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New MPA Degree Offers Unique Track in Public Humanities and Arts

Human Service and Justice Administration Tracks Also Meet Regional Need

Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian; Elizabeth Cerda, administrative attorney in the Massachusetts District Court Department; and Ken Lavallee, former Lowell Police superintendent, at the launch event. Photo by Tory Germann
Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, district court administrative attorney Elizabeth Cerda and former Lowell Police Chief Ken Lavallee spoke about justice administration at the formal launch of the Master of Public Administration program.

02/01/2017
By Katharine Webster

Danielle Moriarty '11 works at a nonprofit community arts center in Concord, helping to organize classes and school workshops on everything from ceramics to Bollywood dancing. 

A visual artist who previously taught at a private therapeutic school, Moriarty also volunteers at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. She says UMass Lowell’s new Master of Public Administration degree, with its unique track in public humanities and the arts, is preparing her to work at a broad range of arts organizations.

“I had been looking at museum studies programs, but was worried that would be too narrow a niche,” says Moriarty, who earned her undergraduate degree in liberal arts with concentrations in art history and psychology. “This degree is more of an umbrella, bringing together management of cultural organizations with expertise in running nonprofits.”

A handful of private colleges in New England offer master’s degrees in arts administration, museum studies or public humanities. But UMass Lowell’s M.P.A. in public humanities and the arts combines fundamentals of all three with an internationally recognized degree that will open more doors, says Michael Millner, associate professor of English and coordinator of the arts and humanities track.

The M.P.A. program, which admitted its first cohort of students last fall in a soft launch, also includes two other concentrations that will meet growing job needs in the region: justice administration, for people who want to work in the courts, corrections, law enforcement and related nonprofits; and human services management, for people who want to work in government agencies and nonprofits, says Thomas Piñeros-Shields, program director and full-time lecturer in sociology.

The interdisciplinary program is expected to attract students with degrees in fields from music to criminal justice and history, as well as working professionals who want to advance their careers. Students can attend part-time or full-time, and undergraduates can take advantage of the bachelor’s-to-master’s option, taking up to four graduate classes as undergraduates. Eventually, some classes will be offered online.
Gary Wallace, executive director of the Lowell Housing Authority, talks with Assoc. Prof. Thomas Pineros-Shields, head of the new M.P.A. program, at the launch event. Photo by Tory Germann
Gary Wallace, executive director of the Lowell Housing Authority, chats with Thomas Pineros-Shields, director of the new MPA program.

At a public launch event for regional leaders in all three areas, Gary Wallace, executive director of the Lowell Housing Authority and president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Society of Public Administration, said his agency is a perfect example of why the program is needed: A 2014 state law reforming public housing authorities, passed after several scandals, requires him to certify that key employees in his agency have advanced degrees.

“An MPA degree is becoming more and more valuable,” Wallace said.

In the university’s program, all students start off with core courses in policy analysis, funding and budgeting, organizational leadership and data research. They branch out in their second year, taking more courses in their areas of concentration.

“Incorporating all the electives for arts and cultural institutions is really going to give me a good foundation to go in a lot of different directions,” says Moriarty, who’s planning on taking an art history course on museums and a grant-writing class offered through the Psychology Department.
Administrators from the Lowell National Historical Park, Pollard Library and other nonprofits discuss the public humanities and arts track with professors. Photo by Tory Germann
Asst. Prof. Aaron Smith-Walter, the first faculty member hired for the new MPA program, talks to administrators from area arts and humanities organizations.

Public humanities and arts students also can take advantage of the area’s many cultural organizations — from Boston-area museums to the Lowell National Historical Park and Lowell Folk Festival — to complete their required practicum.

Students in the justice administration track will take graduate classes in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies, ranging from Criminal Justice Research Design to Alternative Dispute Resolution. Those in human services administration can elect graduate classes in psychology and sociology.

Dara Duong '16, who graduated last spring with a double-major in psychology and political science and a minor in Asian Studies, joined the M.P.A. program last fall. He works part-time, too, but his passion is volunteering at the SayDaNar Community Development Center in Lowell, which helps Burmese refugees; an immigrant himself, Duong runs the after-school program and coordinates volunteers. He says he’s already putting the leadership skills he’s learning into practice.

“One of the best skills I’ve learned is how to motivate people to come together as a team,” he says. “This program has really helped me a lot, giving me hands-on experience in dealing with people. I’m not in it to make money, but to help people, because that’s what makes me happy.”