Updates to MPA program expected to bring positive results

The Master of Public Administration program at SAU already has alumni making an impact regionally and globally, and this program’s reach is expected to multiply with the restructuring that started in the fall.

The new MPA Program Director, Dr. Amber Overholser, who joined the SAU family before the start of the fall semester, said the MPA program currently has around 30 students. She has already started outreach initiatives, such as meeting with local leaders, that will help that number grow.

SAU Provost Dr. David Lanoue is also optimistic about expanding the MPA program. With approval from the SAU Board of Trustees, Lanoue is now awaiting approval on two important changes for the SAU MPA from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education – moving the program online and an accelerated 4+1 plan.

Dr. Overholser has brought real energy and excitement to the program, and our students will notice the difference.

“This is an exciting time for our MPA program,” said Dr. Lanoue, “We plan to provide students with an opportunity to achieve both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in only five years, which will give them a head start on their professional career.  Dr. Overholser has brought real energy and excitement to the program, and our students will notice the difference.”

Students who take advantage of the 4+1 combined bachelor’s and master’s MPA program will be able to complete both degrees under the umbrella of the Department of History, Political Science & Geography.

“Many people are interested in working on behalf of their communities, whether that is in the public or nonprofit sectors. The MPA degree can provide them with added skills and opportunities to learn first-hand about such issues as personnel management, public budgeting, ethics, and so on,” said Overholser. “All of this can be completed online, so that emerging and current professionals can complete their studies while working within their own communities.”

Overholser hopes for continued growth in the MPA social entrepreneurship emphasis, which was established in 2016 in partnership with the Rankin College of Business for students looking to bridge their studies between public and private organizations. In addition, Overholser said that the MPA program is seeking ways to partner with governmental entities and nonprofits throughout the region. This will increase internship opportunities and student learning, plus it “will share the students’ skills with our communities.”

Recent MPA graduates are already making a difference in communities across the region and even internationally.

Completing the MPA at SAU also gave me the opportunity to put a practical application on my newly acquired knowledge.

Catherine Frances Christie Cook ’80, ’16 has worked in city government since 1990 and been the city manager at Hope, Arkansas, for several years. Yet, even as an experienced public service practitioner, she often tells others how useful it has been for her to have earned her MPA.

“Completing the MPA at SAU also gave me the opportunity to put a practical application on my newly acquired knowledge. The class projects and team efforts on budgeting, organizational leadership, and cultural diversity, have informed and enlightened my work in Hope,” she said.

Cook was named Outstanding Graduate Student for the College of Liberal and Performing Arts in 2016. The following year, Nicolau Capita Nguimbi ’17 earned that honor. Nguimbi, from Luanda, Angola, in Southwestern Africa, chose SAU because he was looking for a rigorous academic program in public administration.

“My education at SAU gave me the ability to enhance my perception of the world as I see it,” said Nguimbi. “I believe in the idea of philanthropy caring for others, and the MPA courses I took at SAU fully prepared me to be a part of this large story of changing people’s lives for the better.”

Nguimbi works for Ten Thousand Villages, a non-profit organization in Harrisonburg, Virginia, which sells handmade products by disadvantaged people around the world who would otherwise not be able to put food on their tables.

Overholser graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Affairs. Prior to attaining her Ph.D., her work in the Elko, Nevada, community involved empowering students both in primary school and in college to help them succeed in school, as well as organizing a local farmers market. Her volunteer experience is wide ranging, including local work with the Red Cross, public-private partnerships, and even international work and hosting exchange students. Her research is currently focused on national monuments, community organizing, and public organizations.

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