Current Student Spotlight: Sharon Mack

Current online MPA student Sharon Mack chats with our team to give individuals an understanding of what the online MPA program is like from a current student’s perspective.

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Amanda Sermons: Alright. Thanks everyone for joining the Master of Public Administration student round table webinar. My name is Amanda Sermons and I’m an enrollment advisor here for the University of San Francisco. I work with our Master of Public Administration program. On the call also is Sharon Mack, Sharon is a soon-to-be graduate from our online Master Public Administration degree program and the guest speaker for this webinar. We are all here and ready to begin. First I would like to do some housekeeping.

Alright, so you’ll see the webinar support available for participants that are having any difficulties, please click the question mark in the yellow box so that we can assist you, if you’re having any issues. If you have questions for our guest speaker or program information you can use the Q&A box to enter those questions and we will answer as many of those questions as we can, during the Q&A section of the webinar. On the right hand side you’ll also see a resource list with some quick links and useful sites about our program. You can also share this webinar with a friend, just click to email a copy of the webinar recording.

Alright, next you’ll see the agenda for today’s webinar, first we’re going to start with introductions. Then we’ll have a question and answer section with Sharon Mack. Sharon is a graduate from the online Master of Public Administration degree program. Next we’ll review the master of public administration degree. I’ll also explain how to apply to our program. And at the end of the webinar I will go over some important upcoming dates.

Sharon Mack: Amanda One Correction, I’m Soon-to-be.

Amanda Sermons: Yes, soon-to-be graduate. I’m sorry Sharon, thank you for that.

Alright, so there you’ll see a nice picture of me, as a member of the University of San Francisco admission staff; I work with our online Master of Public Administration program. My role as an enrollment advisor is really just to provide guidance to students that are interested in the degree. You know, telling them about the admissions process. I’m here as a resource to help. You can call me, you can email me, and you can even schedule an appointment to discuss your interest in the MPA program that is my role.

Alright, as I said before, and you’ve heard her now. We have a special guest with us today, her name is Sharon Mack. Sharon is a current student, in the Master of Public Administration program. And will complete her master’s degree next month. So congratulations to Sharon, it’s almost over. Sharon is employed with AT&T as a project manager. Sharon says that she selected the online Master Public Administration program because it is highly ranked. She also believes that it will provide her with an array of skills that are both useful in the public and private sector. Welcome Sharon.

Sharon Mack: Thank you, Amanda and hello to everyone.

Amanda Sermons: You’re welcome, alright. So we’re going to move on to the question and answer part of the webinar. If you type in a question and it does not get answered I will follow up with you after the webinar today. Let’s see, one of the first questions that we have is how much time do you have to devote to your course work each week. That’s a great question for you Sharon.

Sharon Mack: That is a great question. And I’ll just say this; it really depends on how well you grasp things. But on an average I would say at least twenty hours.

Amanda Sermons: Can you talk about how you manage working a full time job and being able to get your course work done each week? You know being able to get your course work done each week. You know are there discussion questions that you have, what is a typical course like in the program?

Sharon Mack: Typical course is you will have at least two discussion questions each week and you have two that you have to respond to, and then you also have to respond to at least two of your cohorts. In addition you’re going to either have a group assignment or an individual assignment each week that you have to account for. For me the big thing, when each course starts I load the calendar, I feed that into my cell phone and that gives me reminders of when my assignments are due. That gives you time to plan and adjust your schedule. Because it’s really important that you do take time for yourself, during the MPA when you start your program. And throughout the program, you should take time for yourself. So you can plan accordingly.

Amanda Sermons: That’s a great answer, thank you. Another question about, you know I guess the course work. Is how flexible are the courses and the instructors?

Sharon Mack: Well you will see that with each course the professor tells you they do not except late assignments. But I will share this with you, when I started my program my sister, she was diagnosed with cancer and she was in hospice. And there were times that I could not get my assignment in on time. I’ve never had a professor say no, if you just reach out to that professor beforehand and say, “you know I’m struggling between work and life, I’m just not going to be able to get this assignment in” they will work with you. I’ve never had a professor say, no. That’s a blessing, I’ve never had that.

Amanda Sermons: Wow, that’s a great experience to share. Even going through, what you were going through personally, what motivated you to stay in the program and finish your Master’s program?

Sharon Mack: I was going to wait, my sister was in hospice and her health was deteriorating and I was going to wait, and she said “no don’t wait I want you to go ahead and start”. So she was my motivation and cheered me on. So I stayed with her in the hospice for about six months until she passed, and when she had the energy she would just cheer me on. And make sure I completed the program.

Amanda Sermons: I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, Sharon. Thank you for sharing that. I have one more question from a student here. Can you complete the program at your own pace? And this is a question that I get often from students as well, or do you know when assignments are due at the beginning of the term?

Sharon Mack: You know exactly when your assignments are due. When your course starts up, there is a syllabus, there’s a calendar and it tells you what is due and when. Like I said you can set it up to get reminders through the University of San Francisco. And you can also link that calendar and schedule into your own personal email or to your personal cell phone. I opted to have it go to my cell phone. So it’s live it’s right there if I want to do something I just look at my calendar and I can say, maybe I can maybe I can’t.

So you have that schedule, and you march along. Because the classes are eight or six weeks I can’t remember, but you do have a schedule that you have to go by. But like I said, if in case of emergencies and you need to ask for additional time, you are afforded that. Now I wouldn’t do that all the time, but only when you need it.

Amanda Sermons: Once again Sharon, I had another question from a student asking about financial aid. Yes, financial aid is available for our online Master Public Administration program, for all students that qualify to make sure that you have those funds available. You would just have to complete your FASFA application and that FASFA application is available online. Once you complete it, you just enter our school code, here for the University of San Francisco, and any funds that you have available to you you’ll be able to use to finance your education here, at the University of San Francisco. So another great question.

Sharon Mack: And I just want to add to that. There’s also, because I was short some funds, financial aid and there is a list, it was Xichelle or I can’t remember who gave it to me, but they shared a list of organizations within the area that I could reach out to and possibly apply for scholarships. There is one, it’s called PEO, it’s only for women but I was able to get a scholarship, so if any of you are females. I can’t’ see who is on here, Amanda I will share that with you. I highly recommend that you reach out and start that process.

Amanda Sermons: That would be great, Sharon, please share that information so I can share with perspective students.

Sharon Mack: I’d never heard of them before, and just to know that they had chapters, they’ve even got a college.

Amanda Sermons: Another question, is the content live, self-paced or both? What was your experience in our program?

Sharon Mack: Normally the professors, each one will come and some of them will have a video, and they’ll share but I won’t say it’s self-paced because you do have a deadline for your assignments. But as far as completing that assignment within a time frame you have some flexibility in there. I don’t know that I would say that it’s self-paced.

Amanda Sermons: Sharon, I have another question with regards to the time that you have to commit to your course work. Did you spend most of your time on the weekend doing your course work for the program or?

Sharon Mack: If you wait until the weekend, you won’t make it, no. Normally your discussion questions are due Thursday or Friday, it just depends on your professor. And your assignments, the individual or group assignment is always due on a Monday. So you do have to do some prep work during the week. You do have to do some readings in order to stay ahead. So no you can’t wait until the weekend. I wouldn’t suggest it.

Amanda Sermons: And you mentioned group work. So would you say for the courses that you took? How many of the courses required that you did group projects in the courses?

Sharon Mack: You know, I can’t remember. It’s a blur now but you will have quite a few group assignments. And I think right now, I think its Google Docs; I forget what the tool is. But we meet we have a bridge. We call into it or not call into it but you can communicate with each other. And you can change your documents right there on the fly and everyone can see what the other person is writing. You can agree or not agree and make adjustments that way. There is quite a few group assignments and that is because, this MPA is an online program it’s a cohort. So they encourage you to work in teams. And there is a benefit to that. Burt there is quite a few.

Amanda Sermons: Quite a few group assignments. Were a lot of your classmates, that you did those group assignments with, here in the state of California or were they in other states?

Sharon Mack: They were all over and we had to come together. Coordinate a time to meet, agree upon that. And most of the time we would do it on a Saturday we would Saturday, or in the afternoons. And we were pretty cognizant of each other’s time. Either afternoons or Saturday’s worked out for us. And the good thing is that when we start, I think there was about six of us that started together. So we have a bond. I would strongly suggest that you get those relationships with your cohorts, share your personal cell, and share your email. And that’s very beneficial, if you have questions or there is something that you’re not sure about, you can always run it by them. Really it’s to your advantage to build that bond with your cohorts in the program.

Amanda Sermons: I think it’s great that you can speak to that relationship for students to hear. I try to describe it but hearing it from a student that’s in the program that’s great.

Now you’re getting ready, to graduate are you planning to attend graduation at campus?

Sharon Mack: Oh most definitely. And that’s because I’m local. I’m in Northern California, so yes I’ll be attending.

Amanda Sermons: What about your classmates? Are a lot of you guys planning attend graduation together?

Sharon Mack: We are, some of them are out of state and we’ve never met and so the Friday before graduation we’re actually all going to go out and have dinner together.

Amanda Sermons: Now that’s exciting. I know being a student in the program; student support is something that is available. Do you feel that was helpful for you while you were completing your program? To have access to Anya and our student support staff?

Sharon Mack: Oh yes, because there were times when you are going to feel like you’re going to drown and you just can’t make it. It was Xichelle, Anya, just to have those conversations, just to call up and to say I’m struggling or this, that and the other. Just to get that confirmation. And I will say when I started I was somewhat intimidated. There was one professor I was like “oh my god, right” and so I reached out to Xichelle, at the time and Xichelle was like, “Sharon you’ve got to go to the professor that’s what he’s here for, that’s what his hours are for”. I reached out to him and he was the most helpful and gracious. And I do that even up until now, you ask. The professors are here to help you. That’s their job, so most definitely.

Amanda Sermons: That was going to be my next question, Sharon. I know that you were talking about interaction here with the admissions team, and then of course working with student support. But how was your interaction with the instructors, you know did you feel like you could reach out to them, if you had questions about the assignments.

Sharon Mack: Yes, and actually I met with the Budgeting professor, I can’t remember his name, I’m sorry. He would have weekly webinars with us. And professor Mazzinati I met with him quite a bit. My statistics professor, I met with him, quite a bit. But the door was always open. If you didn’t understand it. Even if you had to go back, if you just didn’t get it. I don’t understand this, no matter how many times you ask or you called them up there was never a hesitation or a “you still don’t get it”. The professors encourage you and they challenge you, and that’s the good thing. I have not had a bad experience with anyone.

Amanda Sermons: Alright, another question here, about the course work for this program. So, I know that you currently are employed. But a lot of the students that are interested in this degree are interested in working for maybe the non-profit sector. Did you feel like the course work that you did in our degree program, is it specific to a non-profit world or is it general, working in public sector?

Sharon Mack: It is general and there was a Cathy Jayleen, and I think her name was Janet Robertson, they both work in the non-profit and so does Francisco Garcia. So there are quite a few students that are going to be graduating with me that work for non-profit. We have a hodge-podge. I am the only one that came from the private sector. But everybody else either works for a non-profit or for a public sector organization. I’m the odd ball. But even for me, being that I’m in the private sector there’s still a lot of skill sets that you can apply anywhere. Leadership skills, strategic thinking, strategic planning, SWAT analysis, there’s just things that you can take, and not only apply to your work situation but you can apply them to your personal life as well. I think that if you come into the program with an open mind the potential to grow is there. To grow as a person, to grow education wise, mental wise, it’s a very good overall experience. Like some of my friends, and I’ll just share with you guys, I’m an older lady getting my MPA, and some of my friends are like you’re old why are you getting your MPA, but it’s a self-accomplishment. It’s a really good self-accomplishment.

Amanda Sermons: Now, you said that you were the oddball in the program, those were your words. Why did you decided to get a MPA? A master in public administration degree, rather than getting a master’s in business administration degree?

Sharon MackL when I looked at all the programs I felt like the MPA, based on the courses, based on the outcomes. My belief and thought is that I can apply that anywhere. It’s broad enough where you get program management, you get analytical skills, you get strategic planning management skills. Ethics, leadership those are all things that you can apply no matter what sector you’re in. So I just felt that the MPA program was well rounded. And I did some research, I compared it with other schools, I talked to other schools about their MPA programs. And just those thinking thoughts that I had, they also confirmed the same thing.

Amanda Sermons: Now Sharon, was there anything that you learned in your course work that you can apply directly into what you’re doing in your professional life today?

Sharon Mack: Oh yeah, most definitely. Planning, stealth development plans, SWAT analysis, identifying your strengths, weaknesses, areas for improvement. You know, just things that you never think about. You should have a plan, what do I want to do? Where do I want to be, how am I going to get there? So, the program work just prepares you, so yes. And I think that it makes you think about things in a way that you never thought about them before. USF is really ethics, leadership and doing the right thing for the body as a whole for those that can’t. I mean just things that I think if more people were privy to; I just don’t think that we would see a lot of things that we’re seeing now in the world.

Amanda Sermons: Great Sharon, we have one more question. If you could provide any advice to a student interested in our online Masters of Public Administration program, what would that advice be?

Sharon Mack: If you are going to take on the program I highly suggest that you, like I said, get that feed for your class work. You know when your classes are assigned, I suggest that maybe once a week you kind of sit down and strategize, or you commit that every night I’m going to spend an hour on my course work. And you give yourself a little bit of freedom on the weekends. That’s what I would suggest to be successful. I also suggest that you make some bonds with some of your cohorts. And don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to your professors. And I’ll just tell you, like with Mazzanti, he was really adamant about certain things, but the things that I learned from him as far as preparing my documentation, putting my projects together. I use that model that he gave me going forward. And I’ll just tell you guys I made the dean’s list. So yeah, just take those tools and carry them forward.

Whatever that work ethic is, you set that work ethic and you keep it going forward. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy but it will get you through it. And then there’s days, like I said, I’ll text my cohorts and say I can’t do it. Then we’ll text each other back and say you can do it come on. “What is it you’re struggling with it, what is it, how can I help you?” so just make those bonds and you’ll be fine.

Amanda Sermons: Great Sharon, thank you so much. And student’s thanks for a great question and answer section. We’re going to move on now, to tell you a little bit more about our online program.

You can complete our Master of Public Administration degree program 100% online. The classes are asynchronistic and it’s really an ideal program for you if you work Full Time, as you heard from Sharon. If you live in a different time zone or have other commitments, really our online graduate program is designed for working professionals.

To be successful in this program you really should be able to devote anywhere from between fifteen to twenty hours a week to your course work. Our online learning platform is Canvas. Classes have a heavy emphasis on research, reading, online discussions, projects and then of course written papers.

With this program you take one course at a time for eight weeks and two courses per semester. So the courses are three credit hours each, and the degree is thirty-nine credit hours. So it’s a total of thirteen classes. That you’ll have to complete our master’s program.

You can complete this program in two years that’s six semesters. And you must complete the degree within five years of starting the program. We have classes that start spring, summer and fall. So we have one more start before the end of this year.

The curriculum for our online…

Sharon Mack: You might want to add if you start in the summer time you’ll be taking two courses at the same time. Right?

Amanda Sermons: Yeah, thanks for that Sharon,

Sharon Mack: Just so you know that, so just think about that. Strategically plan when you’re going to start. So yeah.

Amanda Sermons: No the curriculum for our online Master Public Administration degree program is listed on your screen. What’s important to not is that you start with foundation courses and then you enter a carousel of eight core courses. Which really build on what you learn at the beginning of the program? The curriculum focuses on strategic planning, partnership planning, resource management, budget analysis and then of course all of those things will better your decision making skills. All of that really addresses the needs of the public sector.

Alright so, when you’re ready to apply, the application is available online. The application itself is simple and I will provide you a checklist to guide you with completing your application documents. To apply to our program you must upload a current resume; write a personal statement telling the review committee why you should be considered for our online Master Public Administration program. You must also submit your official transcripts and two letters of recommendation. Transcripts are required from all previous colleges, and also an evaluation of previous degrees, if you are an international student. We require two letters of recommendation from either a former professor or employer, if you’ve been out of school for a while.

So, you must submit your online application and all of those application documents with the $55.00 application fee.

Alright, there’s still time to apply for the fall 2017 term. The application deadline is June 1st. Classes begin on August 22nd. It’s important that you start working on your application now, this will allow time for your transcripts to be processed and give your references time to write and send your letters of recommendation. There are a lot of benefits to applying early. So don’t miss out, start your application today.

And I want to say thank you to everyone for joining us for today’s webinar. Sharon thank you so much for being a part of our webinar you were amazing. If you as a student have any additional questions or would like to discuss our Master of Public Administration degree you can reach out to me, Amanda. By phone or email, I’m here to help.

Sharon Mack: If you have any other questions for me, you can just tell Amanda to hook you up.

Amanda Sermons: Thank you so much Sharon. Alright, guys you all have a great day ok.

Sharon Mack: Alright, Bye bye.

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