Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Thalia Washington

MPA-PNP - 2007

Director of Development and External Affairs Charter Board Partners

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 Development and External Affairs at a non-profit in Washington, DC called Charter Board Partners. Charter Board Partners promotes exceptional governance in public charter schools so that every charter school has the board it needs to improve student achievement. I am primarily responsible for raising the philanthropic revenue needed by the organization from foundation and corporate partners. I also manage the external affairs (marketing and social media) relevant to increasing the visibility of our organization.

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

I have 10 years of experience in the non-profit and public education sectors. I began my career as an elementary school teacher in the Bronx and went on to become an administrative director at Teach for America and Volunteer Program Coordinator at a literacy non-profit organization called The Wonder of Reading in Los Angeles. For five years I worked at the NYC-based technology non-profit DonorsChoose.org, where I managed fundraising and cause marketing for the eastern region and launched the organization's human capital department. Originally from the DC/Maryland area, I returned to my hometown in 2012 to take on a new role at Charter Board Partners working with charter schools in Washington, DC. I received my undergraduate degree (B.A. in English) from the University of Maryland in 2000 and a master's degree in public administration from Wagner in 2007.

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

I decided to pursue an MPA degree after spending five years working in both public education and the non-profit sector in New York and Los Angeles. With five years of experience, I was confident that I wanted to continue building a career in the non-profit sector and I specifically wanted to gain the skills and credentials needed to pursue senior-level roles (Executive Director, Development Director, etc.). I felt that a master’s degree in non-profit management from the right school would catalyze my career path - for me, Wagner was that school. I considered both MPA and MBA programs and applied to multiple public administration programs across the country. However, after visiting Wagner I was positive that it was the right choice for me. Wagner had a well-regarded non-profit management program, opportunities to take classes within the larger NYU community, and a strong emphasis on career services. I always planned to be a practitioner in the non-profit field and the ability to use the Wagner career network was extremely important to me. No other MPA program's career services compared to Wagner's in my opinion!

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

In the five years since I graduated from Wagner, my roles have steadily increased in seniority, and the general management and HR skills I gained at Wagner have been most valuable to me. At DonorsChoose.org, I eventually managed a five-person team with a $5 million revenue goal and found that the skills I needed most often were those that enabled me to effectively manage and motivate people and lead projects under pressure. Today in my role as Development Director at a smaller start-up non-profit, I spend considerable time developing and implementing systems and processes to build the capacity of our development program as the organization grows. The systems thinking and capacity building skills learned in various Wagner classes continue to be valuable to me today.

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

One of the most memorable classes I took at Wagner was a Reflective Leadership course with Dean Schall in my last semester. The course felt like a mix of management and leadership best practices with some personal therapy thrown in! Because I've gone on to manage teams and major projects in my career, I'm grateful for that class because it taught me to focus on developing my unique leadership style. With every promotion or opportunity that's come my way since Wagner, I've been told that an ability to motivate and manage people was essential to the decision and I very much credit my Wagner experience and that class specifically with influencing my leadership style.

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?

I made the most of my two years at Wagner and truly embraced all of the non-classroom opportunities to add to my experience. I was very involved in student groups, in particular the education policy group, students of color group, and helping to found Bridge, the social entrepreneurship group. My involvement with other Wagner students through organizing programming and events through these groups was extremely motivating because they shared my passion for particular areas of public service. To this day, I remain most closely connected to the classmates I worked with through those groups and continue to find professional and personal rewards from staying in touch!

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

I do wish I had developed stronger relationships with one or two of the faculty members I took courses from. Overall, I had a very positive experience with my courses and would have liked to develop a more personal relationship with some of my teachers so that's one area that, in hindsight, I wish I had leveraged a bit more.

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

Since leaving NYC, it's been more difficult to stay connected to the Wagner hub in Manhattan. However, I do attend alumni events in the DC area when they are held, and I absolutely maintain strong connections to other alumni, personally and professionally, who are now spread out across the country (tools like LinkedIn make staying connected professionally very easy). The great friends and inspiring colleagues I made at Wagner are one of the unlooked for bonuses I took away from my experience.

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, can you please tell us how you made it work?

A combination of opportunities helped me make it work financially during my two years at Wagner. First, I received a partial tuition scholarship from Wagner. Second, I worked as a graduate housing assistant through NYU's department of Residential Life during my entire first year. That position provided room and board on campus, a meal plan, and a stipend! Third, I participated in a paid summer fellowship (Education Pioneers Fellows) between my two years at Wagner, and finally I worked part-time in various positions (both related and unrelated to my desired field of work) during my second year at Wagner to make ends meet. It definitely took planning and hustle to fund my time at Wagner but it's absolutely doable!