched upon in her graduate courses.
At her MSPA graduation in 2007, Rebecca Fuentes earned both the Public Service Award and an Outstanding Achievement Award. But the accolades did not stop when she left UMass Boston. Last year, she was given an Outstanding Employee Award from the City of Cambridge for her exemplary service.
Elizabeth Capstick joined the master’s degree program after leaving the state auditor’s office where she had worked for many years and served as deputy state auditor. “I could feel the energy here from the very first day,” she told the audience of sixty faculty, current and prospective students, and alumni. “After 30 years of public service, I found out how I could do it better.”
Upon graduation from the MSPA program last year, Capstick took a job as a consultant to the Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors and also serves on the Health Care Advisory Committee of the City of Newton.
Capstick’s classmate, Steven Tompkins was appointed sheriff of Suffolk County by Governor Patrick earlier this year. Responsible for all operations at the Suffolk County House of Correction, the Nashua Street jail, and the Civil Process Division, Tompkins also oversees a management, security, and administrative staff numbering over 1,000.
“In the MSPA program, I learned what I needed to do my job,” he put simply.
Sheriff Tompkins also praised the curriculum and leadership lessons he learned, noting that the course on New England political environment was “outrageously effective” and commending the teachings on “the collaborative nature of leadership.”
Following the career panel, Assistant Professor Amy Smith, faculty advisor to Pi Alpha Alpha, recognized 17 inductees into the national honor society for public administration. This group represents the program’s highest academic achievers graduating between 1984 to 2012 who meet the membership eligibility with a GPA of 3.75 or better. Other MSPA alumni who qualify for Pi Alpha Alpha induction, but were unable to attend, will be inducted at future events.
MSPA graduates Valerie Berger ’12, Sandra Blanchette ’95, Elizabeth Capstick ’12, Christopher Ciano ’10, Michelle Ciccolo ’95, Danielle Fox ’12, Rebecca Fuentes ’07, John Harding ’10, Maureen Jerz ’01, Anita Miller ’89, James Ostis ’11, Robert Pelychaty ’12, John Rallo ’84, Story Reed ’11, Elaine Titus ’07, Lynne Vasconcellos ’10, and Ryan Whalen ’11 were inducted at the event on May 1.
Smith summed it up nicely by congratulating the program’s distinguished alumni and praising the program itself, declaring that “MSPA rocks!” The audience heartily agreed with a big round of applause.