Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Marlon Williams

MPA-PNP - 2008

Director of Housing Employment Programs NYC Department of Human Resources Administration

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 serve as the Director of Housing Employment Programs for the NYC Department of Human Resources Administration. In this role I foster economic opportunity for public housing residents by leading the expansion of the Jobs-Plus program, an $8 million Mayoral initiative that empowers residents to enhance their economic security. Jobs-Plus is an employment focused program that offers services to all working-age residents in targeted public housing developments and helps residents build their skills and connect to the labor market so they can increase their incomes.

I serve on the Advisory Board for World Learning, the premiere study abroad organization that provides education, exchange, and development programs that cultivate global leadership and social innovation.

I was also selected to participate in the 2011-2012 Coro Leadership New York Program, a civic leadership and change management development program for mid-career professionals from diverse backgrounds, sectors and perspectives who are dedicated to shaping and leading public policy in New York City.

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

Prior to my current appointment, I was the Director of Income for the United Way of New York City, leading the design and implementation of economic empowerment programs and policies. Before joining United Way, I served as a Policy Advisor for the Mayor of New York City focused on housing, economic empowerment and senior citizen issues. In 2008, I graduated from NYU Wagner with a Master’s in Public Policy. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Dance from Williams College. I have traveled extensively to study issues of urban development in Brazil, South Africa, China and India.

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

My career has been focused on expanding opportunities for low income individuals, so that they can make a home in New York City. As I progressed in my career, I needed to develop my toolkit and network to more effectively participate in the public policy discussion. I grew up and worked in New York and knew that I wanted an education that was not only in the City but of the City. As I talked to mentors, Wagner stood out as a school that was active in New York City’s public policy sphere by training many future and current leaders, as well as providing a space to discuss critical issues facing the City. Wagner provided opportunities to engage with civic leaders and work on projects that directly advanced the thinking about public policy in New York City.

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

Wagner was critical for providing me with a framework for policy analysis that I use daily as I manage a variety of public policy issues. Having an organizing framework allows me to frame an issue, communicate it to stakeholders, identify the key data points that are required and evaluate alternative options so I can make decisions on how to move forward.

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

Wagner’s core classes in economics and statistics provided me with a strong foundation. I appreciated Wagner’s focus on data analysis and critical thinking, since I believe that understanding and managing information is essential for decision making. Program management and policy making are increasing driven by data. A key function of a graduate level program is to provide students with a tool kit that they can utilize to frame, understand and solve complex problems. Wagner’s core courses provide a strong foundation towards that goal.

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?

At Wagner, we are taught that the policy formation process requires the intersection of available ideas, a focusing event and the opportunity to advance a specific course of action depending on how the policy problem is defined. During a case study discussion focused on strategies for foster care youth, I laid out a series of ideas on how I would like to make changes to the system to reduce the incredibly high numbers of foster youth that end up homeless when they leave the care of the City. Months later, a classmate found herself working on that exact issue and asked me to join her at a meeting to discuss the ideas I had laid out in our discussion. This meeting turned into an opportunity to work at the Mayor’s Office working to improve New York City’s homelessness system and increase economic opportunity for all low income New Yorkers including a focus on foster care youth. Wagner provided a space where my ideas could be refined and connected me to others similarly passionate about the subject matter. Because of this discussion with Wagner colleagues, I gained not only a new job but an opportunity to turn my ideas into impact.

Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?

Students are truly Wagner’s greatest assets. Even though I met many wonderful colleagues during my time there, I always wished for more opportunities to learn about the backgrounds of other students and hear the stories behind why they do the work and follow the paths that they do. As a part-time student, it was a challenge to engage the rest of the student body more deeply. Whenever I could, my efforts were always rewarded with a thoughtful conversation and new friend.

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

The alumni network and events are my key connections to Wagner. I am a strong believer in mentorship and making the opportunities in life to be mentored as well as provide mentorship. Working in New York City public policy, I have met many amazing individuals who are Wagner alumni and that common ground has translated into productive mentorship opportunities for me personally and professionally. I have also served as a mentor for a number of dynamic individuals who have gone on to attend Wagner as part of the next steps in their career. Additionally, Wagner continues to serve as an important table for bringing people together to discuss critical issues facing New York City and I attend these conversations because they connect me to the people and ideas shaping public policy in the City.

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, please tell us how you made it work.

I was fortunate enough to receive the Mayor’s Graduate Scholarship from the City of New York. It is available to current City employees seeking to go to school part-time while continuing to work full-time for a City agency. During my time at Wagner, I worked first for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and later at City Hall, where I worked for Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs overseeing homelessness and senior citizen policies. Working full-time while going to school can be a challenge, but I was able to take my classroom lessons and apply them to work the next day.