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Q&A: Jannatara Zaman pursues MPA to become industry expert and take on leadership responsibilities

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Jannatara Zaman is an Employment Development Department liaison for an Assemblymember’s office in District 21. She graduated from the USC Price Master of Public Administration program online in 2019. Zaman discusses how the MPA degree helped her become an industry expert in the field of public administration, which ultimately led to her serving for the State of California.

Q: What factors motivated you to further your education? Did something change in your career, work environment or in your field?

A: There were several factors that motivated me to further my education, but one of the key factors that I would like to highlight here is that I’ve been working in administrative and analytical positions for over 10 years. And that’s when I started getting my passion towards public administration. So, when I was assigned as a professional expert at a county agency, that’s when I realized that I should invest into formal education to gain and polish some professional skills for long-term growth.

Q: How did you first hear about the MPAOL? What drove you to pick the USC Master of Public Administration program online over other graduate programs?

A: I first looked into the professional and graduate programs online at USC. The MPA online program stood out to me because in comparison to the other graduate programs, I understood that the MPA online programs offered a platform that was not about just receiving a degree, but also that it allowed you to grow professionally and improve your professional skills while you’re actually in the program.

Jannatara Zaman

Q: Is there a reason that you chose an online program over an on-campus program?

A: The reason I chose the online program is because I was working full time and I was a new mom. So I was looking toward some flexibility while completing my graduate degree.

Q: What were your outcome goals and desires going into the program?

A: I wanted to become an industry expert in the field of public administration. And my strong desire was that I would be able to take more leadership responsibilities in my career by investing in a Master of Public Administration.

Q: Tell us about your experience in the masters of public administration online program, both the online modality and in-person residencies.

A: The online program is structured in a way that it provides flexibility, but still guards the accountability portion of the program. And it creates a very rich environment in terms of sharing ideas with people that come from different levels of expertise. For instance, students get to be in one frame with someone who is a city manager or mayor, division director or administrator, or simply someone who just graduated from their undergrad. It allows you to contribute and share ideas from different corners of the world in creating a constructive project. And that’s wonderful.

Q: What was your experience with the in-person residencies?

A: So the online platform is so interactive that you get to share ideas with everybody else. And when it comes to the in-person residency, it’s more like seeing your family in person. It creates an environment for everybody to personally connect with other students and teammates.

Q: When you were in the program, how did you balance the demands of study with your other things going on in your life?

A: When I was completing this program, I was working full time and as a new mom. So it has taught me about time management. Yes, it becomes a little stressful, but just like creating work plans for your projects – balancing the social and personal life, prioritizing the work, setting a deadline for the projects, and most importantly, setting a time that you will be only focusing on school work – it really worked out for me. Definitely the online program made me a professional expert in time management.

Q: Did you feel like you were supported by the faculty throughout the program?

A: The online platform creates an environment in which your faculty members become part of your family, as well as your teammates. They know your name, they know your pets and daughters by the time you finish this program. And when you reach out to your professors for any personal matter, they already know what’s going on in your world. That’s how involved it is.

Q: How was your interaction and experience with your professors? What about your fellow students? Do you keep in touch with any of them?

A: My faculty members were approachable throughout the program anytime, and every time I needed to reach out to them, they were there. And that’s very supporting, it’s because you definitely need that support from both your professors and your teammates when completing this program.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your capstone – what was your experience like? What client did you work for? And, what were your takeaways from the capstone?

A: The capstone project is more like a rollercoaster ride. It’s exciting because you get to work on a real project, but it’s also nerve-wracking because it’s very challenging and there are lots of deadlines to meet. I was assigned to a capstone project working with the Santa Clara Valley water agency to develop a sustainability action plan. It was very exciting. We were four in the team and two key lessons that I definitely would like to highlight for any capstone project is that having a solid work plan in the beginning with definite timelines, deadlines, or even individual responses is very important in terms of creating a constructive project. At the same time, communication is the key. Keeping everyone updated on your work progress, making sure that they have feelings of support, and that they will be there when you need the help.

Q: How soon were you able to directly apply the skills you learned into your professional role and what knowledge or skills that you learned in the MPAOL were most impactful to you?

A: I was able to directly apply the skills that I was learning during grad school on an immediate basis. So as I was learning, I was able to use them in my workplace. There were so many important concepts that I learned and was able to apply directly to my professional role, such as time management, fact findings and collecting data, and making reports to analyze that data.

Q: Would you recommend the MPAOL degree to a prospective student? What advice would you give them?

A: I would highly recommend the MPA online degree to prospective students. And the advice that I would like to give them is that the network you build during this program, it’s very strong and will help you in the future, in the long term. At the same time, it allows you to polish your professional skills to improve and be successful in your career in public administration.

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