January 2023 Student Spotlight
In our first student spotlight of 2023, we hear from Henry Chen who tells us about his role as Safety Manager at the MTA Headquarters’ Office of the Chief Safety Officer, his role as team leader for the BSPA program’s consulting project, and more.
Can you tell us about your work as Safety Manager at the MTA Headquarters’ Office of the Chief Safety Officer?
Of course, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is the largest transit system in North America. People call us the arteries and veins of New York City. It’s our mission to provide safe, on-time, reliable, and clean transportation services to the residents of the Greater New York Region.
As a Safety Manager in the MTA Headquarters agency, my role is to provide overarching support for the Office of the Chief Safety Officer to see to it that all agencies are up-to-date and compliant with all safety related matters. My department promotes safety, strategy, and policy. I collect all types of relevant organizational-wide data and create active dashboards for leadership to make data-driven decisions in real-time. This was especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic when the MTA was in crisis management mode.
I am also the project manager overseeing several federally funded grant projects for the MTA to improve railroad grade crossing safety. From 2020 to now, through the work of my department, the MTA has been awarded over $40 million dollars from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for safety improvement projects. As a project manager, I coordinate the work of several stakeholders including the state, local, municipal, and MTA agencies, as well as vendors and contractors. This is particularly important as a public manager because I track how the taxpayers’ monies are spent.
How has your role and the work you do changed since the pandemic began?
During the pandemic, my priorities shifted from normal duties to COVID-related safety matters and helped create the MTA Vaccination Program, Weekly Vax or Test Program, and the Contact Tracing Program, which I led. I also created an on-going COVID chronological events report and dashboards for reports to leadership. I kept all policies and procedures up-to-date and compliant with the ever-changing CDC guidelines.
Communicating new policies remotely to other agencies and asking for compliance from groups of people I’ve never met in person can be challenging. Reflecting on what has happened in the past three years, I can’t help but notice that a lot the old ways of annual agenda planning and routine work has shifted to managing crises. We have been forced to learn new technology and develop new ways of doing things. As a result, the MTA as a whole, and myself are more resilient than before.
You’ve got nearly 15 years of public service experience. How did you find this career path? Is it rewarding?
So, when I graduated with an undergrad degree in biology, I was immediately hired by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to work on a federally funded deterrence program called BioWatch. My first civil service title was Industrial Hygienist. My work at the DEP led me into the field of environmental health & safety (EHS). I appreciate playing a role in protecting the environment. Later, the MTA offered a more challenging role with more things to learn and still be able to do EHS work in a transit setting, so here I am.
More students tend to opt for business schools than public affairs schools. However, contrary to popular belief, working in public service can be just as, if not, more rewarding than working in the private sector. I gained a greater understanding of how the government functions and my contributions could result in bettering many people’s lives. The public sector has many benefits, such as tuition reimbursement for this MPA program, pension and medical, as well as a great work-life-balance. We don’t have bottom lines like in for-profit companies and my bosses are more like mentors to me. I have made many life-long friends here. I like my job and enjoy what I do because I find it rewarding. I wouldn’t trade this for a private sector job.
What drew you to the Marxe School?
I’ve always wanted to get an MPA because I want to learn management theory and skills to be a better practitioner. The pandemic allowed me a lot more time at home and I started to think more seriously about my future. After some research, I found out that the Marxe Public Affairs program was ranked #1 in New York City and it is highly ranked nationwide as well. Marxe offers online options, tuition rate is of great value, the school is located in midtown and close to my office, and the GRE waiver was icing on the cake. I grew up in New York City, I have many friends that graduated from Baruch. Every one of them had great reviews of the school.
Tell us about your consulting project and role as team leader for the Marxe School’s BSPA program.
In the Public and Nonprofit Management II course, students are organized into consulting teams and assigned organizational clients. My team worked with Associate Dean Hilary Botein and we focused on the Bachelor of Science in Public Affairs (BSPA) program. Our charge was to assess enrollment in the program and advise on growing it with students from Baruch College.
I actually took on the team leader role about halfway through the semester at the request of my colleague, who needed to tend to family responsibilities, and Professor Neil Hernandez. The role was challenging because we had to think through the purpose of Public Affairs education at the undergraduate level, yet the project was exciting because we looked at it through our perspectives as practitioners.
The team and I met with Hilary, program faculty and staff, as well as collected and assessed data. We applied course concepts and tools, including performance management, and prepared a report and presented it to her. We made some recommendations that could help the school be more active in recruiting these students.