Alumni in Action

Public Service Spotlight

Rosa Ortiz

MPA-PNP - 2011

Director of Administration and Finance REACH Prep

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 Administration and Finance at REACH Prep, based in Stamford, CT. REACH Prep provides motivated and talented Black and Latino students from Fairfield, Westchester and Bronx Counties access to independent school education. Through a twelve-year commitment, REACH Prep provides academic support and family services to ensure students thrive as scholars and leaders in their schools and colleges.

Joining the organization in 2006, I worked as an Associate and later as Director of Program and Services, providing direct services for over 200 students from 4th grade through college. I began my current role in 2011, upon the completion my degree at Wagner. I have been transitioning to oversee business operations and have focused on developing financial and operational procedures and controls for REACH Prep.

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

I earned my undergraduate degree from Boston College, majoring in Sociology, with a focus on Hispanic Studies. My past experiences include work as an intern at the Boston American Red Cross International Service’s department, research assistant at Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, and program manager for the NYC Charter Schools' English Language Learner's Consortium. I am a StartingBloc NY '08 Fellow for social entrepreneurs and an Education Pioneers NY '10 Fellow for graduate students in the education sector. My research and work have focused on equality for communities of color, with special interest in access to quality education and immigration reform.

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

I chose to pursue my MPA at NYU Wagner because of its program flexibility and course selection. I sought to develop both analytical skills in public policy and hard skills in managing a nonprofit organization. Taking courses across the University provided an opportunity to explore deeper in education policy and research. The management courses and skills I acquired while at Wagner have been invaluable to my transition as an administrator at REACH Prep.

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 my new role at REACH Prep, I am constantly referring back to the work in courses like Strategic Management, Developing Human Resources, and Financial Management for Nonprofits, amongst others. One of the first tasks I was asked to undertake was to draft the following year’s budget for Board review. Though it was the first operating budget I prepared, it was not the first time I analyzed the financials for the organization. Fortunately I had reviewed REACH Prep’s audit and 990 tax documents as part of coursework, which helped me feel comfortable with speaking about the organization’s financial standing. My rationale for budgeting decisions was grounded in my knowledge working on direct services as well as a new understanding of the financial implications for the organization.

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

I was fortunate to work with incredible professors at Wagner. From taking a course on reflective practice with Dean Ellen Schall to being advised by Katherine O'Regan, I was very fortunate to have wonderful teachers who brought their expertise in their respective fields, as well as their passion for teaching and mentoring the next generation of public service leaders. The Capstone Program with David Schachter’s was also a transformative moment for me professionally. It went beyond helping me reflect on my career goals; it helped me verbalize and put those goals into action.

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 tried to spend as much time as possible attending speaker events as I could. Outside of the classroom, I developed a network of brilliant, driven and inspiring peers who were passionate about education, immigration and other social justice issue. My peers have challenged me to be critical of my work and to be proud of our collective impact in the public sphere.

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 wish I had been more involved with WISE, a student group committed to discussions of intersectionality in public service. Intersectionality is in important analytical tool to frame justice issues and to drive action. As a group, I think we had some impact in classroom discussions, but I wish there had been more impact on the culture of the University. We were successful in hosting a conference during an admitted student weekend to discuss justice issues through this lens. I believe our discussions were the groundwork for others who joined Wagner to continue to bring intersectionality into the classroom. I hope that the discussion continues.

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 have attended several alumni events and remain connected with several peers. In addition, I have been connected with prospective students and participated on a career panel to share my experience academically and professional. Several of these connections have been made through remaining in touch with faculty.

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 worked throughout my Wagner career to help offset the cost of tuition and living expenses. I also took out educational loans to supplement that income. This investment in my education was difficult to shoulder, but in the long-term, I fully expect to find meaningful and challenging work.