Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld

MPA-PNP - 2007

Director of Training and Education Center for Community Change

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 currently serve as Director of Training and Education at the Center for Community Change. In this role, I design and conduct a variety of training for community organizing groups and community leaders. One responsibility I have is to translate complicated economic and policy issues so regular community members can understand them and take action.

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

Prior to Wagner, I had worked for four years in Washington, DC as a policy analyst for a civil rights organization (focusing on welfare and income support issues) and later worked for an economic justice organization. Before working in DC, I lived in Minnesota where I studied social work and multicultural studies and briefly did casework for a social service agency working with child protection and juvenile probations cases.

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

As rewarding as my work was in Washington, DC, I became frustrated that my work revolved around the gridlock of Congress. I was simply burned out and it seemed like a good time to take a break (particularly after the devastating 2004 election). I was confident in my grasp of policy issues (particularly those issues disproportionately impacting low-income communities and people of color), so I turned my focus to management at Wagner to prepare myself for greater leadership and management responsibilities in a different job. Surprisingly, I decided to stay at the same organization I had worked for in DC, so there weren't major shifts in my work environment as a result of my studies at Wagner.

I was specifically intersted in Wagner because it is in New York City! I was drawn to Wagner because the materials were incredibly clear about the school's focus on preparing students to be of service.

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

The interesting thing about my Wagner experience is that I ended up continuing to work at the same organization I had worked for before starting at Wagner. Despite that, my role did shift after my Wagner studies, and I do attribute many of these changes to how Wagner helped me develop my own leadership skills. I became a much better presenter and team leader through the team projects and presentations for courses. I also became more involved with various student groups.

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

The skills that I utilize the most were developed through the courses I took on Process Consulting, Human Resources Management (with Professor Foldy who was also my academic advisor and provided a lot of guidance) and the leadership course taught by Dean Schall.

Because a lot of the work I do is about facilitating learning and reflection through trainings, I've reflected on the lessons from the process consulting course a lot and even re-read some of the articles.

Although I don't directly supervise a large team of staff, I'm often consulted by colleagues on management and program design issues and find myself channeling Professor Foldy and Dean Schall a lot in my conversations with colleagues.

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 was already very passionate about public service when I started at Wagner, and think that my activities outside of the classroom were mainly focused on exposing classmates to social justice issues (particularly related to race and LGBT issues).

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 took all of my electives in the policy track (mostly quantitative courses) and also took a GIS course. I thought that all of these courses would be helpful in case I wanted to move back into a policy analysis / think-tank role, but given the direction my work took, I haven't really had a reason to use those skills or revisit that coursework.

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.)?

Honestly, I haven't been very good about staying connected to the Wagner community. I have attended a few alumni events and am still close to my team from MPSO and another friend I met at the retreat before classes started, but have largely been focused on my work and family.

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?

I was lucky that my organization decided to keep me on staff part-time while I studied at Wagner. Additionally, I took out loans to help make up for the loss in income to cover living expenses in NYC.