MPA grad turned Excelsior Fellow: It’s an honor to work with the state
Ari Epstein ’14 M.P.A. was providing information
technology services at a major university when he joined Maxwell’s master of
public administration (M.P.A.) program.
“I was interested in community-building activities and
wanted to get involved in shaping and improving the institutions around me,” he
said. “Nothing does that like the government.” He completed his M.P.A. in 2014
and was accepted into New York’s two-year Excelsior Service Fellowship Program.
The program was founded in 2013 to introduce recent law,
graduate and professional school graduates to policy jobs in New York state
government. Epstein is among 24 Maxwell alumni named Excelsior Fellows, who are
assigned to New York’s Executive Chamber, a government agency or authority. Exceptional
fellows are invited to work for state agencies after the fellowship ends.
In 2019, Epstein was named the first chief data officer
for the New York State Department of State. The job brings together his IT
background and interest in local government and policy in projects that involve
local government technology, innovation and policy.
Maxwell’s connection with the Excelsior Fellowship
program reflects its commitment to preparing students for state and local
government jobs. It’s among multiple initiatives at several of our leading
institutes and centers that contribute to domestic and international efforts to
enhance public service delivery, strengthen communities and improve citizens’
“In government, it’s often difficult to be strategic
because you're so consumed by the fire of daily challenges,” Epstein said.
“Data management helps you create broad systems before a crisis hits.”
In 2014, Epstein held brief Excelsior Service Fellow
positions in the state’s Office of Information Technology Services and Office
of General Services. In 2015, he moved to the New York Department of State,
where he was named special assistant in 2017.
“I wanted to work in local services,” he said, and the
state’s growing interest in data management “really drew me. There was a vision
for incorporating data management into operations.”
Projects assisting local government officials on issues
such as building codes, land use policies and municipal consolidation matched
Epstein's interest in local government and interagency efforts. “Everything that’s important in our society, government
has a hand in,” he said.
Epstein’s data management skills were in demand during
the COVID-19 pandemic. He was part of the state’s “technology SWAT team” in
spring 2020. “We all shut down abruptly,” he said. “A 500-person organization
had to figure out how to work remotely. On the technology front, this showed
the need to have more agile practices.”
He’s eager to help the state create systems to collect
and publish more and better data—a trend he sees in demand at all levels of government.
“They want to achieve those big goals, but somebody has to figure out how we
make that work on the ground,” he said.
“I did not early in my life envision working for the
state,” he said. But he’s pleased that his Excelsior fellowship landed him
there. “I’m a lifelong New Yorker and very proud of it. It’s an honor to work
with the state.”