February 2019 Alumni Spotlight
February Alumni Spotlight with Ben Stang, MPA ‘16
For many in the Marxe community, philanthropy is a way to turn passion into action. We speak to alumnus and Associate Program Officer at the Helmsley Charitable Trust about this role, his experience with Marxe’s signature study away program, The Washington Semester, and more.
Tell us about the Helmsley Charitable Trust. What do you do as Associate Program Officer at the Helmsley Charitable Trust? What got you interested in fundraising and charity?
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust is a private foundation that strives to make meaningful positive change by supporting exceptional efforts in health and select place-based initiatives. I work in the Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) Program, which is dedicated to improving the lives of all people with T1D. Specifically, I work within a portfolio focusing on improving health outcomes. To accomplish this, we make grants to a wide variety of organizations, and work alongside major players in government, academia, and the private sector. Working in philanthropy is a special opportunity because it allows you to see the entire landscape of a subject and try to move the needle in a forward-thinking direction. Of course, with that comes an inherent responsibility to connect the dots and take risks that others wouldn’t.
Philanthropy wasn’t something that was on my radar until I was in the MPA program, and I’m so happy that I was exposed to it! It’s natural that philanthropy comes up when learning about the nonprofit world and public sector because it is sort of this outside player that fills in gaps and advances the field. During my second year of the MPA program I interned with The New York State Health Foundation, and after graduating worked at a Federally Qualified Health Center where I was writing grant applications and overseeing grant-funded programs. Being on both sides of the equation really solidified the decision that I wanted to dedicate my career to testing ideas, sharing best practices, and improving people’s lives.
You participated in one of the School’s signature student opportunities, The Washington Semester. Can you tell us about that experience?
The Washington Semester is a wonderful opportunity and it absolutely jumpstarted my career. I came into the program with an interest in health policy but no tangible work experience. Michael Feller, who oversees the program, really worked with me in developing a plan to find a placement site and even connected me with students who had previously participated in the program. I was lucky enough to land an internship in the Policy and Research Department at PhRMA, the trade association representing the country’s leading biopharmaceutical research and discovery companies. It was a unique introduction to the American health care system and really a quintessential DC experience. The courses in The Washington Semester are also a lot of fun and taught by great professors, Carla Robbins and Sonia Jarvis. Both have incredible knowledge of the inner workings of Washington and the classes are designed to coincide with what is happening in the news cycle. In retrospect I owe a lot of where I am today to the program because one thing led to another from there. I can’t recommend it enough, especially for folks early in their careers.
Why did you decide to get your MPA straight out of the completion of your undergraduate studies? What are some highlights of your Marxe MPA experience?
When I was finishing undergrad at Binghamton University, I knew I wanted to do something within the realm of what the MPA program prepares you for but didn’t know where to start. I held a couple internships while at Binghamton but nothing substantial enough to really sink my teeth into, which I think is common for a lot of young people fresh out of college. The MPA program at Baruch was extremely valuable in terms of coursework that directly related to the real-world and providing me skills that I still use today. Looking back, the overarching theme that I found in all my classes was taking complex problems and distilling them into something digestible and easy to understand. Being able to cut through pages of buzzwords and acronyms to identify the main issue is an acquired skill and appreciated by everyone around you!
Most importantly, the Marxe MPA made me aware of all the career possibilities that are out there. Baruch really opened doors to opportunities that otherwise would have been shut had I attempted to navigate my early postgraduate years without it.