April 2016 Alumni Spotlight
April Alumni Spotlight with Renee Gasper, Executive MPA ’12
Graduate school isn’t an obvious choice for every working professional. But there are those who come to realize that to make an impact (even if just in their own lives), a graduate degree can help achieve beyond what they thought possible. Renee walks us through a typical day and what it takes to support a U.S. Senator, her desire to serve as a role model to other young American Indians, why she decided to get her MPA, and more.
Can you offer a day-to-day overview of what it’s like to perform your duties in support of the United States Senate?
I’m the administrative director in the personal office of Senator Tom Udall (of my home state of New Mexico) and among my duties, I oversee the administrative and operations end of the Washington office and five state offices; manage the office budget; supervise the front office staff and systems administrator; and oversee the office internship program. In the Senate, you never know what the day will be like depending on what’s on the floor of the Senate, but I usually start each day reviewing the office schedule to see how busy things look for the front office staff and try to check with them throughout the day to see how busy the phones are and get a sense of the issues constituents may be calling about. In between, I might be reconciling staff travel and office billing; handling an issue or question that relates to a Rules or Ethics Committee rule or our office policy; work on coordinating logistics and planning for our annual office all-staff meeting; and/or address a security issue or question. There’s really a number of things that can and do come up throughout the day.
What have you learned in this role?
In this role, one of the things I’ve learned from the most and appreciated is the management experience I’ve gained over the past several years and continue to learn from it daily. I also hope to be a supervisor that actively encourages and supports my team in gaining experience and taking advantage of the opportunities available to them in their current role so that it benefits them when the time comes for them to either return to school or move on to another position or job. I started out as an intern and staff assistant just like them and valued the encouragement I received from staff back then so I always hope the same for them.
Why did you decide to come back to school for your MPA (and subsequently, your Executive MPA) after having graduated almost a decade earlier?
Attending graduate school was a personal goal of mine so it was something I was determined to do no matter how long it may have taken me to get there. Also, as an American Indian, I know that the number of those of us who continue on to post-secondary education is lower compared to the total population so my hope was to maybe serve as a role model to young Natives and show them that this is something that they can also go on to achieve. I also think that the time I had in between undergraduate and graduate school allowed me to really think about and decide on the program and degree I was interested in pursuing. Being on the Hill, most of those I knew who left to go back to school were either going on to law school or public policy programs and I wasn’t particularly interested in either. As I looked into MPA programs more and at the same time was gaining more experience in the Senate, the more certain I was that an MPA program would be the best fit for me. Now that it’s all said and done, as challenging as it was to juggle work and school (and the commute), I’m incredibly grateful for the experience I had being part of Executive MPA Cohort 27 and I’m content knowing that I did this one thing for myself.
What were some of your favorite classes and most vital things you learned at Baruch College?
The courses I probably most enjoyed were 9140 Budgeting, Accounting and Financial Management; 9151 Administration of Not-For-Profit and Voluntary Agencies; 9139 Communication Strategy; and the Capstone Seminar (I had a great thesis group!). As someone who didn’t have any nonprofit experience going in to the program, I was unsure of how I would be able to connect to the curriculum, but I’m glad for the opportunity I had to gain insight into nonprofits and still hope that one day I might be able to gain firsthand experience by working for one. In addition, I enjoy how I can read through a news article now and still relate it to a class I was in – it’s often that I’ll read about an organizational issue or just be able to identify the possibility of an underlying one and think about how it can be turned into a case study (which I also really enjoyed reading) or to a policy issue that we would have dissected in our policy analysis course. In this sense, I feel like I continue to benefit from my experience in the program on a daily basis.