Sarah Golding has spent 14 years helping young people who are coping with mental illness make the transition to adulthood and independence.
Now a transitional-age case manager for the state Department of Mental Health (DMH), Golding wants to advocate for her 17- to 25-year-old clients as a group. So she’s earning her Master of Public Administration degree part-time while working full-time.
“It’s a unique time in their development. They need to learn to self-advocate. They need to learn independent living skills and determine what type of future they want for themselves, all while managing a major, chronic mental health condition,” she says. “A lot of our caseworkers are doing a great job trying to meet their needs, but traditionally services have been focused either on children and adolescents or adults, so those transitional-age youth can sometimes fall into a gap.”
Golding says the M. P. A. program offers an ideal balance of core administrative classes with electives in her track, human services management.
“There’s so much flexibility and it’s so interdisciplinary that you can take the classes that will best serve your needs,” she says. “My first semester, I was able to take an elective in public health, Social and Behavioral Determinants of Public Health. That was perfect for me.”
Golding has lived in Lowell for the past decade – and she loves the city, even though it means she has a long commute for work. Being able to take evening classes right near her home is “huge.” She also knows she can take some classes online, if need be – although she prefers taking classes in person, especially with Asst. Prof. Aaron Smith-Walter, who teaches the core required classes.
“He’s a dynamic professor and is very passionate about public administration – the idea that it’s the foundation upon which the country functions,” she says.
It’s the same passion that led Golding to pursue an M.P.A. degree, instead of an MBA or a master’s of clinical psychology. Public service and advocacy, whether through a nonprofit or a government agency, is her calling, she says.
“The Department of Mental Health is there to protect people and make sure that what happens is based on what individuals need,” she says. “What I hope to do with this degree is promote best practices for working with transitional-age youth, both within the agency and among our third-party providers.”