Tag Archives: alumni

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

Alumni Spotlight – Levi Landis

Meet Levi Landis! Levi is an experienced nonprofit executive with over 14 years experience in management, fund development, administration, and education. Before joining GoggleWorks, he was the Director of Business Operations at The Center for Art in Wood, which has been recognized internationally by artists, collectors, scholars and the public as one of the most valuable resources in the field of wood art. Prior to his work in the visual arts, Levi was the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Folksong Society (PFS), which has brought folk music and art to the Greater Philadelphia area for over 50 years. The Philadelphia Folk Festival, the premier program of PFS, is the longest continuously running festival of its size and scope in the country.

Levi holds a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Villanova University.  He is also the Founder and CEO of Floating Festivals, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to producing high-quality festivals and cultural programs that celebrate and engage communities.  He serves on the Board of Rock to the Future, which provides music education to thousands of students in Philadelphia’s underserved neighborhoods.  Levi began his nonprofit career during his undergraduate studies, by founding Emmaus Inc., a community center in Gettysburg, PA, which housed performing and visual arts programs as well as a thrift store, 300-seat venue, staff housing, and a bowling alley. He is an established recording artist and touring musical performer who has continued to develop his previous education in music and visual arts- ceramics, graphic design, and illustration- as well as theatre, media, and audio production.

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1) What are you up to now? Tell us a little bit about the Goggleworks Center for the Arts and what you do as the Executive Director.

The mission of the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts is to nurture the arts, foster creativity, promote education and enrich the community. Located in a former safety-goggles factory building, the GoggleWorks offers 140,000 square feet of dynamic space, making it the largest art center in the country. Spaces include: galleries and classrooms; dance and music studios; a darkroom and digital photography lab; a hot glass blowing facility; a warm and cold glass studio/classroom; a woodshop; ceramics studio; a 131-seat film theatre; a café; community meeting places; 34 artist studios; and offices for 26 local community arts and cultural organizations including the Berks Ballet, Berks Jazz Festival and the Berks Youth Chorus.

As executive director, I manage 15 employees on staff, along with roughly 200 teachers and artists and maintain day to day operations. Additionally, I evaluate current, and launch new, programs; recruit donors and sponsors; engage the community with outreach programs and communications; interface with and develop the board of directors; design and develop partnerships; and target business and community development opportunities. GoggleWorks is a massive community efforts with many stakeholders as well as high expectations from supporters and the community. As executive director, I am the point of contact for high-level decision making to advance the mission, improve visibility, and maintain sustainability.

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

The Villanova MPA has hired expert professors with a firm grasp on concepts and practices that are applicable to nonprofit leaders. My matriculation gave me a firm foundation of knowledge in a variety of administrative roles as well as numerous networking opportunities—I have even engaged fellow students and professors for consultation and advice since graduation.

3) What advice do you have for current MPA students who are interested in working in the nonprofit sector?

Current and prospective students would be wise to schedule classes focused on areas essential to nonprofit administration including finance, nonprofit administration, fundraising, and so on. I enjoyed a great deal of professional development by seeking collaborative relationships with students and teachers, and taking advantage of nonprofit related activities and events.

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

Some unique projects, such as Father Jacobs’ end of year project, integrated course concepts into the actual, literal work I was doing in my career. Professors like Drs. Wilson, Palus, Milltenberger, and Wheeland were particularly invested in my professional development, and I learned a great deal from work in their courses, from case studies, to research and literary review, to statistical analysis.