Monday, October 26, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

Shifting Perspectives During a Pandemic:
Community Engagement Perspectives from Indianapolis
by Ciana Sorrentino

The threat of the COVID-19 pandemic became imminent to our country during my first semester of graduate school. 

While I did not have much MPA education at the time, my professor offered our class a research position involving state/local government action and individual response. Through this position I was entrusted with the primary knowledge necessary to capture and record these governmental actions by coding Governor’s executive orders. In a way, the COVID-19 pandemic led me to realize my true capabilities as a woman in graduate school; I lost my first full-time job at my sorority's headquarters in April, and since the pandemic, I was granted a position closer to my true goal of being a lifelong learner and catalyst for change. 

A very striking memory of the very first online policy analysis class that spurred from the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic was some very ominous words from my professor; we are no longer living in a democracy. The face-to-face interactions, such as town hall meetings, on which many governmental actions depended were not possible. 60-70% of states were giving blanket authority to directors of agencies/non-elected officials. State budgets were no longer discretionary as governors  have more authority during times of public crisis. A dilemma for shouldering the responsibility of public health ensued ; some states believed that the pandemic was a local municipal responsibility, while some states believed that the federal government should have more responsibility than what their actions portrayed. 

These were elements of the public sector I had never even considered as possible to change, but the fluidity of political analysis continued to enchant me; as a result, the epidemic of homelessness prevailed as one of the most urgent issues facing communities during the pandemic. I lived down the street from one of the largest homeless communities in Indianapolis and rode my bike past the communities nearly daily, sometimes stopping to have a conversation. With a lack of community resources, these members of society  were seemingly forgotten in the rush of cultural individualism that pervades our country. At this time in mid-March and early April of 2020, it was every individual for themselves – and quickly, I noticed the homeless population growing in size, occupying more length on the side of the White River than I had ever seen in my four years of living in downtown Indianapolis. 

Continual immersion in the depths of this community motivated me to continue pursuing MPA education to the utmost extent. Never has my perspective shifted so abruptly, which I believe is a result of exposure to many different ways of life by virtue of living in a highly diverse urban environment throughout the onslaught of a global pandemic. Typically, the adverse effects experienced by global disaster are exacerbated in urban communities, and Indianapolis is no different. In addition, I have the privilege of graduate education, a resource so often overlooked by community decision-makers. I have been granted opportunities to make a difference in the way communities encounter public health crises. Above all, I have immense amounts of support from my institution to not only be educated about these global situations but to be granted the tools to make a difference.

As a passionate advocate for human rights, I am dedicated to the pursuit of freedom, justice, peace, and the inalienable rights of all human beings.
Chairing committees, leading and participating in cross-functional teams, using technological concepts and relevant computer programs to solve business problems, as well as quantitative analysis, have assisted me in leadership positions within various student organizations throughout my undergraduate career and have prepared me for graduate education with a concentration in Environmental Policy and Sustainability.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was presented with the opportunity to conduct research with Drs. Peter Federman and Cali Curley capturing, recording, and coding executive orders and state-level responses to COVID-19.
As of August 2020, I have been awarded a Graduate Assistantship position working with Dr. Christian Buerger, whose current studies focus on policy analysis, public finance, and education policy. His work also analyzes the impact of school finance reforms and tax and expenditure limits on school district funding, as well as the effect of recessions on school district revenues.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

Racism in Healthcare:

How Communities of Color are Affected by COVID-19

by Madison Byarley


With the recent (and ongoing) protests over police brutality and systemic racism toward Black Americans, the talk of equity and inclusion has become a priority for more and more people. Black Americans often have higher rates of various diseases and higher infant mortality rates; this disparity has not stopped with this pandemic. The combination of both the protests and the pandemic has led me to consider how the treatment of Black Americans is not equitable in how the pandemic is handled and how people are treated for COVID-19, and how the things I have learned in my MPA education have led me to notice what considerations are important to this issue--particularly in the areas of collaboration and program evaluation.


Throughout the country, Black and Latinx Americans face higher rates of contracting COVID than their white counterparts. The inequality that exists in healthcare in the treatment can affect the likelihood to contract covid in several ways--the discrimination that healthcare workers give their BIPOC patients, healthcare access, education levels and awareness, wealth gaps, and housing differences among other things. All of these factors contribute in many ways to the healthcare inequality that exists in the United States.


 Beyond there just being more cases for BIPOC Americans, there are also issues with the vaccination process for COVID. The early phases of the vaccination tests were done almost exclusively on white people, which raised concerns over how well the vaccine would work on the overall population and concerns over healthcare researchers not caring about BIPOC as much as they care for white people. Some healthcare workers are worried that the rush to get the vaccine as fast as possible is leaving BIPOC behind. The first trials only included Black people at 5%, but in the United States they make up roughly 13.5% of the overall population. By leaving out BIPOC from these studies it has the chance to increase healthcare disparity with COVID vaccinations.

The continuing trials for the vaccine do plan on including a more diverse group of people in the research process. However, because of the long standing disparities in healthcare, some communities of color are having a hard time trusting the vaccine, making them less likely to be willing to participate in these clinical trials. Black scientists, healthcare workers, and churches have been working together to try and get more BIPOC Americans to participate in the COVID-19 vaccine trials so that there can be data on a diverse group of people that better represents America as a whole. 


When I consider all of these issues arising due to the pandemic crisis I think of what I have learned about stakeholder engagement, program evaluation, and collaboration during my MPA education. It seems that BIPOC stakeholders are consistently being left out of the conversations that affect them the most. Collaboration efforts like the ones being done for the vaccine need to be insistent on making sure the right stakeholders are at the discussions--it is clear that collaboration is needed for tackling this crisis, but we have to make sure we do not leave valuable voices out and that we do not overlook the importance of trust. The lack of inclusion of BIPOC in the trials also highlights the importance of good program design that has been discussed in my courses and how important it can be to have a diverse group of people behind the planning of these trials. Without trust and good relationships, these vaccines will not be as successful, the collaborations on handling the crisis will not be as productive, and the health care disparities will continue to harm communities of color. 



Madison Byarley is an Urban and Regional Governance MPA candidate at IUPUI. She graduated in May of 2019 at Purdue University with a BA in Political Science and a Certificate in Public Policy. While at Purdue, Madison was a member of the Purdue Student Government Sustainability Council, Secretary of the Environmental Science Club, and the Secretary of the Political Science Honors Society-Pi Sigma Alpha. Currently, Madison acts in the role of research assistant for Dr. Peter Federman, assisting in investigating collaborative governance efforts to address climate change at the state and local level. She is the primary author of a paper-in-progress, titled: “Collaboration in Climate Action Plans -- The Role of Interagency Collaboration for Developing Robust Plans”. She is also assisting in Dr. Federman's research on COVID-19 state level executive orders. Her interests in environmental justice and urban sustainability continue to propel a committed work ethic and ongoing exploratory nature in coursework, employment, and extracurricular activities.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

Promoting Social Equity and Public Service Values During America's Dual Pandemics
by Gwen Saffran

The dual pandemics of the novel coronavirus and ongoing, systemic anti-Black racism has laid bare the deep inequities already present in the United States. As much of America was shocked by the violent and wrongful death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Black Americans were already three to four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts. In New York City, protests in support of Black lives were met with violence from the police. The devaluing of Black lives in New York extends past interactions with police: essential workers, a group heavily impacted by COVID-19, are overwhelmingly Black and brown. Public hospitals in communities of color have worse health outcomes for their patients than private hospitals in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. Children of color are more likely to experience homelessness or have limited or no access to the internet, which negatively affects their ability to engage in distance learning. People of color and lower-income people are less likely to be able to work from home, either forcing them to go to work and potentially be exposed to COVID-19 or not be able to work at all, with disastrous financial consequences. COVID-19 has been called the great equalizer—and while it is true that the virus does not discriminate in its infection, its consequences only highlight and exacerbate existing inequality. 

As a public servant, the last several months have been troubling, and we as city employees face a particular challenge: how can we use existing structures of government that were built on stolen Indigenous land and the labor of enslaved Africans to support and uplift the most marginalized New Yorkers? How can we make the biggest impact while operating within our limited ascribed powers? In my time pursuing an MPA at John Jay College, we examined the tension between the public sector regime values of equity and justice and the role public agencies play in creating and perpetuating systemic inequality. The critical discussions about hard choices and creative problem-solving have been invaluable to me as a public servant.

As we learn from our past, we also have incredible opportunities to improve the present and shape the future. New York City has suffered tremendous losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the tragic deaths of tens of thousands of our community members. We as public servants have a responsibility to rebuild a city that is more just and more equitable, and I am buoyed by recent efforts, including the repeal of 50-a, and the ban on the use of chokeholds by the NYPD. However, it will take far more than a few reforms to gain the trust of a traumatized community. Collaboration among government agencies, community organizations, and constituents is imperative in fostering equity and creating justice, as we all have a responsibility to create a just society. In the Office of the Public Advocate, staff includes community organizers who work with constituents and community organizations on grassroots campaigns, as well as policy and legislation. Reports, research, policy, and legislation is informed by and created in collaboration with constituents, community partners, and advocates. I am grateful for my education’s grounding in public service values—as Bryan Stevenson said, we can't change the world with only ideas in our minds; we need conviction in our hearts.


Gwen Saffran is a Policy Associate at the Office of the Public Advocate for the City of New York. She holds an MPA from John Jay College in Public Policy and Administration with a specialization in Criminal Justice Policy and a BS in Juvenile Justice/Youth Advocacy from Wheelock College. Previously, Gwen worked with Professor Nicole M. Elias as a Research Assistant in the Public Management Department at John Jay College, studying sex, gender, and issues of social equity in the public sector. 

Gwen's comments are entirely her own and may not reflect the opinions of, or be endorsed by, the Office of the Public Advocate.

Monday, September 28, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

Balancing My Life During COVID-19
by Megan Bermea

The mission and values of a public servant become crystal clear amid a public health emergency.  The mundane tasks of bureaucracy suddenly transform into life-and-death projects and decisions that require competent and compassionate leadership. Not only was I in my last semester of the MPA program at Texas State University when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, I also held a full-time management position at Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) working on the front lines of the public health emergency. 

HHS swiftly mobilized to help Texans statewide as public health threats impact both clients and providers. We are responsible for implementing strategies to mitigate healthcare personnel staffing shortages; disseminating infection control basics, information for hospitals and healthcare professionals, and provider information communication; curating reliable and evidence-based public health resources; and focusing on the priority areas of primary and behavioral health services, Medicaid and CHIP services, and regulatory services. 

In addition to responding directly to the COVID-19 pandemic, HHS must also evaluate and respond to the indirect impacts on the state budget due to the economic hardship related to the pandemic. HHS is carefully and strategically balancing the increase in public health and healthcare demand with significantly reduced available resources. It is a complex, challenging, and rapidly-evolving situation that requires agility, dedication, and skilled leadership. 

Our programs have experienced significant increased demand due to the COVID-19 virus, as well as economic hardships and a sharp rise in unemployment. We are responsible for implementing federal and state policy waivers to allow many of our programs to utilize telehealth and telemedicine services and other flexibilities to continue to serve their clients, many of whom are the most vulnerable among us. We are also responsible for administering federal grant funding from the CARES Act to increase budgets in many health and social services programs due to the surge in demand. 

We have had to amend contracts, write new administrative rules, adjust budgets and funding sources, apply for grants, push out COVID communications, host COVID webinars, and still maintain regular daily operations and oversight of programs and services. Without the skills, knowledge, and applied experience of my MPA education, I would have been lost in a sea of despair and panic amidst this global pandemic. Every class such as public policy, administrative law, fiscal administration, public management, ethics, and information technology helped to inform my understanding of the role of a state agency in a pandemic, but collectively this program instilled in me the confidence needed to meet these challenges head-on, lead with empathy and agility, and focus on the true meaning of public service.

It was exceptionally challenging to attempt to balance the professional workload that resulted from the pandemic with MPA school work and home schooling two children. Not to mention, I contracted the virus and was down for the count for over three weeks. COVID-19 impacted my life in tremendous ways, yet I am stronger because of it. 

Megan Bermea currently serves as the senior advisor for women’s health and family services programs at Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in Austin, Texas. Prior to HHSC, Ms. Bermea worked as a curriculum policy specialist and rules coordinator in the Office of Academics at the Texas Education Agency. 

She was a contributing writer to the 17th edition of Practicing Texas Politics and worked as director of volunteer operations for the literacy nonprofit organization, Education Connection. 

Ms. Bermea is a summa cum laude graduate of The University of Texas at El Paso with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and is a Merrick Graduate Fellowship recipient at The Graduate College of Texas State University. She graduated with a master’s degree in public administration in Summer 2020.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

 An MPA Education and Returning to Work During COVID-19

by Désirée Adair

Since March, with the onset of stay-at-home orders, each of these events  have occurred:

  • My husband continued to work in-person as an essential worker despite the risk.

  • I worked on my Applied Research Project (ARP) with consistent interruption.

  • I became a major contributor to my children’s education by providing assistance for the online school learning curve, time management, and workflow prioritization.

  • Confusion, adaptation, and general upheaval of our personal and professional lives.

Sound familiar? I know that I am not alone in taking on additional roles due to the pandemic, but my public administration studies helped prepare me to do more with less.

My experiences as a student and a mother during COVID-19 have further contextualized my understanding of the theories that I have learned studying public administration. I am a non-traditional student with past experience in government who enrolled in the MPA program at Texas State University in order to return to meaningful work in the public sector. My courses have provided the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to implement effective policies and public programs. My ARP focused on professionals returning to work after a career break, and how returner programs are an innovative tool for HRM (Human Resource Management). Many professional women leave their positions at some point in their careers to care for their families. A majority of these women would like to return to pursue their career but have to overcome the employment gap on their resumés.  This project raised my awareness of HR topics and gave me an opportunity to focus on women returning to work in the public sector. My research led me to discover how many women, and others,  have these career disruptions and are attempting to return to the workplace.  Returner programs allow organizations to gain access to an untapped pool of educated and experienced professionals, and candidates are provided with an opportunity to serve in higher level positions; this creates a win-win situation for both employing organizations and skilled professionals seeking positions after a career break. 

My ARP was a descriptive study of municipal human resources’ directors’ perceptions toward returner programs. While my timing was not ideal - I sent the survey in March of 2020 just as the WHO declared a pandemic – I was able to incorporate recent academic research.  The associated economic fallout from COVID-19 caused an unprecedented 14.7% unemployment level in April of 2020, thus many educated and experienced professionals found themselves searching for new positions (Chaney & Morath, 2020). Some have characterized this as a “Shecession” due to the disproportionate unemployment experienced by women who accounted for 55% of the jobs lost (Gupta, 2020). This finding provided motivation for me to contribute solutions to HRM issues including gender diversity in high-level positions. Returner programs offer one solution by filling open positions with qualified and experienced workers while reducing risk and improving organizational performance. My research benefits public sector organizations wanting to help reintegrate the workforce which is desperately needed for our economic recovery.  

COVID-19 caused my research topic to acquire new meaning and put it in a new context.  I realized that the government is always trying to do more with less and that requires innovation.  This predicament was only magnified by the pandemic and has created difficulty for HR professionals in the public sector competing for employees with the private sector. Through my courses at Texas State University, I gained a new appreciation of public servants as they face new challenges - such as work modifications, balancing risk for employees and the public, and rapidly managing change. I have a deeper understanding of how the HR world in the public sector needs to adapt. 

As I look forward to my internship during my final semester, and my children start school in a virtual learning environment, I wonder what adaptations and innovations will become normal. As I proceed back into the workforce after graduation, I know that it will require a great balancing act as a woman in the public sector labor force, yet I am motivated to look for solutions to serve my community.  


Chaney, S., & Morath, E. (2020, May 8). April Unemployment Rate Rose to a Record 14.7%; Unprecedented 20.5 Million Jobs Shed As Coronavirus Pandemic Hit The Economy. The Wall Street Journal. 

Gupta, A. (2020, May 13). Why Some Women Call This Recession a ‘Shecession’. The New York Times. Retrieved from coronavirus-women.html 

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Désirée Adair is a Master of Public Administration candidate at Texas State University. Previously she earned a BA in Economics and minored in Mathematics. Désirée’s current research interests include local government, human resources, and economic development. She hopes to obtain a position in local government post-graduation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

This One is Different
by Melissa Bell

The coronavirus pandemic is a different kind of emergency than others I have encountered.  Just like everyone else, I am personally impacted:  suddenly working from home, adjusting my MPA study schedule, keeping up with quickly developing news, and making sure my family is safe, well, and has the provisions needed.  Even with these unexpected changes, I have no complaints.  My household has so far not been infected, and we still have our jobs, though my husband’s hours were drastically reduced at first.  Everyone I know has a stockpile of toilet paper, and I am confident disinfecting wipes will someday return to store shelves. 

Despite the minor and short-term inconveniences of the pandemic, devoting extra time to responding to it has not been possible.  Previous local disasters such as hurricanes had me working overtime at a non-profit organization, serving people who are deaf or hard of hearing and making sure those who evacuated to shelters and temporary housing had access to information and communication so they could receive the same benefits and services as everyone else.  While the motivation is still there for this emergency, I am being forced to balance.  I put in my full effort during work hours, then turn to schoolwork, family needs, and a personal project to disconnect from the stress:  revitalizing my back yard.  

When the coronavirus spread to the U.S., I wondered how public administrators were responding.  Professors at Texas State University connected me with organizations that offered electronic news feeds, and I am finding it valuable to read about the actions of government on all levels and the values they promote during the crisis:  responsibility, perseverance, transparency, innovation, compassion. 
The complex nature of the pandemic has made me reflect deeply about the real-world applicability of everything I have learned during the MPA program.  How are government budgets impacted?  In what specific ways should leaders guide people through a crisis?  How should organizations implement change quickly?  What role does intergovernmental relationships play?   Now I am more mindful and aware of the roles of state and local governments in emergencies.  Critical thinking skills and evidence-based decision-making emphasized in my MPA program have helped me educate myself on my role as a government employee and private citizen during unprecedented times like these.  

My Public Policy class is reading about governments that failed to respond adequately to natural and man-made disasters throughout history.  As depressing as that topic sounds during a global pandemic, it inspires me to endeavor to get this one right and to protect the health and wellbeing of the people we serve.  For me at the state agency where I now oversee the advocacy and technology program, it means supporting specialists as they work with government entities to provide live captioning and sign language interpreters at press conferences.  It involves answering inquiries about how to communicate effectively since everyone is now wearing masks that cover their mouths, making it difficult to communicate.  I value the information and skills I’ve gained from the MPA program and am applying it in my role in state government.  Now if my phone would just pop up with an alert about those elusive disinfecting wipes!

Melissa Bell is a graduate student at Texas State University and a member of its MPA Advisory Board.  She has worked as a program specialist with Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services since 2013, passionately serving alongside the community to make the world a more equal, accessible place for this population.  Her newfound 2020 hobbies include attending Zoom meetings, touring nearby cities and countryside (without getting out of the car), and hunting for household cleaning supplies with her husband of 22 years.  @TexasStateUniversityMPA

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

COVID & Public Impressions

by Lauren Cooper

Long before COVID-19 gripped Florida as its global epicenter, I was an aide to Florida House Representative Anna V. Eskamani. Our team was doing our best to fight in progressive arenas to expand Medicaid, to amplify worker’s rights, and to amend our state’s regressive tax structure that relies on sales tax to survive. For years, resistance was an intimate and constant presence in the workplace. However, it was a resistance of love in an effort to shake up the status quo and inject energy into a tired policy process that left many disconnected and disenfranchised. 

This pandemic has highlighted the disparities in our state, notably in our unemployment benefits system, which has been systematically neglected for many decades. However, it has also underlined the service gaps in our bureaucracies and reinforced frustrations that already existed among the general population. When furloughs took place in waves and the Florida Department of Opportunity was gridlocked with broken benefits portals, outsourced call centers, and recurring excuses, people turned to representatives in the Legislative Branch to be a lifeline, or at least a life vest, while the waters kept rising.


Our team of three has been navigating over 30,000 inquiries since March from struggling families, desperate parents, and suicidal Floridians from the Panhandle to The Keys at the end of their rope -- and that intensity came without warning or resources on where to turn or how to find answers. Many I spoke with mentioned their respective lawmakers did not return their calls or respond to their messages, requesting help in the darkest season of their lives. They wrote letters, sent direct messages, made videos on social media, rallied at protests, and captured attention of the media across the nation, but still were gaslighted by those in power. Some told me it was their first time contacting a lawmaker at all.


In the eye of the COVID hurricane, it remains impossible to completely unpack the flaws in our system and would be premature to point fingers, but there remains a critical lesson before us -- if people cannot rely on state agencies and officials in moments of trauma, then how will they respond with trust on the other side of this moment? It’s just not fair to expect them to give us the benefit of the doubt, when the majority of doors they approached were closed under lock and key. 


Public Service Motivation is a fascinating topic, but alone it’s not enough to produce the change we need. We have to also be critical and educate ourselves on operations, finances, governance, and big, clunky ideas that do not inspire us if we want to propel the causes that do. I have already begun to draw connections from my MPA coursework directly back to my career, including the notion of punctuated equilibrium theory before us now maybe the urgency of this moment will create a better, brighter future through a surge of education, advocacy, and legislative reform but we cannot lose momentum.


Moving forward, we have to not only elect transparent and effective lawmakers across our agencies, but we need to set the bar higher from within to undo damage and repair relationships. Maybe we cannot be perfect, but we can always strive to improve and to rebuild with intention. Together, we have to demonstrate that our bureaucracies are reliable, nonpartisan, and committed to service, even reimagining it for ourselves, if that’s what it takes.

Right now, the road towards recovery remains uncertain, but I do know the public deserves better than lip service between campaign calls. After all, we public servants work for the people.

Lauren Cooper is a Master of Public Administration and Masters of Nonprofit Management student at University of Central Florida. She currently serves in the Florida House of Representatives as an aide to state lawmaker Representative Anna V. Eskamani, pushing to make the legislature more accessible, transparent, and effective through intersectional policy and grassroots advocacy. She attended Rollins College for her undergraduate degree in Communications with a Minor in Sustainable Development. Her emergence as a public servant has driven her to pursue a secondary degree to be able to take lessons from the classroom and apply them within her workplace and across the State of Florida. As a first-generation Seychellois American, she is committed to seeing communities big and small being incorporated into the greater political dialogue to mobilize change.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

Shifting Perspectives During a Pandemic: Community Engagement Perspectives from Indianapolis by Ciana Sorrentino The threat of the COVID-19...