On Campus With Grand Valley State University

Posted on September 8, 2014

ELGL green icon


Today’s edition of On Campus takes us to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, Michigan. The GVSU MPA program was started in 1978 and offers affordability, a convenient Grand Rapids location, and an attractive urban campus. Current and former GVSU MPA students are well represented in ELGL including one of our newest members Nathan Mehmed, West Michigan Regional Planning Commission.

Background Check

Connect: FacebookTwitter, and World Wide Web

Grand Valley State University’s Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.)  is the primary professional degree for the public and nonprofit sector. The MPA program develops skills and techniques used by leaders and managers to implement policies, projects, and programs in public-serving organizations.

As a general management degree, the MPA is similar to the Masters of Business Administration, except the MPA focuses on the finance and management of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, philanthropic institutions, and healthcare providers rather than for-profit corporations.

General Information


Full-time or part-time program: Both

Number of students enrolled each year: about 100 in various stages of their respective degree programs.

In state vs. out-of-state: A combination of both, with a stable international student population.

Online classes offered: Yes as well as hybrid courses

 Q & A with Dr. Davia Downey


What are the three top selling points of the program?

First: We offer one of the only Masters of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership in the country along with our Masters of Health Administration and Masters of Public Administration.

1456590_10153415756430084_569215356_nSecond: in addition to our Masters programs we also offer graduate certificates that allow for students to hone their skills in nonprofit leadership, and sustainability in public and nonprofit organizations.

Third: our nonprofit program has been ranked by US News and World Report as a top 25 school for our offerings in Nonprofit Management.

Examples of alumni working in local government.

  • Erica VanEe (MPA ’06): appointed to the Grand Rapids Planning Commission
  • Patrick Reagan (MPA ’04): interim city manager of Portland, Michigan
  • Lynne Ladner (MPA ’05): city manager of South Lyon, Michigan
  • Jacob Eckholm (MPA ’14): city manager of Stanton and Lakeview, Michigan
  • Shane Schamper (MPA ’11): compliance manager at the Michigan Economic Development Association
  • Jason Escareno (BA ’12, MPA ’13): Local Government Management Fellow, County of San Mateo, California
  • Pattyjean McCahill (MPA ’07): Executive Director of the Kent County Parks Foundation in Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Teresa Neal (BA ‘96(: Superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools
  • Haris Alabasic (MPA ’05): Director of the Office of Energy and Sustainability, City of Grand Rapids

What are three of the biggest challenges for those entering the program?

For mid-level students, adjusting to the rigors of classroom instruction.

imagesOur health administration model emphasizes team-based learning, which can also be an interesting adjustment.

Our graduate courses also emphasize mastery of writing and data analysis so students are expected to complete research methods, human resources and organization theory included in our core curriculum alongside their concentration. So some students who are seeking to focus on just their specialty when entering our program may find this requirement difficult.

Give us three tips on finding the right graduate school.

Decide what you want to do first as a career choice and then seek out a program that best fits those career aspirations. Graduate school is not an extension of undergraduate education; the expectations are much higher. Graduate education trains people to be leaders in their respective fields and to be masters of learning and integrating skills to solve problems.

564881_10152172811075084_102104018_nTalk to someone associated with the programs you like prior to enrolling. This is a crucial step that many students don’t take advantage of. Many faculty or program directors are more than willing to answer questions about the program, expectations and classwork and save potential students a lot of headache.

Look for programs with productive faculty and experienced lecturers. One of the best indicators of a graduate programs’ impact on your future career plans is how well their graduates perform once they’ve received their degree as well as the caliber of instruction received in the program itself. Finally, look for programs that are taught by committed, full-time faculty.

What would alumni describe as the most difficult parts of the program?

Balancing high expectations with careers and families. Research methods often challenge students with limited exposure to quantitative skills sets.

Do you recommend prospective students gain a couple of years of work experience before going to graduate school?

Usually. More education with limited work experience doesn’t always translate to employability in upper management positions, which is generally a desire of many students seeking graduate degrees, therefore few years of work experience before seeking a masters degree can help provide students with maturity and critical focus needed to succeed in graduate school. However, our program requires pre-service students to have an internship during their graduate education, which can help. In fact, our health program (MPH) requires two internships so that our students understand the in’s and out’s of their potential career paths prior to graduation.

Name three skills that entering students are most often lacking.

Time management758580

Synthesis (i.e., the ability to read complex theories or frameworks and apply them to real-life situations)

Verbosity (i.e., the ability to speak up in class and ask questions!)

Reading habits and attention spans are much shorter now with the constant bombardment of instant communication giants like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, this can pose problems for both students and teachers in the classroom.

Outside the classroom, give us an idea of the places that graduate students can often be found.

1959234_10153892726295084_1345308598_nIn the healthcare systems of West Michigan. We have a large number of graduates that can be found in hospitals, hospices, healthcare management organizations, or in elder care facilities.

In nonprofits. Many of our students have gone on to serve on boards of various nonprofit organizations, work in fundraising or development or work in community foundations in the state and beyond.

Local government. A number of graduates have found successful placement in jobs across the state as city managers, economic development specialists, or in planning and regional development capacities.

What classes would make up a typical first semester?

Typically students take two to three classes (depending on if they are full or part time). The first semester students are encouraged to take Foundations of Public Management and Human Resources or one of the classes in their core concentration (Public Management, Urban and Regional Policy and Planning, Health Administration, Nonprofit Management and Leadership or Criminal Justice).

What are the most recent additions to your course offerings?

89CC0939-EE05-B4ED-CB5FB6F469ADADEFOur certificate in sustainability, which looks at how leaders can steer their organization toward sustainable practices and develop resilient organizations in times of change, is open to any of our students looking to add specialized skills as an elective.

Our newest Master’s degree in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership capitalizes on our university’s location near the three largest private charitable foundations in the world (W.K. Kellogg, Kresge and the Mott Foundation) as well as our proximity to three of the largest community foundations (Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Fremont) to give graduate students unparalleled access to some of the foremost leaders in the nonprofit world.

Supplemental Reading


Dempsey departs as city manager, Reagan steps in as interim

Profile: Bosnia native, Grand Rapids go-to guy Haris Alibasic

Spotlight: Jason Escareno

New city manager on the job in South Lyon

Davia Downey – Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley offering new Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership degree

10 Reasons for studying Public Administration at Grand Valley? 

 Previous “On Campus” Profiles

Close window