A Fully Funded MPA and Hands-on Experience: Robin Selwitz on the National Urban Fellows Program

Mar 28, 2018
Robin Selwitz (far right) with her cohort of National Urban Fellows

The National Urban Fellows Program was established in 1969 to help young leaders grow academically and personally. The program, which culminates in a Masters in Public Administration from Baruch College’s Austin W. Marxe School of International and Public Affairs, involves four semesters of classes and a mentorship assignment that lasts nine months. During this assignment, the fellow is placed with an experienced and accomplished mentor in the public or private sector who personally guides the fellow as he or she gains hands-on experience in administration. The fellowship provides a $25,000 stipend, health insurance, a book allowance, relocation and travel reimbursements, full payment of tuition, and excellent personal and professional development. After the fellowship, fellows apply their newly developed leadership skills and knowledge to further their commitments to equity and social justice through their work.

We talked to Robin Selwitz, a current National Urban Fellow, to see how the fellowship has benefited her and what she thinks makes a great application.

1. What inspired you to apply for the National Urban Fellows Master of Public Administration Fellowship?

I was working for a small global health technology company last year. I loved my job, and my role had expanded to include more leadership, but I wanted to learn how to be a better and more effective leader. I knew the best way to do that was to find mentorship or to go back to school for management. Frequently in smaller companies, departments will only consist of a few people, so finding a mentor can be difficult. At the same time, I had been getting increasingly interested and passionate about politics and public policy, and I saw the necessity of a new generation of leaders and change agents in this country.

Grad school had been something on my mind since I had graduated from college, and I was wandering through a grad school fair one day and got lost trying to leave. I happened to stumble upon the National Urban Fellows booth, and the President of the organization, Miguel Garcia, talked to me. He explained how I could get first-hand mentorship experience with a leader in the public sector while getting a highly subsidized graduate degree and a stipend! It was a way to not only gain mentorship but also get a degree in management (more specifically, a Masters of Public Administration). I was inspired by the mission of the program, which was to help empower and promote women and minority leaders since they are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles. It felt like fate that I ended up at that booth! I applied, went through the semifinalist interviews, and three months later was packing my bags to go to NYC!

2. What are the benefits of the fellowship?

This program allows you to obtain a Masters in Public Administration for virtually free (you do pay a co-investment fee, and there are a few other expenses, but the vast majority of tuition is paid for). The degree is through Austin W. Marxe School of International and Public Affairs at Baruch College in NYC. You get a stipend of $25,000 over the course of the 14-month fellowship, as well as health insurance reimbursement, books, travel, and attendance at an annual leadership conference (this year was in Charleston, SC!). During the fellowship, you are placed in a 9-month mentorship assignment somewhere in the country, where you gain hands-on experience from a leader in government, a nonprofit organization, a social enterprise or a philanthropic field. You are connected with alumni from almost 50 years of the program who have achieved success throughout the public sector, such as CEOs, Chief of Staffs, appointed officials, and many more. Most importantly, in my opinion, you are placed with a cohort of students who are going through this whole process with you who become your biggest support system and family.

I have already met so many incredible people and made connections all over the country. I’ve learned so much about the crucial issues impacting this country through my classes, my mentorship at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in DC, the experiences of my classmates, and the alumni I have met. We are living in increasingly tumultuous and trying times in the US, and I firmly believe that the National Urban Fellows program is developing the next generation of leaders needed to tackle these complex problems. I am confident that my master’s degree, new work experience, and connections I’m making will help me in my next career move and throughout the course of my career.

3. What tips would you give others applying to the National Urban Fellows Master of Public Administration Fellowship?

This program consists of both an accelerated Masters Degree AND working full time on top of classes so you really need to be prepared to be going at full speed for 14 months. It’s not an easy program by any means — you are most likely going to be placed in a new state and will be going through this intensive program away from loved ones. You need to go into this program with an open mind and flexible attitude since things can change at any moment. For example, my mentorship site is a federal agency, and projects I have been working on have been shifted or changed due to transitions in leadership, budget cuts, government shutdowns, etc. Because of this, I have been able to work on projects with a focus and complexity that I wouldn’t have been able to if it weren’t for these challenges and barriers. I’ve gained an in-depth knowledge of policy and procedures from a wholly unique perspective. Each fellows’ experience is going to be wholly different from the next, but no matter what, you are going to learn more than you ever imagined. There’s a saying we all use at National Urban Fellows, and it holds true — “Trust the process!” No matter what happens, where are placed in the country, what you’re learning, or where you’re going, it will all work out in the end.

Additionally, build strong relationships with your cohort right away. We were taught on day 1 to use each other for support and we created a group chat to communicate. This has been helpful with keeping up with assignments and giving virtual support as we are dispersed all over the country. No one else will know what you’re going through like your classmates will. Through the friendships we have made, we empower and encourage each other through the toughest of times, and we celebrate our successes together as well. When we graduate and reenter the working world, we will forever be a close network where we can turn to for career advice and opportunities.

Robin Selwitz earned her BA in Psychology and Sociology from Framingham State University. She previously worked for Dimagi, a mobile healthcare technology company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition, she volunteers at Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with cancer and their families. Robin is completing her mentorship at the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency in Washington D.C. and will graduate with her Masters in Public Administration from Baruch College’s Austin W. Marxe School of International and Public Affairs in July of 2018.

Interested in applying? Bookmark the National Urban Fellows Program to your ProFellow account.

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