Westfield State MPA program partnerships provide real-world experience for students while assisting local communities
Colleges and universities often have informal relationships with cities and town in which they reside. Last year, Westfield State and the City of Westfield held several meetings to formalize bonds, develop channels for communication, and vow to work together to share resources to benefit students and city residents. Writing in June for Westfield City Lifestyle magazine, Westfield State President Linda Thompson outlined her perspective. “To meet the challenges of an uncertain economy, our public universities need to evolve, develop and extend their purpose and their mission to including outside groups in partnerships beneficial to both parties. In weathering difficult times, it helps to know you have friends you can lean on.”
In the Master of Public Administration program, directed by Assistant Professor, Dr. Charles DiStefano, incorporating civic engagement into course curriculum is a critical element that provides relevant experience for program participants while benefitting businesses, non-profits and government agencies. Student research projects illustrate how a university can work with its neighbors to formulate stronger bonds. During the Fall 2022 semester, in DiStefano’s Organizational Behavior course and in Regional Economics of New England, taught by Associate Professor and Economics Department Chair Dr. Hillary M. Sackett-Taylor, students conducted the following investigations:
Graduate student Investigators, Kaitlin Barrett, Alex Lent, Sean Moorhouse, Steven Moussette, and Ryan Rausch partnered with the Westfield Historic Industries Preservation Project as they work toward establishing a museum honoring Westfield’s industrial heritage at 360 Elm Street. The team developed recommendations related to board development and the formation of a community outreach plan to help generate public interest and support.
Graduate students Jakub Bartnik, Abigail Chernick, Kasey Gonsalves, Emily Graves-Harrison, Julia Knowles and Israel Rivera teamed with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to assess and make recommendations regarding vandalism on bus shelters. The team also focused on instances of the homeless population utilizing these structures for shelter. These issues are costly for the PVTA, and developing solutions is critical to their operations. The student findings demonstrated “how seeking renewed community participation can not only address vandalism concerns, but also assist the local homeless population and create channels for proactive and continued partnership in the future.”
A communication and economic development analysis of the Town of East Windsor, conducted by investigators Landale Armstrong, Kendra Currie, Donald Ganley, Chris Geraghty, Elyssa Parrish and Rebecca Slick aimed at assisting the small town to develop better communication practices. The project provided an analytic approach to their current methods and identified areas for improvement related to town officials’ interactions with constituents.
A research project by investigators Keith Goulet, Lynelle Kuzontkoski, Steven Moussette, Ryan Rausch, Michael Renkawitz and Max Silverman focused on the “town-gown” relationship between Westfield State University and the City of Westfield. Their findings indicate, “there is a profound desire for a stronger relationship between the city and the University. Both communities are seeking ways to become more cohesive. However, as the research indicates, it will be crucial ‘to have a very transparent relationship between the town and the city.’ ”
“I’m proud of our students for rising to the challenges presented in these projects, and I thank our MPA alumni and other community partners for the opportunities to apply the concepts they’re learning in class,” said DiStefano. “Students discover the importance of meaningful community engagement in the creation of useful, evidence-based policy recommendations, which will help them to be more effective public sector leaders.”
Since 2004, the Westfield State University Master of Public Administration program has prepared hundreds of students for public management and leadership careers. Many program graduates currently serve in Western Massachusetts municipal governments and nonprofit organizations, and in Massachusetts State Government. The MPA program offers concentrations in Criminal Justice Administration, Nonprofit Management, Public Management, and Public Healthcare Administration as well as a certificate in Public Healthcare Administration.