Faculty/Alumni Spotlight: Stephanie Nissen

Meet Stephanie, an alumna and now faculty member of our MPA program! Learn more about Stephanie and her MPA experience from both sides of the classroom!

Bio: Raised in a small town in Northern Arizona, I moved to Philadelphia to attend Villanova University’s Master of Public Administration program in the fall of 2009. I earned my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Arizona in Political Science and spent two years serving as the Program Director for a children’s camp in AZ before realizing my passion for nonprofit and public service, which prompted my decision to return to school to pursue my MPA. I graduated with my MPA in 2011 and in the spring of 2012 I returned to Philadelphia and was hired as the Assistant Director for the MPA Program. After three years as Assistant Director, I left the MPA program to assume a new role as the Instructional Designer for Villanova’s College of Professional Studies, assisting faculty with the design of their online courses for undergraduate degree programs.


1) What was your favorite experience in Villanova’s MPA program?

It’s difficult to pick just one experience. I think, as a whole, my favorite experience would have to be seeing the MPA community grow and playing a role in organizing events that connected students with one another and with faculty. Coming from AZ, I moved to Philly knowing no one so I made it my mission to be an active part of the community and help to organize events that would bring people together outside of the classroom. My undergraduate education was at University of Arizona that has over 50,000 students so I never felt very connected to the school or my classmates. I believe my decision to attend Villanova was my opportunity to build connections with my fellow students and faculty that I never had at my previous school. I truly believe that my participation in the MPA community, whether it was at a happy hour, tailgate or lecture, added value to my experience and helped me to feel a part of community that supported my educational, professional and personal goals.
2) How did you get to join the MPA faculty?

I joined the MPA faculty in the Fall of 2012, teaching Public Administration Theory in the first term of the online MPA program. I had just started my job as Assistant Director of the MPA Program in February and during that time, worked primarily on building the online degree program; therefore, when it was time for the program to officially begin, I expressed my interest in leading one of the courses. I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Wheeland who had designed the course prior to my first term.  Having taken the course as a student I was, of course, familiar with the material; however, Dr. Wheeland was an amazing mentor and helped me to understand the material from a different perspective and serve as a facilitator of understanding of the course’s concepts and theories. My class ended up being the very first class to take place in the first term of the online program and I remember sitting at my desk, logging into class and just hoping that people would show up.  I’m happy to say that they did show up and during that first term, I had the privilege of working with some of the most talented, engaging and diverse group of individuals I had ever encountered. Admittedly, I was incredibly intimidated by their professional experience and knowledge, but I soon realized that they were learning as much from me as I was from them and I embraced the opportunity to help them to become stronger leaders and public servants through our 8 weeks together. I have since continued to teach this course along with Dr. Kelley’s Strategic Planning course. I love teaching and continuing to be a part of a program that has meant so much to me.
3) What advice do you have for current MPA students?

My advice to current students would be to not look at their time in the MPA Program as a means to end but to rather embrace the program and everything it has to offer.  Deciding to pursue your Master’s degree is not one taken lightly and is probably the degree that will have the most impact on your future; therefore, I encourage students to take advantage of every opportunity the program offers. My advice to students would be to make an effort to attend program events, both social and academic, take advantage of opportunities to intern and volunteer with different organizations and to meet with faculty and connect with them outside of the classroom, as they will become some of your strongest advocates and advisors for the future.

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