Jeannie Kwon
MPA-PNP 2008

Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives
Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Capital Construction Company

Tell us about your current public service work. Can you briefly describe your employment organization and position responsibilities, as well as any relevant volunteer or entrepreneurial activities?

I am the Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) Capital Construction Company. Most New Yorkers experience the MTA via the subways, buses or commuter rail. MTA Capital Construction is a separate agency with one mission – to build transit infrastructure. We are building the Fulton Street Transit Center hub, the No. 7 extension, the Second Avenue Subway, and the East Side Access project, which is the largest transit expansion portfolio in the nation of $15B. In my role, I oversee internal and external communications, lead and assign Presidential initiatives, and assist and advise the President on a wide array of issues. Currently, my extracurricular activities include Career Advisor for the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service (FELPS), which provides young leaders in public service with a very robust career planning program.

Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?

I've worked in various policy and planning capacities, but the highlight so far of my professional career has been working in the subterranean world of New York City Transit Subways division as a Superintendent and a Deputy Line General Manager. The number of people and sheer logistics it takes to move New York City and maintain service is breathtaking. Prior to going to NYU, I received degrees from Simon's Rock College of Bard and Oberlin College.

What led you to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?

In order to advance my career, I knew I would need a master's degree. Wagner was the right fit because of its reputation, faculty, location, and it afforded many classes in the evening, which allowed me to continue to work full-time.

In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?

Leading and managing a team is a discipline that can be learned on the job, but the theory and exercises I gained from faculty who are respected practitioners in their field have made me a better manager. Also, adapting mental models of work in accordance with shifting priorities - whether they are political, cultural or technological, have been vital to my success. Wagner provided me with toolkit to do that in a reflective and thoughtful way.

Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and / or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?

Wagner emphasizes teamwork, which is incredibly useful in the real world, since most of us work in team-based environments. All of my team exercises were followed up with feedback from team mates. If you can get past the brutal honesty, you’ll find they are incredibly constructive and powerful leadership tools.

In terms of professors, Dr. Roy Sparrow had the greatest impact on me at Wagner. He’s a brilliant professor and I miss his classes. I walked into Wagner with a narrow view of leadership and management styles and his courses deeply challenged my understanding of executing these concepts in ways I still apply at work today.

Reflecting on your time outside of the classroom (social events, orientations, trainings, etc.), can you describe one or two key moments at Wagner that impacted your passion for public service?

My passion for public service began as a social and economic rights activist long before I came to Wagner, and after moving and living in NYC, shifted into an interest in mass transit advocacy and policy. At Wagner, I met many people with the same interests in transportation. A bunch of us started the Wagner Transportation Association. We took day trips all over looking at rail cars and transit networks. One weekend we toured transit systems in NJ and PA. That level of wonkiness, I think you only find in NYC.

How are you involved with the Wagner community as an alumna/us (i.e. attending events, mentoring students, maintaining connections with other alumni, recruiting at Wagner, etc.)?

I mentor Wagner students, look for interns, attend events, and keep in touch with a group of my peers who also work in public service or in the transportation industry.

Prospective students have expressed interest in learning how alumni funded their living expenses and education during their time as a Wagner student. If you feel comfortable, would you please tell us how you made it work?

I attended part time, so my tuition was paid for with student loans. I also received several scholarships, which helped offset the cost of tuition.

Do you have any advice for current students looking to make the most of their time at Wagner?

Don’t wait until your last year in school to develop a career plan. Exhaust Wagner’s career services and your peer network. Conduct a lot of informational interviews and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people on LinkedIn. When you do, make sure you are professional, formal and thoughtful. I’ve been the recipient of several information interview requests on LinkedIn, and for the most part, they’ve been great, except when the photo shows a person showing off their tattoo.