Name: Mark Christensen
Current Employer: City of Saratoga Springs, UT
Job Title: City Manager
Year of Graduation: 2001
How has obtaining an MPA degree from the University of Utah helped you in your career? I use the skills and knowledge I learned at the U of U everyday in virtually every aspect of my job. Being a City Manager requires the complete skill set that is taught in the MPA program from Human Resource Management, Budget and Finance, Administrative and Constitutional Law, to Environmental Policy. The education I received was perfect for any profession dealing with policy and administration. I feel that this program and course offerings allowed me to custom develop a program that exactly matched what I needed to learn to be successful in city management.
What skills learned from your classes, or courses in general, were most important in your career development? Perhaps the most critical skill I learned in the MPA program was the interconnectedness of how all of the core curriculum ties to the other aspects of the program. This is esoteric, but Administrative Theory was one of the first classes I took and by the end of the program it helped me conceptualize a paradigm through which I view my profession which is a huge part of my life. This paradigm is constructed in such a way that it can change, bend, and be challenged but ultimately it is how I choose to manage and teach those around me.
What advice would you give to incoming students? When you start the program create a timeline that with each successive course you take you add milestones on the timeline of significant events from the course. By the end of the program you will have created a comprehensive picture of our administrative reality. Add to it historical concepts and other information that is important to you and your interests and then connect the dots of how it all fits together from an anthropological perspective.
Name: Diane Foster
Current Employer: Park City, UT
Job Title: City Manager
Year of Graduation: 2013
How has obtaining an MPA degree from the University of Utah helped you in your career? What skills learned from your classes, or courses in general, were most important in your career development? In 2005 I got an MBA in International Business from the University of Cambridge in the UK. I never intended to work in local government. But when the opportunity arose to move to local government, I took a chance and became the Environmental Affairs Manager for Park City Municipal. While in that role, I decided I should learn more about government, which is why I enrolled in the MPA Program at the University of Utah. I didn’t know what to expect at the U and I was impressed at the quality of the instruction and the qualifications of the professors. And, like any graduate program, I learned a great deal from my classmates – who were all professionals working in government or the nonprofit sector.
Being in the MPA program helped me build confidence and learn new skills. Both were critical when I decided to apply for the Assistant City Manager role at Park City Municipal. A short six months later our then City Manager, who continues to be a friend and mentor, moved back to his home state of California to be a City Manager there. I was still enrolled in the MPA program when I accepted the role if Interim City Manager while the City conducted a search for a City Manager. While it was a crazy time, going to school and trying to fill the Interim City Manager role, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. My classmates helped me when the going got tough and there were even times when I consulted Professors on a professional challenge I was experiencing in our organization.
After seven months as Interim City Manager – and still enrolled in the MPA program -- the Mayor and City Council offered me the role of City Manager. Seven months after being appointed City Manager, I handed in my Major Research Project – the final paper – right on schedule.
What advice would you give to incoming students? Some students wonder if they should get an MBA or an MPA. I have done both. Here is my answer: It depends on what you want from your classmates. About once a year I have the opportunity to speak to students enrolled in an MPA program somewhere in the Salt Lake valley. I usually start by asking “How many of you are here because you want to make more money?” and most the class will raise their hands. Then I ask “How many of you also have another reason why you are here?” and about 1/3rd of the class will raise their hands.
While many of my MBA classmates are amazing and wonderful people, about half of them were highly competitive, even in the classroom, and when it came to making a business decision in a case study, the ONLY thing that mattered was the bottom line – returning value to shareholders. While many of my MPA classmates made more money after the MPA program and/or went on to get promotions or new jobs, all of them were there because they want to make a difference in the world. Now to be fair, many MBA students go on to do great things for other people, but I can promise you that your classmates in the MPA program will be wholly different than your classmates in the MBA program.
Name: Owen Jackson
Current Employer: City of Saratoga Springs, UT
Job Title: Public Relations & Economic Development Manager
Year of Graduation: 2011
How has obtaining an MPA degree from the University of Utah helped you in your career? The University of Utah MPA program provided a solid theoretical and practical foundation for my career in local government. I continually draw upon the knowledge and skills gained while attending the U to help solve issues and achieve organizational and personal goals. The MPA program was a good investment for my education and future career goals.
What skills learned from your classes, or courses in general, were most important in your career development? The MPA program helped me develop many skills during my time with the program. Whether it was learning time management while balancing full-time employment, school work and a personal life, how to analyze data and develop successful policies, or how to analyze municipal budgets, the MPA program provided a challenging yet beneficial opportunity. The MPA program also connected me with fellow alumni that continue to be friends and mentors in my professional career.
What advice would you give to incoming students? Take advantage of the helpful faculty and opportunities to connect with current students and alumni. Attend as many networking opportunities available to help build your personal network or mentors and advisors that will help you not only complete the program, but also be a source of support after your graduate. Students can reap additional benefits from the MPA program if they are willing to go beyond simply attending class, completing assignments and attaining their diploma.