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Q&A: Florida MPA student Trina Uy wants to create change through education policy

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Florida MPA student Trina Uy works for the City of Clearwater as an administrative assistant in the City Manager’s Office. Trina, who had never been to California let alone set foot on USC’s campus, applied for the Master of Public Administration online program after a two year commitment with Teach for America. After her experience teaching sixth grade language arts and social studies in Tulsa, Oklahoma she decided to get a graduate degree so she could create systemic change through education policy. In this Q&A Trina explains how she landed at USC Price’s online MPA program, what she plans to do with her degree, and how she’s already implementing her new skills.

Q: What did you receive your bachelor’s degree in? 

A: I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and linguistics from the University of Florida. While not related to education, I knew I wanted to be a teacher at some point in my life. And working with kids is a passion of mine. So, I decided to do Teach For America and it was a really great experience, but when COVID happened, I realized there’s some really high level systems issues that need to be addressed. And I wanted to go back to school to hopefully be a part of that change.

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

A: I first heard about the program at the Florida City County Managers’ Association conference when I was a junior in college and interning at the City of Clearwater City Manager’s Office. At that conference, there was a presentation done by the USC Price School of Public Policy, and that’s where I learned about the MPA program and really fell in love with it. So, that program has always been in my brain. 

When I was applying to grad schools, I applied to eight different programs. But when I got into USC, I already knew that was my number one choice.

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

A: My outcome goals and desires for this program are to be able to collaborate and work with different individuals that are spread out across the United States and other countries, and get to learn from their diverse background and experiences. I think that’s one of the strengths of the USC Price program online – everyone is everywhere at any time working in different fields and applying the skills that we learn, so it’s really awesome.

Florida MPA online student Trina Uy

Q: What has your experience in the online program been like so far?

A: My experience in the program so far has been really great. The online format fits with my work schedule and because I live in Florida the time difference actually works out with my schedule more. I get off of work at 3:30 or 4, go home, eat dinner, and then I’ll have class at nine. Then I’ll just go to bed and do my assignments the next day. So it’s very flexible.

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

A: How I balance the demands of my personal and professional life with the program is kind of nuanced because I am pregnant with my first child. And USC has been amazing at accommodating my circumstance. I’ve been working with the Title IX office to work with my professors on different accommodations. 

Everyone in the program is also really accommodating. All the groups I’ve been a part of, the students, they’re really sweet. Actually, one of my group members just sent us a gift from my baby registry! So it has been really great to have this online format where I can work, finish my education and also have a growing family outside of it. 

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

A: My experience with the professors has been amazing. They are always very responsive by email or even phone call. I had a professor who called me on the phone to talk over an assignment and that was really awesome. They’re very professional as well, but fun to be around. 

There were actually a couple of circumstances this semester where there were hurricanes – Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole – that came through. I was kind of worried if I could do my assignments in time, and I emailed them right away and they were like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about the deadline. As long as you turn it in at some point you’ll be okay.” So for me, that was really important because I’m all the way in Florida. And for them to understand that situation and accommodate my circumstances was really great.

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

A: My experience with my cohort has been really, really great. It’s awesome to work with like-minded individuals on different assignments and get to see their perspectives. Building those connections and getting to work in groups is something that I was looking for in a program. To have USC put a big emphasis on that was really important to me, especially because I know in local government, nonprofits and anything in the public sector, you’re never working in a silo. So having that opportunity to collaborate with different individuals, even through an online format was really great.

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

A: A project that I’ve done so far that I’ve been really proud of is our foundation analysis project in our nonprofit management class with Dr. Rawlings. We had to pick a nonprofit and basically analyze the foundation, analyze their giving, and where their money goes. We interviewed one of the senior partners for that nonprofit and got to know more about the ins and outs of it. She actually sent us a spreadsheet of work that they are doing in their foundation and asked for our opinions on it. So that was really cool to interact with nonprofit leadership in that way. 

That project and other classes have prepared me for my future because it’s opened up a lot of opportunities in different fields within the MPA realm that I had never thought of before. 

Q: What have you learned so far that you think will be the most impactful in your career? If you’ve already started applying it, please explain how.

A: What I’ve learned so far that has made an impact in my career is definitely communication skills. I think that’s something that’s really valuable and important – whether it’s working with groups on assignments, communicating my ideas, getting feedback, talking in class with professors, or presenting projects in class.

I feel like it’s harder to present online because there are so many technical difficulties and then you have to adjust, so that’s something that I’ve learned to apply in my career. I have meetings with different stakeholders for the city manager where I’m taking notes for him or trying to organize the meeting, set up the Zoom, etc. And so that’s something that I’ve learned to apply.

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

A: Yes, I would definitely, absolutely, a hundred percent recommend the USC Price MPA program online! I think the best piece of advice is just be yourself and take that first step and apply because you never know what opportunities may come your way and what it’ll bring you. 

Time flies so fast. It’s hard to believe that I’m already a year into the program. And it’s been really awesome to see my growth from the beginning of the program to now – where I’m starting a family, but I’m still able to continue my education. I don’t have to put anything on hold. It’s been really great to have the flexibility of the online program.

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