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Visit to campus builds connections for Online EMPA students

October 24, 2019

 Online EMPA immersionFor many midcareer public service professionals, Maxwell’s Online Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) program provides the perfect way to improve their skills without leaving home. But the success of a recent immersion weekend shows that a visit to campus and the chance to mingle in real life with classmates and professors only enhances the program.

“Online students benefit from the flexibility of being able to complete their coursework on their own schedule from the comfort of their own home, and while the connections they make with their peers and faculty are valuable, the value of place and institutional community that comes from being part of a school can be lacking,” said Nell S. Bartkowiak, director of the Online EMPA Program. “You lose that sense that you’re part of something bigger. To meet people who they’re taking classes with and interact with the faculty meant a lot and made their academic program feel part of a larger network of connections.”

Nine Online EMPA students participated in the optional campus immersion program on September 27 and 28. The weekend featured academic and career presentations and networking opportunities with Maxwell graduate students, faculty, and staff. It also included a chance to take in a men’s home football game at the Dome (Orange 41, Holy Cross 3) and visits to several iconic Maxwell sites, including the statue of Abraham Lincoln and the Athenian Oath etched on a wall behind a statue of George Washington in the Maxwell Foyer.

“They had this energy, excitement, and enthusiasm about being part of an academic community,” Bartkowiak said. “When you’re gone from one for a while, it’s novel and exciting to be on campus.”

Colleen Heflin, immersion facilitator and professor of public administration and international affairs, led a master class, “Evaluation Basics: Program Theory and Logic Model Design.”

When faculty meet these students in person, “they appreciate the experience these students bring,” Bartkowiak said. “These individuals are at the height of their careers. They’re very passionate about their work.”

Participants included alumni and students new to the program. “They’re all midcareer and are juggling graduate course loads with full-time careers, along with commitments to family and community,” Bartkowiak said. “They appreciate the chance to connect with others who are struggling to balance these things.”

Brandie Andrews, vice president of AIR Worldwide in Boston, appreciated the program’s social and professional components. “I will definitely try to use the logic model,” she said.

Julie Medler, managing director of Golden Seeds in New York, said, “Meeting the professors in person and spending time with other program participants was really worthwhile.” She was also pleased to learn about services Maxwell’s Palmer Career Center offers.

It was the second immersion weekend for the Online EMPA program. Bartkowiak said it’s unlikely to be the last. “We’re looking to connect people,” she said. “Every time we do it the participants love it.”


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