Cover Photo: Read more about Amisha Mukhopadhyay (PP ’23)
Preparing the Next Generation of Advocates
Public policy programs at New Jersey’s institutions of higher education are teaching students how to deal with increasingly complex societal issues.
The field of public administration has expanded in recent years, with greater opportunities for careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. As the stakes of political issues continue to rise, New Jersey’s higher education institutions are enhancing their programs to better prepare the next generation of advocates who do everything from analyzing data and planning budgets, to liaising between government agencies and the public, establishing consensus, and enforcing government policies.
Rutgers University in New Brunswick usually has 20-30 students in its undergraduate public policy program any given year, and 30-50 students in its graduate programs. The core curriculum, which is grounded in basics like economics and understanding political institutions, is complemented by electives on subjects like racial and income inequality and climate change, as well as the newest master’s program in Public Informatics, which concentrates on timely issues like artificial intelligence and big data.
Graduate students also need to complete the applied field experience (an internship), which is most frequently done at a public policy-oriented organization in the summer between enrollment years, and there is a semester-long capstone project done under the supervision of a professor that involves four to eight students doing real-world work for an outside organization. Stuart Shapiro, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, calls the capstone a “win-win,” as clients benefit from the ideas of students about to enter the workforce, and students gain valuable experience in the field they’re about to enter.
Program graduates, some of whom are international students, usually land a job within six months in public organizations like the Governor’s office, New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C., or any number of private companies and nonprofits. Some of these graduates include NJ State Representative Dan Benson, Robert Asaro-Angelo (Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development), and Brandon McKoy (co-leader of the State Fiscal Policy Division at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities).
“Students pursuing public policy as a field come with a lot of idealism: they want to make the world a better place. We want to maintain that idealism, but also give them the tools to be as effective as possible in improving public welfare,” Shapiro says. “We’re living in a time when public service is often denigrated, and it’s not the best-paying field, but it’s so important.”