The pandemic’s unprecedented changes affect practically all areas of life. Understanding this, professors for the Executive Master of Public Administration pivoted to offer students a unique, virtual capstone summit to focus on COVID-19.
“COVID has underscored long-standing inequalities in our system—the differentials in death rates, and more recently, vaccination rates, between minority and white populations are real,” says Howard Frank, professor and chair of public policy and administration and director of the Jorge M. Perez Metropolitan Center. “These are issues our students need to understand and be aware of.”
The day-long summit, which took place during the 2020 fall term, explored the consequences of the pandemic on local management and governance. It also featured policy leaders and the city of North Miami Beach to offer students a real-world take on municipality resilience today.
Frank notes that all of the pandemic changes have required modifications in the public sector and include ensuring policies address the health, welfare and safety of people and this is what the curricula with the EMPA program, which is available in a hybrid format, addresses.
Alumnus Jason Ochoa ’20, a North Miami Beach police major, says the program offered a “deep dive” into how to move toward the future. He handles the “business side,” of law enforcement for his department and feels the capstone summit and the EMPA program offered the real-world information he needed to establish sustainable practices.
“Everything that I was learning, I was doing,” he says and cites the policy analysis class as quintessential and relevant in the wake of George Floyd’s death. In his capacity, he was tasked with revamping police procedures through policy.
Frank underscores that the EMPA program is designed to foster critical thinking, so graduates are able to tackle challenges, regardless of circumstances—the degree hasn’t changed, but the issues have.
“What might have changed in recent months is the recognition that the public sector can make a real difference in people's lives,” says Frank. “Public health delivery and concern over survival has made enforcement of things like mask wearing and social distancing important.”
Along those lines, alumna Lauren Linville ’20, who is running for Coconut Creek Commissioner in District E, is seeking public office to make a difference in her community.
A Coast Guard senior reserve officer and lieutenant commander select for Joint Base Cape Cod, MA, Linville owns Optimum Consulting, which helps organizations with emergency management, disaster response and facility management. She understands what it takes for organizations to execute processes and procedures during disasters. These skills, along with the knowledge she received from the capstone and degree program make her uniquely qualified for public office, she says.
“The best way to promote safety is to be reflective of the people,” Linville offers as one of her main takeaways.
During the capstone, students came to realize the importance of resilient economic bases, and the reality that changes in behavior—less eating out, more work from home—may have long-term impacts on how cities are managed, summarizes Frank. He emphasizes that the changes create the possibility that commercial property taxes may decline with changes in retail and office operations. These shifts produce valid concerns in local government, which alumna Natalia Zea ’20, is uniquely familiar with.
Recently employed as chief of staff for District 8 Miami-Dade Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins, Zea says the capstone summit captured how a municipality responds during this crisis. She found the topics such as community engagement, budgeting, human resources, among others, very useful and relevant to her current position.
“In public administration, everything is collaborative,” she says. For her, the capstone summit was particularly relevant, but the knowledge gained from the entire EMPA program has been “hugely beneficial.”