UI introduces new Master of Public Affairs Program

This fall the University of Iowa reintroduced a master’s program in public affairs. This program prepares students to work in the public sector in a variety of different fields and disciplines.


Tate Hildyard

The University of Iowa Public Policy Building is seen on Wednesday, October 7th, 2020.

Morgan Ungs, News Reporter

This fall, the University of Iowa reintroduced a Masters of Public Affairs interdisciplinary program, the only one of its kind in the state of Iowa.

The program, which admitted nine students this semester, aims to equip students with tools to tackle complex systemic problems from an administrative level  — pandemics, health care, environmental change, racism, and public safety to name a few.

The program’s Director Chuck Connerly said that, because Iowa hasn’t had a Masters of Public Affairs program until this point, the state has had to do outreach to other states to fill in public administration positions.

“We saw both a need and an opportunity,” Connerly said. “The need being that people weren’t being trained in public affairs or public administration in the state of Iowa at a major research university or in an accredited program.”

The UI’s task is to create an interdisciplinary degree that allows graduates of the program to serve in these local or federal administrative positions, Connerly said, or even for jobs such as working for administration in nonprofits or the Department of Natural Resources.

Many of the core classes will be in the School of Planning and Public Affairs, Connerly said, but the elective classes will be in units across campus. Some of these departments include Criminology and Law, the College of Business, College of Health, Sustainability, Geography, Journalism, Political Science, and English.

School of Planning and Public Affairs Associate Professor Phuong Nguyen said local communities face complex problems that require mastery of public affairs work, especially lately.

“[Communities] need people with skills and knowledge to deal with those problems and our program is very interdisciplinary in nature, so our students are exposed to analytical methods in order to understand the problems,” Nguyen said.

RELATED: UI seeks approval from regents for numerous program changes

The program’s Associate Director Lucie Laurian said COVID-19, the derecho, and the Black Lives Matter movement are examples of complex issues that require a high level of thinking and organization from the public sector. She said there are a lot of special skills required to work in public affairs.

“Managerial skills, communication skills, strategic planning skills, some HR as well as state, federal, politics, grant writing laws and bills — all these are skills that are higher level, so that’s why we need a separate degree for that,” Laurian said.

Nine students are enrolled in the program. Laurian said the UI hopes to keep the program smaller so it can cater to all students’ needs.

The program is made up from students in a range of age groups, which Laurian said is important because older students that come back to continue their education can teach students coming right out of their undergraduate program skills that they might not know otherwise. Younger students are also able to bring different views and knowledge of important policies and politics than older students might.

Classes in the program will be offered in the evening to allow students with day jobs to obtain the degree, Nguyen said.

“These students can take those courses in other schools, colleges, and disciplines we have so they can broaden their skills for life,” she said. “We believe that we could provide students with the adequate skills so that they can hit the ground running to sustain local governments.”