Husband & Wife, Both Municipal Leaders, Earn Executive MPA Degrees
Then, One Returns to School to Become the Teacher
In 1999, Joe Monzo, then chief financial officer for Ewing Township, NJ, had more than 20 years experience in the public sector. Looking for an opportunity to advance his career, he considered pursuing a master’s degree — a suggestion made by the mayor of Ewing Township at that time.
“I chose the Rutgers Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) program because of the name and the convenient location in Mercer County,” says Monzo. He started the program a year later and graduated with his EMPA degree in 2001.
Reflecting upon his experience in the program, Monzo believes that his education from the EMPA helped him a great deal. “The professionals in my program became an important part of my career advancement. One of my fellow students eventually took a leadership position as the director of the Division of Local Government Services and hired me in 2003 to be his deputy,” he recalls. When the director resigned six months later, Monzo was promoted to acting director. Working in a statewide position he felt he was in a “dream job,” achieving his aspirations that he and his classmates had in graduate school.
Although Monzo’s experience with the state was valuable, his heart was with local government management. After a year, he went back to local government as he accepted the position of chief financial officer and deputy manager of South Brunswick Township; a position he has held since 2004.
In addition to making important contacts in his graduate program, Monzo recognizes there have been other benefits as well. “It has afforded me the street ‘cred’ to be sought after for advice and consultation on key state and local government issues by many organizations including Rutgers University and the New Jersey League of Municipalities,” says Monzo. In fact, he has been actively involved in professional organizations including the league and the Government Finance Officers Association of New Jersey, where he currently serves as chairman of the central region and of the legislative and recruitment committee.
In the Monzo household, Joe isn’t the only one who has benefitted from the Rutgers EMPA program. In 2012, his wife Kathy, assistant administrator/director of finance for Princeton, started the program and is slated to graduate in spring 2016. Reflecting upon her experience in the EMPA, she feels there are many benefits.
“The level of knowledge and learning I experienced was so much more than I expected,” recalls Kathy, who also earned her undergraduate degree from Rutgers College, doubling major in economics and English. She also noted that the structure of the program’s cohort model also added to her experience. “I loved working with a team; I reaped so many benefits from their diverse perspectives.”
The Executive Master of Public Administration degree is offered by the Rutgers-Camden Department of Public Policy and Administration in collaboration with Rutgers Center for Executive Leadership in Government, a unit of the Rutgers Division of Continuing Studies.
Alan Zalkind, director, Rutgers Center for Government Services and EMPA faculty member, notes: “In addition to their status as ‘students’ they each have prominent and successful professional careers, which is exactly the goal of the EMPA program.”
Now one of the students has become a teacher. While the Monzos were at a retirement dinner for a colleague, Joe was approached about teaching in the program. “I thought on it for a few days and decided to do it,” recalls Joe. He began teaching in the program in fall 2015 as instructor for the Financial Management of Public Programs course. But it wasn’t his first experience with teaching, since the experienced administrator had been an instructor for Rutgers Center for Government Services in the Certified Municipal Finance Officer program and revised the Municipal Budget Textbook used in that program.
Being an instructor for the EMPA program has been another important career step for Joe. He adds, “Teaching in the EMPA program allows me to take 35 years of experience at many levels of government and use it constructively. I can see that the students in the program are looking to take the same career advances I was back in 2000, when I first started in the program.”
It’s that breadth of experience that made him a natural choice as an instructor for the program. As Angie McGuire, EMPA program director, notes, “He [Joe] has built a very successful career after receiving his MPA from Rutgers…and is now considered one of the most experienced and knowledgeable CFOs—by both practitioners and associations.”
Joe Monzo notes the importance of programs like the EMPA as public service and the current political landscape requires competent thinkers. “Programs like the EMPA are helping to create those individuals,” he adds.
For those considering the Rutgers EMPA program, both Joe and Kathy have advice. Kathy encourages future students to “not go into the program with any set ideas,” as the classes and students who make up the cohort make it a truly unique experience. “Be open to every perspective and think about what you can bring to the team,” she adds.
Likewise, Joe recognizes how the EMPA can help individuals professionally. “If you are feeling ‘stuck’ in your current job and are looking for a personal and professional challenge, then go back to school, he advises. “Remember how much fun you had in high school and college? Well, this is not that. But it is worth the effort if you put in the effort.”
March 15, 2016