Alumni Spotlight: Andrea Cohen

Meet MPA alumna Andrea!

“Born and raised in New Jersey, I earned a BA in geography with a focus in conservation and resource management and minor focus in sociology from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1992. After graduation, I held several paid and unpaid positions in both private and public organizations and have been working in public higher education since 2000. During that time, and while working full-time and raising a family, I volunteered in executive leadership positions such as president, vice president, treasurer, secretary to name a few. In 2012, I enrolled in Villanova’s Masters in Public Administration, because I aspire to continue advancing my career in higher education administration, executive management, and volunteer or other leadership roles. I graduated in December 2014 and walked with my class in May 2015.

Outside of work and graduate school, I enjoy taking long walks in the hills or along the beach, yoga, dancing, mountain bike riding, rollerblading, hiking, backpacking, climbing, skiing, traveling, photography, spending time with my family, playing with our cat, gardening, organizing, hosting parties and events, and cooking.”

We caught up with Andrea, who gave great insight about her Villanova MPA experience as well as advice for students!


1) What are you up to now? Tell us a little bit about your professional background.

For the past seventeen years, I have worked in various capacities for the University of California Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz). Since October 2013, and presently, I serve as a Principal Analyst Special Projects Manager in the Office of the Chancellor and Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor. I consult and collaborate broadly with leadership across the campus, the University of California (UC) system, and within the community to manage: high-profile executive recruitment for senior leadership such as Vice Chancellors, Vice Provosts, and Deans; executive leadership development and personnel review programs for same cohort; strategic and long-range planning and development; philanthropy and fundraising priorities, initiatives, and strategies; and, other special projects as needed. Prior to this role, I served other campus departments (Division of Social Sciences, Procurement, University Extension, Information Technology), and before coming the university, I worked for an environment-focused mediation company resolving multi-party conflicts and developing realistic agreements among stakeholders.

Always interesting and dynamic, I enjoy the challenges of public service, managing and staffing committees, developing and implementing projects (and their timelines), collecting and analyzing data, networking and orchestrating events, interacting with donors and potential donors and raising money, and crafting communications, proposals, and budgets. I strive to ensure my supervisors and teammates are briefed and well-prepared for anything and “look good,” and continuously aim to improve and streamline systems and processes whenever possible. Successfully implementing and completing projects is fun … for me!

2) How did your Villanova MPA degree help you get where you currently are in your career?

Enrolling in Villanova’s MPA program was a turning point for me. Obtaining master-level training and a degree was always something I longed to achieve, and Villanova’s helped me develop a clearer understanding of my existing strengths, knowledge, and abilities and my areas for growth, learning, and improvement. It opened my eyes and exposed me to the importance of the non-profit sector and a variety of professions that I had never considered.

The talented, focused savvy faculty (and administrators) provided opportunities to practice skills and try new techniques while encouraging and instilling confidence in me, and others. I honed my professional communication and became more skilled at managing delicate political situations at work. Through the program, I expanded my network of supporters and met intelligent, engaged, kind, considerate and trustworthy people “like me” with an eye towards serving the greater good.

The MPA degree sent a clear message to those around me that I was serious about my career in the service of others. I learned a lot in Villanova’s MPA program. In academic and bureaucratic circles, the MPA abbreviation, which follows my name, affords me status as “subject matter expert” (SME) in a variety of arenas. The Chancellor and the Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor took notice and developed this position to capitalize on my skills.

3) What advice do you have for current MPA students?

–          Try to remember to appreciate and thank the people who help you. As a leader, accomplishments and successes attributed to you are very likely due – in part or on the whole – to the contributions of many other supportive people who assist you.
–          With SME status comes great responsibility to provide balanced, ethical, equitable, and just counsel and guidance to everyone we serve.
–          Stay focused, but remain flexible and open to new information and ideas. Ask questions. Have your latest, greatest 15-30 second “self-brag” at-the-ready, just in case you have a moment with someone who is interested.

–          And, “don’t sweat the small stuff” (Carlson, R., 1997).

4) Were there any particular courses or learning experiences during your time in the MPA program that stood out to you?

All of the courses were excellent. Highlights for me included:
–          Organizational Theory because it expanded my perspective on organizational and leadership development; the instructor challenged us to think outside the box; and it provided a frame of reference for theories and practical application.
–          Strategic Planning because it offered practical hands-on application of concepts and provided opportunities to be creative and to work closely with colleagues both in the program and outside of it.
–          Managing Public Networks because we learned about, and honed, and practiced our leadership, negotiation, and facilitation skills.

–          Leadership Ethics because it provided opportunities for discussion of theories and practical application while encouraging curiosity, questioning, and analysis.

Andrea and her husband on the Water of the Leith Walkway in Edinburgh Scotland
Andrea and her husband on the Water of the Leith Walkway in Edinburgh Scotland in November 2016.

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