COVID-19 Series: NYU Wagner Alumni in Action - Social Services

The “COVID-19 Series: NYU Wagner Alumni in Action” continued on Thursday, October 22 with its second event in a four-part series. Moderated again by Gordon Campbell, Clinical Professor of Public Service and Director of EMPA-Public Service Leaders Program, the panel discussion featured Wagner alumni working in the field of social services, focusing on how their organizations have responded to the pandemic.

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan (PhD 1995) discussed his experience as Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, overseeing the opening of pop-up pantries and food stations as food insecurity has nearly doubled compared to last year. Jennifer Jones Austin (EMPA 1996), CEO and Executive Director of Federal Protestant Welfare Agencies, relayed how her work was impacted on the policy side in developing state-wide, race-conscious policies to address New York’s high rates of poverty. Bringing in a more local, Lower East Side perspective, Alan van Capelle (EMPA 2012) emphasized the importance of early partnerships made in community-oriented service delivery as the President and CEO of Educational Alliance. Finally, Erasma Beras-Monticciolo (MPA-PNP 2009) talked about how, as the Executive Director at Power of Two, her organization works with family services to address inequities in what they consider to be a triple pandemic: one of health, race, and economics.

All panelists agreed that the most vital component of their COVID-19 response was anticipating challenges and acting quickly. Jones-Austin reflected, “You always have to be thinking two, three, four, five, even six steps ahead…We had to be in the moment, be responsive to the challenges that were presented at the moment, but always be thinking about what challenges that might bring down the line.” In van Capelle’s case with Educational Alliance, it was identifying what they did well and implementing further execution., This resulted in organizational restructure to cope with shifts in operations. Beras-Monticciolo recognized that the pandemic brought to light an already present digital divide; in order to uphold the quality of their programs, Power of Two expanded their services by incorporating technology support and even fundraising to provide families with internet access.

In reflecting on how their COVID-19 response was influenced by their Wagner experience, Mgsr. Sullivan was grateful for the data-driven education: “You need good analytical ability and know how to deal with imperfect data. If you don’t have the analytical ability to look at what’s going on, you’re not going to make the right response to a situation…The skillset of the Wagner curriculum really helped to focus on some of the analytics needed to make a good response, particularly in emergency situations.”