University of Vermont

The UVM-MPA Program: Scholarship in Action

MPA student Drake Turner poses in front of her award-winning poster on Food Systems Governance.
MPA student Drake Turner poses in front of her award-winning poster on Food Systems Governance.

Over the years the mission of the UVM-Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program has evolved to focus on two unique features: the influence of, and access to, the “Vermont way” of conducting public policy and administration that relies on the social capital and livable scale of the state; and a focus on cross-sector collaboration and governance viewed through the lens of complex systems. The MPA Program is accredited from the National Society of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration and is ranked in the US News and World Report assessment of top public affairs graduate programs in the country.  With a steady population of thirty-five to forty-five students a year, the UVM-MPA Program offers current and future leaders in the public and nonprofit sector the opportunity to deepen their knowledge, hone their skills, and establish connections with a network of public and nonprofit managers, policy analysts and elected officials from across the State of Vermont and well beyond. 

Although the Master of Public Administration degree is considered a terminal professional degree, the UVM-MPA program has distinguished itself for the applied and basic research conducted by its students and faculty.  For example, MPA ’12 graduate Erik Wells undertook a study of Designated Downtown or Village Center Districts for PA 306: Policy Systems.  Details from his research report were quoted in a speech by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and were used to expand the state’s tax credit cap by $500,000.  A current MPA student, Erin Flynn, is interning for the Joint Fiscal Office for the State of Vermont providing invaluable research in support of the comprehensive healthcare reforms being undertaken by the State of Vermont.  Current MPA student, Drake Turner, recently received the award for best social science and business poster during new UVM President Sullivan’s Installation celebrations for her research on Vermont’s Farm to Plate network.  MPA students routinely involve themselves in the activities of the UVM James M. Jeffords Center, the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, the Transportation Research Center, the Vermont Consumer Assistance Office, and the Center for Rural Studies.  Our program alumni go on to distinguished careers in federal, state and local government, nonprofit administration, policy analysis and higher education. 

Two examples of alumni distinguishing themselves include: MPA alumni Russell Mills ’07 who went on to get his Ph.D. from Kent State, spent two years with the FAA, is now an assistant professor at Bowling Green, and has established himself as one of the leading experts in airport governance in the country.  MPA graduate Richard Donahey  ’09 now serves as the comptroller for the State of Vermont Agency of Human Service. 

Our faculty have distinguished themselves as well.  MPA faculty members Asim Zia and Christopher Koliba are combining computer simulation with participatory modeling approaches to address climate change adaptation, water quality, transportation and energy needs of the region, involving a host of MPA students serving as research assistants on these efforts.  MPA faculty member Maura Collins Versluys (MPA ’07) was recognized by the Vermont Business Magazine for their Rising Stars Award for her commitment to business growth, professional excellence and involvement in their communities through her work on fair housing advocacy.  .

MPA faculty are drawn from Community Development & Applied Economics (CDAE), Psychology, and the Rubinstein School of Natural Resources, and an experienced set of scholar-practitioners who are or have recently been leaders in state and local government, leading nonprofits and businesses, health care and higher education institutions.  MPA faculty are active scholars in the areas of organizational and network behavior and change (Lawson, Anderson, Koliba and Zia), environmental policy, management and governance (Farley, Zia, Koliba and Ventriss),  ecological economics (Farley and Zia), climate change governance (Zia, Koliba and Farley), food systems (Kolodinsky, Koliba, Findley-Woodriff, and Zia), transportation (Zia, Koliba and Kolodinsky), public service ethics (Ventriss), energy (Koliba, Zia and Farley) and healthcare (Kappel, O’Donnell, Kolodinsky, Koliba and Zia),   Many MPA faculty have substantial experience as leaders within nonprofit organizations (Van Buren, and Collins), regional businesses (Findley-Woodriff), the healthcare system (O’Donnell and Kappel), state and local government (Cate and Zia), and higher education administration (Cate, Kolodinsky, Lawson and Koliba).  Because of the breadth of expertise of MPA faculty, the MPA degree appeals to students with a diverse array of interests including the environment, food systems, transportation systems, social services, land use planning, energy and healthcare, while preparing them  to lead and provide innovation across the public, nonprofit and private sectors. 

The 36 credit hour degree program provides students with a solid foundation in professional management competencies and public policy analysis methods, while allowing them an opportunity to “hand craft” their own learning pathways.  The core curriculum focuses on such areas as organizational behavior and change, policy systems and public and nonprofit budgeting and finance.   Elective courses are offered in such areas as advanced policy analysis and decision-making modeling, systems analysis and strategic management, healthcare policy, and nonprofit administration.  Striking a balance between theory and practice, MPA students engage in applied projects involving local and state governments, the Vermont State Legislature, social service, food system and environmental nonprofits within their classes and internship experiences. 

The pervasiveness of our society’s public policy challenges continues to call for the cultivation of public service leaders and innovators.  The UVM-MPA Program provides an opportunity for its student to address those challenges.  For more information visit the MPA website: