Martin Senterfitt, chief of Jacksonville’s Emergency Preparedness Division, was
looking for a few good candidates to fill out his 13-member staff, he didn’t
have to look far.
a 2005 graduate from the University of North Florida’s Master of Public
Administration program, went straight back to his alma mater.
a quality program that produces educated students with a strong interest in
public service,” he said. “I’d know that better than anyone, being a graduate
myself. It’s why I’ve hired many other [UNF] M.P.A. grads.”
George Candler, the director of the program, said
UNF’s M.P.A. degree has one of the most visible alumni bases of any graduate
Other than Senterfitt, prominent alumni also
include Jimmy Orth, the executive director of the St. Johns Riverkeeper; David
Shoar, St. Johns County Sheriff; and Jim Overton, Duval County property appraiser.
“We’re represented in pretty much every level of government
across Northeast Florida,” Candler said. “It’s a good feeling because that’s
just more validation that the program is thriving. There’s no better indicator
than seeing a strong network of alumni employed locally.”
The program caters to mid-career professionals,
offering almost all courses in the evening, usually from 6 to 8:45 p.m.
Internships and online courses are all offered to help prospective students
juggle the demands of their jobs while still pursuing their education.
And with five different
concentrations in key areas of public administration — general administration, health administration, local
government policy and administration, national security and non-profit
management — the program is well suited
for dozens of different public-sector positions.
Candler said the vast majority of M.P.A. students
stay in the region to work.
a community-centered approach that UNF takes seriously.
why UNF was classified as a community-engaged college by the Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a higher education policy center in
Stanford, Calif., in 2010.
a product of the program, I know the quality of the education UNF provides for
its public administration students,” Senterfitt said. “They’re tested in and
out of class and have a deep insight into how local government operates. It’s
an easy choice when we have UNF graduates as candidates because we know what
we’re getting. We’re getting quality.”
UNF M.P.A. graduate pool has been a vital source of manpower for Senterfitt’s
department. He currently has five UNF M.P.A. graduates on staff. He said he
would likely hire another if he had an additional open job.
of his most recent hires, Emergency Planner Donald Postway,
already graduated from UNF in 2005 with a bachelor’s in communication and a
concentration in public relations before taking a position within the Emergency
worked at a small marketing firm shortly after graduating with his bachelor’s,
but he said the profit-driven style of business left him feeling cold. He
wanted to do something more community-driven and less focused on the bottom
led him back to the familiar confines of UNF. He said his dream has always been
to pursue a doctoral degree, and he used his discontent with his private-sector
position as the driving force behind his quest for a graduate degree.
a degree program didn’t take long. Postway said he minored in political science
for his undergraduate degree, but he knew he would never want to be a
politician. And his brief foray into the business world made it clear that he
wanted something more than just a paycheck.
wanted a way to use my skills and abilities to help the public, so a master’s
in public administration made perfect sense,” Postway said. “I could either
learn to be a public servant or a non-profit organization employee and use my
knowledge to help the community.”
pulled odd hours at a nearby restaurant and picked up some freelance
communication work to make ends meet, but he never lost sight of his end goal.
wanted to hold that graduate degree in his hand and find a position that used
his skills to improve the city he’s lived in for years.
colleague, Laura Black, followed a different
career path but ended up with a job as a mitigation
and recovery program coordinator within the same department. The Allen D. Nease High School graduate went to
Florida State University for a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary social science
and started working after college for FEMA as an independent contractor. She
conducted household damage assessments after hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and
Wilma, and the stories she heard from impacted homeowners stuck with her.
“Seeing the damage caused to the
communities I visited, I wanted to do more to help the people I met,” Black
said. “That’s why the M.P.A. program seemed to be a perfect fit. My family all
lives in Jacksonville, so UNF was the perfect fit as well. It also helped
that the classes I needed to earn an M.P.A. degree were at night, so I was
still able to work while I went to school.”
Degree on your time
said he hired both Black and Postway because of their advanced degrees and
their field experience. Each had multiple internships under their belts and a
firm understanding of the public administration landscape.
expect no less after what he went through to receive his own degree. Senterfitt
was already rising through the ranks of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue
Department when he realized he needed a higher-ranking degree to continue his
pushed himself through night classes after pulling long hours with the fire
department. But he stayed motivated, he said, because he knew his degree would
help him rise to the top of the administrative food chain.
I applied for the position with the Emergency Preparedness Division, I was the
only candidate with a master’s,” he said. “It made me look like an even better
candidate. I’d attribute my degree greatly to my success.”
Ready for anything
Senterfitt said the long-term employment potential of the degree isn’t its only
benefit. The graduate program offers intense, hands-on training that could
benefit anyone in the public administration field.
agrees. He said he learned a lot about managing employees, making the best use
of the bureaucratic systems of governments and organizations and analyzing
data. Those skills have helped him learn on his feet, a necessary strength in
such a fast-paced field. Once he was hired, Postway said he was ready to hit
the ground running.
of the best things is that you leave school with a toolbox, not a template,” he
writes emergency plans for Duval County, to prepare for anything from a flood
to a hurricane. He is also responsible for gathering all the different city
agencies together and helping them decide how their agencies will work together
in a time of crisis.
love it because it gives me a chance to learn about many different interesting
topics,” he said. “I hope that a plan I wrote never has to be activated, but
it’s comforting to know that we have it covered if the situation ever arose.”
said the program pushed her out of her comfort zone and forced her to interact
extensively with city workers at every level of local government.
One day might involve giving a
presentation on a project. The next might include a host of
One thing, however, is certain.
“I’m always on center stage
speaking to people,” Black said. “And I’m prepared every step of the way
because of the UNF M.P.A. program.”
he remembers his time in UNF’s M.P.A. program fondly. He spent time in class
with a diverse array of current and future public servants — police officers, city
government employees and fellow fire and rescue workers — who were driven to
give back to their communities.
undercurrent of public service helped guide him through the program and still
shapes his policy decisions to this day, he said.
“It prepared me
for anything that’s thrown at me,” Senterfitt said. “I wouldn’t be as qualified
or as knowledgeable in the field without having the educational background. I
spent many years working in the field at the ground level, but the master’s
program gave me the chance to take a step back and see how everything fits
Black and Postway said their long-term plans revolve around making consistent
contributions to the communities where they work.
a simple mantra, but it can be hard for many employees to accomplish over the
course of their careers.
Black said the M.P.A. program gave her the tools to advance up the career
ladder while still acting as a dedicated public servant.
long-term plan is to continue to make
positive impacts on my community,” she said. “My M.P.A. degree has given me the knowledge and experience to be well-equipped
to help members of the community in many ways that will not only fulfill me but
inspire those around me in a real way.”