Public Service Spotlight
Executive Director at the American Camp Association
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 currently the Executive Director of the American Camp Association, a non-profit that provides membership and educational opportunities to summer camps and after school programs. As the Executive Director, I'm in charge of creating and implementing budget, managing a full-time staff of nine people, overseeing all human resources procedures, implementing new and entrepreneurial ideas in collaboration with our board of directors, and many other daily tasks. Every day, my job is different and every season we work with different groups to determine the needs of our membership and how we can provide services to them.
Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?
Previous to the American Camp Association, I worked for Housing Works as a Vice President in charge of various social enterprises. I helped to establish their catering business (which now has revenues of over $1 million) and several cafes throughout the city (including one at Wagner which operated during the time I was a graduate student there). I also ran their bookstore on Crosby Street which has revenues of over $2 million dollars and now serves primarily as a rental facility, wedding venue, event space and cafe. Before Housing Works, I worked in Communications at Lambda Legal, a direct impact legislation law firm that focuses on gay rights. While it's clear that working in the non-profit sector is where my passion is, I studied film at the University of Wisconsin and came to New York to pursue that field. After several years, I decided to change course and focus on non-profits.
What led you to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?
I knew that in order to advance my career in the way I wanted (which was to work at the Executive level), I needed an MPA. I was confident that working for non-profits was what I wanted and I felt drawn to learning more about it. I applied to several schools, but Wagner fit my life. I was working full-time throughout graduate school and Wagner's flexible program allowed me to work during school. I found the program to be excellent for working students.
In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?
I use the knowledge and skills that I gained at Wagner every day. From the finance classes that I struggled through to the Human Resources class; these are classes with real skills. I never thought I would have to know so much about human resources, but at most small non-profits, the Executive is also the HR representative. In my case, I do have someone in the office that does a lot of the administrative work, but my job is to set policy. I am literally in the middle of writing a procedure manual, which is something I never thought I would do and that I certainly learned about (at least the basics) at Wagner.
Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and/or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?
Despite the fact that I found group projects a struggle (multiple people finding time to get together was almost impossible sometimes), I definitely see the value of group projects now. It's essential to working.
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 lucky enough to actually open a social enterprise while I was at Wagner. For the three years that I attended Wagner, I opened and operated a cafe at the Puck Building that raised money for Housing Works, the nonprofit that I worked for while I was at Wagner. The cafe was an experiment for Wagner, to see if the Puck Building was a place where students and faculty would gather and socialize. It was a tremendous experience for me and would not have happened without the support of the Wagner community.
Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?
Because I worked full time, I didn't get a chance to take advantage of all of the lectures and discussions that were happening at Wagner. I wish I had been able to take better advantage of that.
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.)?
I give advice whenever asked, especially staff who may be interested in pursuing a graduate degree.
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 worked! I had a full-time job and I have a partner with a full-time job. I was 27 when I started graduate school so I had the advantage of years in the city. I'm a big believer in waiting to start graduate school until you've established yourself and know what you want to do. I cannot imagine making a decision as big as going to grad school when you are 21 or 22 years old. I didn't know where I would be at that age. So for me, I was already an adult and had the ability to finance school.