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MPA Q&A: Online student Jivin Seward learns lessons in leadership

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Master of Public Administration online student Jivin Seward is a Facilities Manager for the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Despite working on USC’s campus, Jivin wanted the flexibility of an online education. Seward, who is graduating in 2024, discusses the leadership skills he’s developed in the program and how they have helped him grow professionally.

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

A: I actually had just received a promotion, so I was going to be a manager here at USC. I just wanted to make sure I had a platform for better leadership skills and management skills in tow. I also had a mentor and a supervisor who was an alumni and spoke very highly of this program and the online modality. And that was something that clued me into definitely looking into the program more. Those two things hand in hand were the motivation to apply.

Q: What drove you to pick the USC MPA online over other graduate programs?

A: I heard about the programs through my supervisor. Again, she was an alumni of the program, so that was one of the first information sessions, I guess you could say. She spoke very highly of the program and really what drew me to pursue this degree was some of the ideas that she had outlined for leadership, management, and professional development. I also really appreciated that I could take the program part-time while working full-time. Trying to balance school, social life, and everything else that comes with just living in Los Angeles to me was a huge factor in deciding to take this program. 

MPA online student Jivin Steward is learning lessons in leadership

Q: Is there a reason you chose online vs. in-person learning?

A: For me, choosing the online program was because of the flexibility that it had. It was just easier versus trying to take courses during a work day. I mean, working nine to five every day, it’s hard to get into a classroom and negotiate the time that you need with your supervisors.

The flexibility to take classes at home in the evening and work on homework on the weekends was a schedule that was really attractive. Starting the class week on a Wednesday and ending on a Tuesday and having Saturdays and Sundays to complete a lot of assignments was to me key in choosing this program.

Q: What are your outcome goals and desires for the program?

A: When I do finish the program, I really aim to expand on my leadership qualities and really understand what type of leader I am. I’ve gained so much insight into who that person is and who that person is going to become just by taking the classes in the program. I’ve improved as I would just say, a person in general and in just really, really understanding what things professionally I’m capable of. And, also seeing maybe some deficiencies that I need to work on – it’s not always about policy, it’s about the development of the person as well. And I think that’s something that this program has really helped me with.

Q: How has your experience in the program been so far?

A: I enjoy the program a lot. You think taking classes online is pretty siloed. You would think sitting in front of a computer on Zoom in lectures and with other students is isolating. But, we have so many opportunities to do group work and connect with our fellow classmates that I’ve had nothing but great experiences here. I’ve got some lifelong friends and people that I’ve worked really well with. I also have people that I haven’t worked well with, but to overcome some of those challenges I think is a part of that process that you need sometimes – because you’re not going to agree with everybody. Overall, I think the experience that I’ve had has been really positive. 

Q:  How do you balance the demands of study with your life, both personal and professional?

A: Balancing work, life, and being a student is not easy. You do have to really have a lot of intention around where and when you’re going to spend your time – knowing that all these different responsibilities require some amount of effort and energy. Throughout the workday, I know work is what I’m going to focus on. But as soon as five o’clock hits, and I brave the one hour traffic home, I’m going to spend two or three hours breathing, studying, or working on a group responsibility. You need to just schedule your time effectively. 

Also, I’m a very social person. I like to go out on the weekends. A reward that I use is making sure that I’ve completed my responsibilities – whether it be a discussion post or research for group work or part of an assignment that is due. My reward for completing those things is to be with friends and family, and that’s how I balance things. I just know that I have an allotment of time for things and then there are rewards that I can have, and that reward is being social and allowing myself that freedom.

Q: How has your interaction and experience been with your professors?

A: My interactions with professors have been really good. I want to shout out Dr. D, one of the favorites, of course! But I’ve really enjoyed all of my experiences and interactions with all my professors. It’s been a sliding scale of experience. Some I interact with more than others, some I have different relationships with – [they can be more] personal or more professional. [I know that] they’re really supportive of us and that they understand the time and energy that it takes to work on assignments, which has been really helpful. 

Q: How has your interaction and experience been with your fellow students?

A: My interactions with fellow students have also been very good. Being in an online program, sitting in front of a monitor on Zoom and in lectures, getting together across from them on Zoom for group meetings, you think that you’re siloed and isolated, but really it’s not the case. There are so many times that you can interact with other students so that you can build relationships. 

A lot of people talk about that Trojan network, and really that Trojan network begins with you right before you can even reach out to somebody else. It starts with building those relationships in these classes. I think that this program provides those opportunities and a foundation that you can really get to know other people in your classes, understand who they are, commiserate at times, and work on assignments that you all are passionate about. 

So with those experiences, I’ve had some really good times with fellow classmates and I’ve got lifelong friends. I know that I’ll be able to reach out to them when something comes up and I might need their help.

Q: Is there a project you’ve done in the program that you are particularly proud of? How do you think it has helped prepare you for the future?

A: A project I’m particularly proud of is in the nonprofit course that I took with Dr. Rawlings. I had a group there that I just really enjoyed working with – all amazing people from different backgrounds. We just worked so well together and that was probably one of the most positive experiences I’ve had with other students. The assignment itself led to really understanding foundations and groups and just the approach that we took and really getting into researching a holistic view of it. And, it just worked really well. All of the ideas that we had, every group meeting that we had was productive, no idea was intangible. We all just really allowed people to be safe and comfortable and share what they thought we could do with this assignment. 

It was that group in that non-profit course that I took with Dr. Rawlings that was probably the most impactful. And really the takeaway I have from it is that holistic approach. I see myself as a problem solver, but sometimes that A to B pathway is not always the best case. Sometimes you need B and C, and D and E, and other ideas and thoughts to collaboratively work on some issue or problem. 

Q: Would you recommend the MPA degree online to a prospective student? If so, what advice would you give them?

A: I would recommend the MPA online for prospective students, and the advice I would give them is be ready for a challenge. Understand that it is not easy, but it is doable. Dedicating time, energy and effort is a requirement, but it is all very manageable. 

As an online program, you’re not going to be by yourself. You’re going to have people that are supporting you both from the faculty side and also the student side as well as the mentors that you’ll gain. The education you’re going to get is second to none. And really what it boils down to is just enjoying it. You’ll have a good time in the program because you’re going to meet some amazing people. You’re going to cover some topics that are important to you and you’re going to do it in a manner that allows you to grow professionally. 

I think that’s probably the best advice I can give somebody. Just be ready for a challenge, but at the end of the day, you’re going to enjoy what you’re doing and you’re going to be better because of it.

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