Tag Archives: alumni spotlight

Alumni Spotlight – Latisha Upshur

Meet Latisha, an alumna of our MPA program!

“Hello fellow Villanovans!  I am a recent graduate of Villanova University’s Master of Public Administration degree program.  My professional background is in finance and administration.  My past employers include a federal student loan servicer, several insurance companies, a wealth management company, and a real estate company.   More recently, I have transitioned into the public sector.  My last position was in administration at The School District of Philadelphia.”


1) What are you up to now? Tell us a little bit about your new role as State Grant and Special Programs Specialist with the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Association (PHEAA).

In February, I was blessed with the opportunity to relocate to Harrisburg, PA to accept my new position as State Grant and Special Programs Specialist at Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).  PHEAA’s State Grant and Special Programs Department has a mission to promote access to higher education for residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In my current role, I simplify somewhat convoluted information to our constituents and use my creative spirit to provide progressive solutions for the department.  The integrity of the State Grant Program is maintained through audits to ensure that all PA residents have an equal opportunity to receive eligible grant funds.  If a state grant is awarded, and it is later determined that the award was based on fraudulent or withheld information, we must recoup the funds.  I work collaboratively with students and their families, schools, PHEAA’s legal department and local courts to collect PHEAA’s state grant receivables. I am also a huge advocate of higher education and justice, so I enjoy what I do!  I also enjoy freelance grant writing, cooking, and spending time with my family.

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

Some of the courses that stood out to me in this program are Leadership Ethics and Analysis and Research.  I am presented with grey scenarios that require unbiased analysis and decision-making skills. There are large volumes of information received, so the statistical analysis and research practices were great platforms to assist me in decision-making.   I also enjoyed the opportunity to analyze case studies and conduct interviews with public administrators.  Those real-life experiences provided valuable insight on how to implement thought processes, theories and practices into my daily routine.

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

The advice that I will give to current students is to limit distractions and be very organized.  A successful public administrator is responsible for oneself and his or her decisions have a direct impact on the lives of others.  This program moves very quickly and there is a lot of information to retain.  Staying focused, touching on the material each day, and managing your time wisely are important keys to success.  Take lots of notes and humble yourselves.  Everyone has something unique to offer.  Hindsight is 20/20.  It’s amazing how something that didn’t make much sense to you in the past is so clear now.  Stay in it!  Set smart goals! Be Passionate! Be a Nova!

Alumni Spotlight – Charlie Colato

Meet Charlie, an alumnus of our online MPA program! Charlie was born in raised in Los Angeles, CA, where he currently resides. Currently, he is in the process of joining the Air Force’s Space and Missile Command as a Presidential Management Fellow, where he will work as a Contracting Specialist. When Charlie is not chasing around his year and half old daughter, Charlie enjoys rooting for the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox, and occasionally reading a book now that he’s done with grad school and can read for pleasure again.


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

Since completing the MPA program, I received a promotion at work. I went from being an Administrative Analyst 1 in the Public Works Department to Senior Administrative Analyst in the Library Services Department (I got to skip the Administrative Analyst 2 position in the process). I will definitely say that completing my MPA had a lot to do with being afforded the promotion opportunity because prior to it, I was not having any luck. Since my promotion I also got selected as a finalist for the 2017 Class for the Presidential Management Fellows program. I’m currently seeking an appointment opportunity in the program, which will grant me the status as a fellow in its full right.

2) What made you decide to join Villanova’s MPA program?

I chose Villanova for my MPA studies because the school’s name is known nationally. Notoriety was an important factor for me because graduate school is a substantial investment of time and money. Having the school win the national championship in basketball last year definitely did not hurt in that department (go Wildcats!). Attending the program definitely made me feel good about my decision beyond what I had considered on its surface because the professors on top of being absolute professionals were personable, approachable, and seemed to be passionate about what they were teaching.

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

My best advice to current students is stick with it! You will feel really accomplished when you complete the program and you will find many opportunities will open up for you once you graduate. I felt so blessed to not only have great professors and lectures, but also great classmates as well. My classmates were instrumental in being able to gain so much perspective in grad school. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that people come into the program with the perspectives they gained from their undergraduate education and work experience, which is virtually different for each individual in the program.

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.

Alumni Spotlight: Sonia Topiarz

Meet Sonia, a 2012 MPA alumna! Sonia worked for the American Red Cross, Berks County Chapter for 5 years as Volunteer and Disaster Services Manager.  Currently she is at home with 3 girls and working on Infinideeds.com.


1) Tell us a little bit about your website, Infinideeds.com. Why did you start the site and how does it work?

I think everyone has a moment in their life that kindness has inspired them.  Perhaps someone paid for your meal, you watched someone help an elderly person cross the street, or you saw a story on the news.  Kindness is all around us, yet as the world and its problems get bigger, the “good stuff” becomes overshadowed.

Infinideeds was born out of a need to not only focus on the good, but to focus on the good in the world and watch how it continues to inspire.  Perhaps you purchase someone a coffee in Nashville, they pay for someone’s meal in Frankfurt and then the card continues to pop up all over the US.  Each card has a unique tracking number that allows you to watch how one act of kindness has caused a chain of reactions that you may never have known about before.  Kindness doesn’t have to be huge to change someone’s world, it is the incremental kindness that changes us all daily.

50% of the proceeds of every card sold go to one of six charities that the buy can choose upon their checkout.

2) How has your MPA degree helped you thus far in your career?

The MPA degree has made a large difference in my life.  It was always a dream of mine to attend Villanova and the program allowed me to learn more about nonprofit management as well as meet so many wonderful and inspiring people. While in the program I had my first and second child and realized that I wanted to pursue my passion in encouraging good deeds to better the world for them.

Alumni/Faculty Spotlight – Aaron Bibro

Meet Aaron! He is a Villanova MPA alumnus (2007) and current faculty member for our online MPA program!

Bio: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. The youngest of four, I attended Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School, University of Pittsburgh and ultimately graduated with an undergraduate degree in Journalism from Point Park University and then earned an MPA degree from Villanova in 2007.  My Father, Mark, is a proud Villanova graduate from the class of 1968.   I currently live in Harleysville, PA with my wife, Becky, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and sons, Landon, 4, and Lucas, 1.  I have a morbidly obese cat, Oscar, who is the bane of my existence.  I serve as the Township Manager in Hatfield Township, Montgomery County, PA.


1) Tell us a little bit about your professional background. How/what made you join the Villanova MPA faculty? How did your Villanova MPA degree help you get where you currently are in your career?

I want to be abundantly clear with my first statement:  My MPA degree from Villanova had absolutely everything to do with where I am in my career.

I have been a public servant throughout my entire career, in many different capacities.  After I finished my undergraduate degree without a clear sense of a career path, I became an Americorps volunteer and worked at a middle school in Boston as a teacher and coach.  As I was earning my MPA degree at Villanova, I worked full-time for a State Senator and then interned at Public Financial Management in Philadelphia.  After I graduated from the MPA program, I served briefly as a Government and Community Affairs Coordinator for Comcast before transitioning into local government as an assistant manager of Robinson Township in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.  The township manager moved out of the region within my first year and I was lucky enough to get promoted to that position.  I served in that capacity for another 3 years before being hired for my current role at Hatfield Township almost four years ago.

Like I mentioned earlier, I came to Villanova without a specific career goal.  I knew I wanted to be in public service and do something that mattered but I didn’t entirely know what that meant.  I discovered exactly what that meant when I enrolled in the MPA 8500, Effective City Management class, taught by two practitioners – Larry Comunale and Chris Canavan.  Before the class, my impressions of local government were shaped by the traumatic experiences of visiting the smoke filled borough building as a child attempting to buy pool passes.  Those memories led me to believe that a career in local government was only for grumpy, chain smoking employees with perms.  And unfortunately I don’t have enough hair for a perm.   After working in local government for almost 8 years, I now realize that some of the most talented and committed people work in this industry.

I am absolutely honored and grateful for the opportunity to now teach the 8500 class for the on-line students and hopefully influence them the same way I was influenced during my time as a student.  In the three plus years that I have been teaching in the program, my favorite moments are when several of the students from the classes have been either promoted or decided to make mid-career changes to pursue opportunities in local government throughout the country.

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

I enjoyed all of the courses during my time as a student; however, it is the people and the culture that will always stand out to me.  I developed lifelong friendships with many of my fellow classmates and the faculty at Villanova.  There are numerous faculty members and classmates that have played a very influential role in my life and I am forever grateful for their guidance and friendship.

The Bibro Family
The Bibro Family