By Melina Rogers, media relations manager, University of Utah College of Law
Can an MPA degree change your life? For Amanda Covington, enrolling in the University of Utah’s executive MPA program opened doors and new opportunities ranging from positions in state government to corporate communications to her current role, as vice president of communications and government relations at Vista Outdoor Inc.
She talks about her journey at the U and how it helped her to become the professional she is today.
What made you want to pursue an MPA?
My honors bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah was very helpful in securing my first career opportunities. However, I quickly learned that in order to hold positions of increasing authority and to expand into new areas, I needed additional education and training. As I considered different options for my graduate studies, I recognized the MPA dovetailed nicely with my career history in the public sector. I was able to marry my on-the-job experiences with the state legislature and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget with the MPA curriculum. The Human Resources, Ethics, Legal and Budgeting/Statistics focus of the program better prepared me for experiences I was actually facing in my job at the time. In addition, I was able to improve my professional and personal capabilities in terms of research, fact-based and policy writing, critical thinking, teamwork and collaboration, and work-life balance. The professors, staff and students were professional, attentive, supportive and very knowledgeable.
Did you make a career change after you received your MPA? How has the MPA prepared you for what you’re currently doing?
I made a dramatic career change during my MPA studies. I left the public sector and currently work for a publicly traded business. I believe the knowledge, critical thinking skills, networking capabilities and connections definitely prepared me for my career change. While I was transitioning to the commercial business, it was my executive MPA classmates who supported me, offered words of wisdom and congratulations. I wouldn’t have made it without them. While I work for a board of directors and shareholders today, versus the public mandate, I know I wouldn’t have been promoted to a vice president, been given large budgets to oversee or been given the opportunity to lead government relations for a $2 billion company if I hadn’t completed my MPA.
Many prospective students in the MPA program might wonder who they will balance working full-time with a full class load. How did you do it?
I wondered how I could possibly manage a full-time job, two children under the age of five, and also serve as the president of my neighborhood HOA and serve in a large volunteer role for my church. My place of employment did not allow study time at work, so I had to study after work hours and on the weekends. The structure of the Executive MPA program helped tremendously. However, no student should be surprised that weekends outside of class will be spent studying, writing and working on group projects. I had a very supportive husband who was kind enough to keep things running at home on weekends when I had class. The library staff were very helpful when I needed research tips and professors/staff in the program always gave advance notice for projects and deadlines. I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.
I suggest new students learn quickly how to budget their time, learn the research tools quickly, complete reading assignments early on, and begin outlining and writing projects as soon as they’re assigned. I also had a great friend at work with a doctorate degree who would read my papers and poke holes in my theories, citations and conclusions. He helped me to think more broadly and back up my assertions. A mentor or tutor like this is a life-saver. Students will have to give up some things along the way. Prioritization is key. Finally, build in time for sleep, exercise and good nutrition.