Bridging My Passion to My Profession: Getting an MPA at Cornell University

Bridging My Passion to My Profession: Getting an MPA at Cornell University-image

Professionally, I’m admittedly “all over the map”. I’ve explored careers in financial services, advertising, and have sustained a part-time career as a musician since first entering the workforce in 2011.

An unwavering fascination of democracy and the democratic process, however, was instilled in me during my first job out of college when I joined the Obama-Biden reelection campaign (headquartered in my mid-west hometown of Chicago, Illinois) as an entry-level member of the organization’s national advance team. My level of excitement and engagement as an advancer far exceeded anything I considered professionally possible.

Following the campaign’s victory that November, the organization that provided to me my first “real job” naturally dissolved, and I was faced with considering other professional avenues — at least for the time-being.

Explore our digital resource page for MPA students — Enacting Change:  Tailoring Your MPA to Focus on Policy in the United States!

Returning to my political- and government-related aspirations:

Financial services and advertising never captured my attention in the way that political campaigns had and I consistently returned to political contracting in between (and sometimes alongside) those less compelling pursuits. This recurring tendency is what encouraged my return to graduate school as a candidate here at Cornell University. Earlier last year, a less enthusiastic foray into financial services was straying me away from my true aspirations for a career politics and government and the window to fully commit myself to public service had opened.

Grant OBrien

Choosing CIPA's MPA Program:

Despite my tenacity, however, I struggled to identify a way to support this endeavor by staying relevant outside of political election cycles. The decision to pursue a Master’s of Public Administration degree through Cornell’s Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) was arrived at after recognizing that my prior experience had not afforded me the skillset needed to migrate from a successful campaign towards an effective administration in a role that felt fulfilling. My developed skillset, while having served me well thus far, simply wasn’t transferable towards other careers within politics and government.

It was widely apparent that a more comprehensive understanding of political theory and quantitative analysis was clearly required in order to make the positive impact that I desired.

Without delay, the CIPA curriculum efficiently hits the ground running through its foundational course offering. One semester in: Intro to Public Administration explored a series of analytical case studies addressing real-world consequences of effective and ineffective public management practices. Politics, Policy Studies, and Political Management introduced the full gambit of all important policy positions ranging from health care to comprehensive immigration reform. Into the spring semester, Intergovernmental Relations lends insight into an area of public management my professional career has been largely devoid of until now and our understanding of the concepts learned is challenged through Consulting for the Non-profit and Government Organizations; a course that organizes its students into consulting teams with actual clients in the spirit of aiding a topical cause.

Evidently, CIPA provides the missing link that bridges my passion to my profession. Just over a quarter of the way into this graduate program, and I’m already more empowered to navigate many of the professional obstacles I endured prior to enrolling at Cornell. CIPA approaches skill-development aggressively it’s well-resourced, efficient and to-the-point from day one onward. Through CIPA’s influence, I’m unquestionably more capable of ensuring that my professional career is well-aligned with my personal ambitions.

Grant O’Brien is a first year CIPA student from Chicago, Illinois focusing his studies on government, politics, and policy studies. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree studying political science from Loyola University New Orleans in 2011 and a Masters of Business Administration from DePaul University in 2013. Among other professional considerations, Grant has remained politically active primarily as a logistics (advance) coordinator for members of the Democratic Party during most of the last decade.

Explore our digital resource page — An Educational Guide for Future Leaders in Public Affairs — for an in-depth look at what it would mean to pursue a Master of Public Administration!

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