Bob McNichol, Hillsborough police chief, found College of Notre Dame master’s of public administration program quite helpful. “I started the master’s program just after I was promoted to lieutenant, and while in the program I made commander and eventually made chief.

“I found when I took the oral examinations or interview, a lot of the questions they asked had been discussed in class by teachers, then among fellow students’,” he said.

The program, founded by Dr. Elaine Cohen in 1978, has graduates in positions of authority throughout the county. “We’re very proud that the MPA program has produced four police chiefs,” Cohen said. “The program has trained personnel in all of the hospitals and health care organizations in the county,” she added.

Jim Kelley is chair of the program. “He’s the one who really carries the ball, interviews all the students, gives them all personal attention, plans their courses and carries them through,” said Cohen, who has been graduate dean for four years.

There are 10 courses total, six core courses, and the four major areas of emphasis have their own courses. There are about 70 people in the program now. Core classes have about 24 people in each class; the emphasis classes are a little smaller, said Kelley.

The MPA program is nearly a requirement for public administrators “if they want a job at the district level or they want to be a principal or superintendent.” Entrants “have to have taught for three years before they get into administration; that’s a state requirement,” though waivers are issued if hiring is critical, said Kelley.

Some fast-trackers start on MPA course work right after receiving their credential and do the three-year teaching requirement at the same time to finish everything up in the shortest possible time, he added.

All courses for the public administration certificate apply toward the MPA and it only takes two extra courses beyond the certificate to get the master’s. Occasionally a student with master’s of art in teaching decides they want the certificate so they can do district work or become a principal. “They don’t need another master’s degree necessarily, so just take required courses for certification,” said Kelley.

“It is essentially a two-year program for most people because they are working. Occasionally we have some foreign students here full time. They can go through it quicker but even then it’s still about a year and a half to go through it,” said Kelley.

Students’ ages range upward from 24, with an average age of 32. Most students are from San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, but some cross the bridges or drive up from San Jose or down from San Francisco.

The bulk of the students is “made up of people who have been in the field for a while. They recognize that if they want to get ahead they have to have a master’s degree,” Kelley said. People need the degree to stay competitive. “There are some indicators that the trend nowadays in the marketplace is that (hiring managers) are looking for a master’s degree much more than a baccalaureate degree,” said Cohen.

Aside from trying to make public administration a more efficient arena, “the reality is that the salary you can receive as an administrator of a school is greater than if you have a master’s degree in a teaching area,” said Cohen.

Not everyone is on a career track. “We have a couple people who are just doing it to learn, just interested in working in that area on a volunteer basis, and some of them are near the end of their career and just interested,” Kelley added.

The program “has really been beneficial for our students because they meet people in these courses that they can call upon in the health area, in the area of justice, so they work together to better our community,” Kelley said.

McNichol agrees. “The advantage of going through Notre Dame’s graduate program is I was actually in class with a lot of people I see in the county. San Mateo County is highly represented there. A lot of people I went to class with, I’m forever running into in their different capacities.

“You form close friendships while going through the programs. Meeting people from private industry and public sector together just confirmed we all do the same things; they just come with different titles,” said McNichol.

Though the number of students is growing, the program can expand to meet the need. “If we get a qualified student, we will find space. We have a good relationship with Notre Dame High School and we hold classes there in the evening, as well as other places in San Mateo County,” Cohen said.

The department has several full-time and a number of part time faculty members. “They are actually the professional people in the field working in San Mateo County, so we have many people who are judges, principals, school superintendents, managers and vice presidents of various hospitals teaching the program,” said Cohen.

Most of the class work is theoretical, Kelley said, but he does bring in speakers. “The city manager came in to talk about working with a public ward and I had the president of the college come to talk about self-perpetuating boards of directors,” he said.

In addition to coursework, “students also are assigned to locate an agency that needs some program or project developed, then to go ahead and develop that project for them,” said Kelley.

Carol Gray used projects like that to help her organization as she went through the program. “Whenever I needed a special project, it was easy to use my organization. It was appropriate for what I was doing,” said Gray, executive director of Mission Hospice of San Mateo County.

One of the keys to the college’s success is campus-wide flexibility. Gray chose Notre Dame because they let her take six years to complete the program. She had a demanding job and saw the program as necessary.

Gray started as a volunteer nurse in the organization 18 years ago and is now in her tenth year as director. Being in public administration of health services, “nearly every class helped me with what I was doing,” she said.

This article was written by William Cracraft/Freelance News Service and first published in 1998 in the 75th Anniversary Edition tabloid published by Alameda News Paper Group. Any accompanying photos were also taken by William Cracraft. It is reproduced here as a portfolio piece.


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