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Nothing ‘Mini’ About Topics in Rutgers’ Mini-MPA™ Program

Michael Theokas

Former Scarlet Knights’ offensive tackle Michael Theokas, RC’95, has owned restaurants and had a budding political career as a borough councilman in Hightstown. But the lure of public service led him to leave the restaurant business to become the borough’s fulltime business administrator last year.

Despite his wide-ranging experience as a businessman and public official, Theokas felt he could use some additional coaching for his new role.

“When I got the job in Hightstown, I immediately looked to learn more about this field and improve my job performance,” he said.

The “mini” master’s in public administration – Mini-MPA™ – a noncredit certificate program offered by Rutgers’ Center for Executive Leadership in Government at its headquarters in downtown New Brunswick, fit the bill.

Theokas completed the program last spring and says he learned “a great deal” from it.

“Each of the lecturers and classes offered different insights into common municipal and public-sector issues, and how to deal with them,” he said. “Most importantly, the openness of the classes gave me an opportunity to learn from my peers and talk about how they handled their municipalities, employees, and struggles. There’s no question that I am a better manager now than I was before I took the program.”

That’s exactly the kind of feedback the program’s developers had hoped to hear when they created the Mini-MPA™, says Angie McGuire, faculty member and assistant director of CELG.

A few years ago, CELG asked public officials and municipal managers across New Jersey how Rutgers could help them do their jobs better.

Their answers indicated they wanted training in strategic areas that would enable them to update their credentials and improve their career prospects. And, it had to be offered on a schedule that would not seriously interfere with their jobs.

In response, CELG’s faculty members developed a “mini” version of the traditional master’s in public administration (MPA) program that would cover relevant, focused topics in a 30-hour package of once-weekly classes spread over five weeks.

“It was a way for Rutgers to offer a rigorous curriculum that would allow managers to re-experience the classroom in a manner that is manageable for working professionals,” said McGuire.

The Mini-MPA™ enrolled its first students in spring 2011 and will start its fourth series of classes Sept. 14.  To date, nearly 50 persons from the public and nonprofit sectors have completed the program. They include federal, county and municipal managers as well as elected officials.

“With the downturn in the economy, people are increasingly looking for fast and relatively inexpensive ways to bolster their credentials,” McGuire said. “Currently, there are no comparable programs in the tri-state area.”

In addition to helping managers like Theokas grow in their jobs, the program has been a catalyst for students wanting to move into permanent positions, McGuire said.

She suggests the program can benefit mid-career professionals as well as recent college graduates.  Participants should have an undergraduate degree and/or significant managerial experience in the public, private or nonprofit sectors.

“Mid-career professionals can fast-track their careers and recent graduates can explore public-sector careers and service,” she said. “It’s a relatively quick and painless way to assess the field and career opportunities.”

Modules are taught by experienced faculty and practitioners with specific expertise in the module topics.  Experience-based learning, case-method instruction and computer simulations make the classes informative and relevant.

This fall’s program will run on five Fridays between Sept. 14 and Oct. 12 and include morning and afternoon sessions with luncheon discussions. Topics will include managing people in organizations, conflict resolution, leadership and team development, communication skills for public managers, ethical dilemmas, public law, and budgeting.

Tuition includes all materials, breakfasts and lunches. Recently dislocated workers may be eligible for Individual Training Account (ITA) grants. For more information, contact, call 732-932-6998, ext. 608, or go online to the Mini-MPA™ website.

CELG is a unit of the Center for Government Services in the Division of Continuing Studies. It provides research, education and training to local government officials consistent with its mission to strengthen the leadership capacity of individuals and organizations that deliver public programs.

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