Tag Archives: alumni

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.”

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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: 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.

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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 Resources

Are you a recent alumni of ours? We have some great resources for you!

  1. Update your information with the Registrar’s Office and send michele.griffin@villanova.edu an email with your updated contact information.
  2. Get involved with your local VU Alumni Chapter! Regional chapters can be found across the country. Also be sure to check out career support for alumni as well as alumni events!
  3. Follow us on social media!
    Facebook/Linkedin: Villanova University Master of Public Administration
    Twitter/Instagram: @VillanovaMPA
  4. Keep in touch with faculty and staff!

Welcome to the Villanova MPA community and congratulations on your achievements!

Alumni/Career Spotlight: Michael D. Robinson

Meet Michael D. Robinson! Michael  is the Assistant Inspector General for Investigations for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Social Security Administration and a May 2016 graduate of Villanova’s Master of Public Administration Program. In the same month he received his MPA from Villanova, Robinson appeared in a Nightline feature on the OIG’s efforts to detect and prevent Social Security fraud.

Robinson recently spoke to the Leader’s Lounge about the Nightline interview and his Villanova experience.

1) What was the Nightline story about and what was your involvement?

Nightline was working on a story about Social Security disability fraud, and the show’s producers became interested in a case conducted by our special agents near Albany, New York.

The feature explains the case and our investigation very well. The subject of the case, John Caltabiano, claimed he was blind, was severely limited and could not work, and he needed Social Security disability and New York State worker’s compensation payments. However, investigators were suspicious Caltabiano exaggerated the degree of his vision impairment. Later, they observed him shopping, exercising, tanning, and even driving without assistance.

As a result, Caltabiano was charged with Social Security fraud and government theft, and last October, a jury found him guilty of the scheme after a two-week trial. Then in April, as Nightline was working on the story, a judge sentenced Caltabiano to 57 months in prison and ordered him to repay more than $27,000 to Social Security. Caltabiano has a criminal history, which the judge considered in his sentence.

Soon after the sentencing, Nightline asked to speak with me for the story. In late April, I spoke with show producers about the Caltabiano case and the OIG’s anti-fraud efforts, noting that the investigation was indicative of the excellent work our special agents do every day, across the country.

We thought working with Nightline would be effective outreach. We could explain to the public who we are and what we do, and we could deter others who might defraud Social Security by showing that we investigate these cases, and that there are strict penalties for Social Security fraud. You can view the Nightline story at this link.

2) What are your responsibilities with the Social Security Office of the Inspector General?

I direct all OIG investigative activity related to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in SSA’s programs and operations. I oversee three Headquarters Divisions in Baltimore, Maryland, and 10 Field Divisions throughout the country (the New York Field Division, for example, investigated Caltabiano), which encompass about 80 offices, including locations in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and all U.S. Territories.

I work with an outstanding staff of about 320 employees, comprised of mostly special agents who have statutory law enforcement authority. We also have information technology specialists, digital forensic technicians, investigations analysts, criminal research specialists, and other support personnel. In addition, we operate the Cooperative Disability Investigations program, which is comprised of State and local law enforcement partners and support staff.

We take very seriously our responsibility to have a positive effect on the the long-term preservation and solvency of Social Security’s programs, which currently provide about $930 billion a year to about 67 million people.

To give you a sense of our investigative workload, last year, we opened and closed more than 8,000 cases, and our investigations led to more than 1,200 criminal convictions. Additionally, our investigative efforts contributed to more than $225 million in monetary achievements, including court-ordered restitution and Social Security recoveries.

3) That’s incredibly impressive! Lastly, how has your Villanova MPA experience helped you in your career?

The Villanova MPA experience has been very influential and served as a valuable reminder of how much we should appreciate serving others. I learned so much from experienced professors and enriching material, and I made use of my fellow students’ intellectual capital. In class, I interacted with many smart and accomplished people, who were willing to share and discuss their professional experiences. Overall, it was a very humbling and inspiring time.

As I matriculated through the MPA program, the training I received drove many of my professional decisions. Specifically, from my studies, I established in the Office of Investigations internal working groups to improve employee engagement and organizational transparency. Some of this stemmed from the lessons learned in my Public Personnel Management course, when classmates discussed their desire to work for organizations that promoted inclusion by building trust through transparency. In courses like Organization Theory and Leadership Ethics, Father Jacobs reminded me that it was important to know and understand where you focus your organization’s money and time, because that’s where your values are.

The Research and Analysis course exposed the value of statistics, showing the importance of knowing when and how to use data to drive decisions to strengthen your organization for the long term. In turn, the information gleaned from this challenging course has helped us make decisions about where we should hire people, what training we should provide to employees, and what types of features we should include in our new case management system. Also, my staff is establishing an Electronic Intelligence Center so that we can better understand what internal and external data means to us and how it can improve our service to the public.

One of the most important lessons was that leaders have to find ways to do what’s right for their staff, organization, and stakeholders. The program also reemphasized that there’s so much to learn and there’s so much I don’t know. However, it’s important for leaders to understand that people are concerned more about how much you care than about how much you know.

Ultimately, the MPA program taught me to keep striving to improve as a leader, regardless of where you appear on the organizational chart. Finally, no matter how much training you already have, there is always room for growth. I can say with confidence that I grew at Villanova.

Michael D. Robinson
Michael D. Robinson

Alumni Spotlight: Keith Nguyen

Meet Keith, a recent graduate of our MPA program! When we asked him a little about himself, Keith said:

“I’ve spent half of my life in a country other than the US. Just like in Father Jacob’s ethics class, some things are universal, and some things are relative.”


Very fitting for our program! We asked Keith a  few questions about life post-graduation as well as his Villanova MPA experience.
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1) You just graduated in May – congratulations! How do you think your time with the Villanova MPA program has/will continue to help you in your career?

First of all, graduation was amazing. Hats off to all of you for making it such a memorable event for us, particularly the online students, so thank you all! And a sincere congratulations to all of the recent graduates as well. Such a significant achievement in life; one that’s both professionally and personally rewarding. I’m very grateful for my time in the program because it has really broadened my perspective, both in the practical sense of employment prospects, and in the noblest sense of perpetual learning for the sake of knowledge. Curriculum wise, I think the program has done a terrific job in equipping all of us with the requisite tools for both the science of management and the art of leadership, which is so critical for success in today’s intertwined global economy. There’s also a third lesson that the program has taught me, which is often understated but equally salient as the previous two, and that is humility. I’m incredibly humbled by the opportunity to start and finish the program (most folks don’t get a chance at higher education, and the problem is even more pronounced in developing countries), by the recognition that there is a great deal that I don’t know, and by the deep appreciation for being able to work in the public sector where one doesn’t build products, but livelihoods.

2) What do you think is the most valuable aspect of Villanova’s MPA program?

As is with any institution, the most valuable part is always its people. I think the program has top notch faculty and supporting staff (to include the unsung IT heroes), most of whom I’ve had the wonderful pleasure of connecting with at the Pi Alpha Alpha induction and graduation, and incredible students from all over in terms of geographical locations and academic disciplines. I’m definitely proud to call myself a Wildcat and I hope to run into everyone again down the road in some form or fashion. Oh, and look out for those LinkedIn and Facebook requests; they are coming your way 🙂

3) What’s next for you in your career? Do you have any specific future career aspirations?

This question actually caught me and my family at a very critical time in my professional career in terms of decisions. Currently, I am serving as an Army Foreign Intelligence Watch Officer at the Pentagon, and my wife just bought a private dental practice here in Northern Virginia. I still have about a year left on station, at which point I have a couple of options: if the Army allows it, attend the National Defense University for an MS in Strategic Intelligence and get assignment somewhere in the Intelligence Community, or depart from active duty altogether and use the GI Bill to attend either a PhD or JD program. Pretty divergent career paths so it will be interesting to see how the chips fall.

4) That’s incredible, best of luck! Last question – what is your favorite thing about the Nova Nation?

My favorite thing about the Nova Nation happened in about 4.7 seconds. No, it’s not my walk across the stage, but Kris Jenkins’s magnificent walk across half court to deliver the game winning shot haha. Joking aside, I absolutely loved the connections I made with all of the professors and my peers throughout the last two years, and I am looking forward to reconnecting with everyone again at various functions.

Keith Nguyen