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Q&A with Priscilla Hung: Learning to analyze social issues from an economic lens

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Priscilla Hung is co-director of Move to End Violence, working with nonprofit leaders to end gender-based violence. She graduated from the USC Price Master of Public Administration program online in May 2023. Hung discusses why she selected the program after years of working in the nonprofit sector, overcoming the struggles of balancing a full-time job while in a graduate program, and the skills she gained along the way.

Q: What factors motivated you to further your education? 

A: I decided to pursue the online MPA for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector for quite a long time, and I feel very entrenched in that sector, but it’s become really obvious over the years that if we’re going to be able to solve any of the pressing social problems, that I’m going to need to think a lot more broadly. Part of my desire to be in the MPA program was to push myself out of the boundaries of my sector and to really see what it takes to build relationships. The other thing was the pandemic. The pandemic taught me, and I think for a lot of other people, that time is precious. If I could do this now, then why not? Go ahead and just dive in.

Q: How did you first hear about the program and what drove you to pick the online MPA over other graduate programs?

A: I was interested in the online program because [like] almost everyone else in my cohort, we have full-time jobs. So really needing the flexibility of an online program in order to be able to balance work, and school was absolutely crucial. I wanted to make sure I was at a program that was well regarded, that was rigorous in their coursework, that would bring me the education that I was seeking and expose me to the different faculty, and professionals – so USC really stood out.

Q: When you started the program, what were your outcome goals and desires?

A: When I started the program, I wanted to be able to dive in more deeply to understand the theories behind the work we do and the foundational thought leaders that really shape this work. In social justice work, we are really good at resistance, we are really good at standing up to say when something is wrong, and that work is really important, especially when you see important systems being dismantled all the time. But strategies of resistance are not actually going to get us to the solutions, and so what I was hoping from the MPA program was to get an opportunity to think, okay, we know what we don’t like and we have a vision of where we’re trying to get, but what happens in between? And to me, this education is part of figuring out how we actually put into practice the things it is that we believe in.

MPA online alum Priscilla Hung learned to understand social issues from an economic lens.

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

A: The online program has been a revelation for me [because of] how it can be so organized and so thorough and really just help keep you on track. I appreciate having the online platform because it maps out what is happening over the course of the semester. If I have to travel for work in a few weeks, I know what’s happening in those weeks ahead, and I can plan around it. 

When I started, there was a new student residency, but I started in the pandemic so that was not in person. They did a great job of getting us engaged and interested, but it wasn’t the same. So when they offered a continuing student residency, I wanted to be able to come in person and it was a really fantastic day. The continuing student residency did a really good job of giving us a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere to get to know each other better and feel like part of the MPA program online community.

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

A: To balance work and school, I’ve learned how to protect my time better. Because of the demands of school and wanting to make sure that I stay on top of everything, I’ve had to be better at making choices around what it is that I really want to do. The other thing that’s been helpful in terms of balancing work and life is actually seeing them as integrated. [Seeing] that the program is not competing with the time that I have for work or that I only have so much energy and I have to make hard choices between the two. So one of the key things for me in terms of the balance is figuring out ways to integrate them.

Q: How is your interaction and experience with your professors in the program?

A: One of the great things about the MPA program online is that the professors are actually based all over the country, and so you get a breadth of perspective, a real national perspective in the classes. The faculty is so much more accessible than I thought they would be. I’ve had phone calls with my professors, I’ve texted with them, sent emails, and they just do a fabulous job of wanting to make sure that students in the online program feel connected, feel like they’re getting the support it is that they needed and feel like they’re getting what they want out of the program.

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

A: I love the cohort that I’m part of. I get a chance to meet people from so many different areas of work that I don’t normally interact with on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been able to meet people who care about making change and care about their communities. We bring a national and diverse perspective to our discussions and coursework. The student community is strong, and I feel like I’m building a network that will stay with me for years and years, and it’s just made the program that much more fulfilling.

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

A: In my capstone semester, we worked with a client that is a California statewide government agency, on a subject that I knew nothing about coming in. Being able to do in-depth impact assessments is very relevant to the work that I do in the nonprofit sector. There’s a lot of soft assessment, but it’s often that we don’t have the resources or the skill set to measure and convey the impact of the work we’re doing. Being able to have this opportunity in a real-life context via the MPA program online to figure out how we actually measure progress on an issue. I think [it] is going to be a real asset to the work I do.

Q: What have you learned so far that you think will be most impactful in your career?

A: The coursework has a great breadth of different subjects and different analytical methods. We took economics as part of the MPA program online, and even though economics touches every part of our lives, I’ve never understood it from the perspective of an economist. I always come at it from an activist perspective, a social justice perspective and being like, well why can’t we have fair wages and why can’t we have affordable housing? To see it and understand it from an economics lens helps me better understand what are the priorities [of] economists. It broadens the types of strategies available to me in my day-to-day work.

Q: Would you recommend the MPA degree online to a prospective student? 

A: I would definitely recommend the USC Price MPA online. It has made me feel more confident in the breadth of knowledge that I have and it’s expanded my network in ways that I could not have done on my own, so I definitely recommend it.

Q: What advice would you give a prospective student?

A: One piece of advice I would share is to make sure that you take advantage of all of the resources that USC and the program offer. Meet with the professors. If they are making themselves available for networking conversations to help you think about what you might want to do next, take advantage of that time. I also took advantage of the Price Career Services. The director had done a presentation at our continuing student residency, and she shared a lot of advice that I found to be valuable. I decided to schedule an appointment with her and she was fantastic. This is just another perk of being part of the program, and so I just recommend [that] students take advantage of all of it.

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