Alumni Spotlight: MPA Alumna Works to Improve Health of America’s Families
October 30, 2020
Master of Public Administration
Policy team leader Elizabeth Fomegne ’04 B.F.A/’09 M.P.A. uncovered her drive to serve the public good while interviewing prospective undergraduates for Syracuse University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
“I never thought I would work for the federal government,” recalls Elizabeth Fomegne, with a smile, when asked about her path to becoming policy team lead for the Maternal and Child Health Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). “I didn’t even know public health was where I wanted to land, but I’m really glad I ended up here.”
At HRSA, Fomegne uses her public management and leadership skills to further the Bureau’s mission of improving the health and well-being of America’s mothers, children and families. Her team’s primary role is coordinating with Congress—communicating the Bureau’s policy agenda and priorities, crafting the President’s budget request, and gathering performance data to help Congress understand the work of the Bureau. “Most of what we do is get grant money out the door, to state health departments, to universities, to other people actually implementing the work on the ground,” she explains.
It’s a different path than the one she had imagined as an art major and honors student at Syracuse University, but one that taps into her passion for helping others. She uncovered her drive to help serve the public good while interviewing prospective undergraduates for Syracuse University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions—“hearing what makes them tick, I started to think about what makes me tick.”
Fomegne’s experiences, during her undergraduate years, helping her family start a small nonprofit that raises money for Parkinson’s research, led her to pursue an M.P.A. at Maxwell, after which she applied to the Presidential Management Fellowship program. “I ended up interviewing with a Maxwell alumna at the CDC and being hired…and that started my career in public health.”
Fomegne spent four years at the CDC, first in their budget formulation office and then in the policy office in the Center for Global Health, before moving to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Following her work at the CDC, she accepted a promotion working in legislative affairs for Dr. Anthony Fauci’s office at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), where she helped to prepare the director for legislative hearings related to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
After about a year and a half with NIAID, she says, “The Maternal and Child Health Bureau at HRSA was reforming their policy shop, and they wanted me to help put that together. So, about five and a half years ago I came here to help stand up a policy shop, and I absolutely love where I am.”
Fomegne draws on her Maxwell training almost daily, including an indelible lesson in leadership from a small-group exercise on her very first day of class: “The point of the exercise was that there has to be delegation. There have to be roles assigned. There has to be clarity about how you manage this process.”
“During COVID, a big part of my day-to-day as a team lead in a leadership capacity is making sure my staff have what they need to be able to do their jobs under a different level of pressure than we’ve ever had before.”
Fomegne, who earned a Certificate of Advanced Study in Conflict and Collaboration from Maxwell’s Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC) concurrently with her M.P.A., also really values the practical skills infused throughout the curriculum, such as writing an effective one-pager. “Being able to clearly distill down key bits of information, especially working in policy, is essential. We write a president’s budget request to Congress that distills down hundreds of millions of dollars into a couple of pages. Then, we often have to convince our subject matter experts that it’s actually better to condense it down even more, because people will actually read what you have to say.”
Fomegne, who also serves as an alumni ambassador, was recently a guest expert in the undergraduate course Interdisciplinary Perspectives of COVID-19.