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Online E.M.P.A. Students Connect with Colleagues and Campus

November 11, 2022

Every fall, Orange Central draws throngs of alumni to campus to relive memories and reconnect with old friends. This fall was no different—except that this year’s attendees also included a group of midcareer professionals seeking to make first-ever campus memories and connect with new faces as part of the Maxwell School’s Online Executive Master of Public Administration (E.M.P.A.) Immersion Weekend.

Saba Siddiki Immersion Weekend
Saba Siddiki, director of the Center for Policy Design and Governance, leads the policy design workshop during Immersion Weekend.

This year’s Immersion Weekend drew 12 participants, all at various stages of their online E.M.P.A. studies. They came to augment their online experience by engaging directly with fellow students and faculty and getting a taste of campus life on one of the University’s busiest weekends of the year. They also had a chance to flex their academic muscles in a two-day policy design workshop hosted by Maxwell’s newly formed Center for Policy Design and Governance.

Students in the E.M.P.A. program typically have about 10 to 15 years’ career experience and work across nonprofit, government and private sectors, says Nell Bartkowiak, director of the online program. For online students, Immersion Weekend is one of the first opportunities they have to connect face to face with classmates they have only gotten to know virtually. “They may be meeting in person for the first time, but they are clearly old friends,” Bartkowiak says.

The policy design workshop was the academic high point of the weekend and one of the reasons online E.M.P.A. student Kelly Ware decided to participate. Senior vice president for program design, implementation, and effectiveness for Cayuga Centers, Ware says the workshop really spoke to her own professional experience and needs.

“In the nonprofit world, we all wear quite a few hats, and we’re really working to understand the public policy process—the goal of the policy, the players involved in implementing the policy, and evaluating whether the outcomes have the intended impact,” she says. “The workshop really connected to my everyday work, and it also gave us a chance to share how we view the process across different sectors.”

Saba Siddiki, director of the Center for Policy Design and Governance and Chapple Family Professor of Citizenship and Democracy, co-hosted the workshop with Scott Emery of M.S. Hall & Associates. “The workshop offered an opportunity for our online students and faculty to engage in person and, at the same time, learn a set of practical skills on policy designing, stakeholder engagement and policy implementation to augment their coursework,” Siddiki says. “It also provided an opportunity to highlight the expertise of center personnel and showcase training offered through the center’s Policy Design Studio.”

Siddiki says the workshop served as a pilot for future such programs for both Maxwell students and practitioners in the larger community. A similar workshop with a more global focus is already slated for April.

This was the fifth Immersion Weekend since Maxwell launched its online E.M.P.A. program in 2017. And while it’s not a required element of the degree program, Bartkowiak says the students clearly relish the experience. “These are people who have developed relationships with one another for years online without ever having met in person,” Bartkowiak says. “The weekend gave them the chance to really connect on a more personal level and develop strong bonds with one another. It was wonderful.” 


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