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USC price graduate supports foster youth with online master’s

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Pivoting from a museum career to a role in the nonprofit sector, alumna Kate Kelly is using her Master of Public Administration (MPA) to enact change in foster care.

USC Price online alumna Kate Kelly smiles in red blazer in front of USC step and repeat banner.
With the MPA online, Kate Kelly was able to gain both the hard and soft skills needed to thrive in the nonprofit sector and future leadership roles. (Photo: Courtesy of Kate Kelly)

Many people begin college with a dream job in mind, working throughout their undergraduate years to realize their career goals. Not everyone, however, finds satisfaction in their chosen field once they achieve it.

Fortunately, career pivots are possible, even after investing significant time and effort on a different path. This might involve reframing past job experiences or pursuing a master’s degree to acquire new skills.

That was the case for Kate Kelly, who initially wanted to become a museum curator. Kelly headed off to American University in Washington, D.C, to earn a history degree and gain museum experience. She interned at various institutions, including the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, learning everything she could in the hopes of one day becoming a curator at a historical institution herself.

“I took full advantage of Washington, D.C.,” Kelly told USC Online.

Then came her senior year. Kelly landed a curatorial internship, “which was the dream” — but she ultimately decided she did not enjoy the work she was accomplishing in the role.

“It was too removed from the museum. [I wasn’t] speaking to anyone who actually was benefiting from the services. [I was] just sitting researching. So, I graduated a month later, and I reflected on my favorite part of all my internships because I had done a variety of different things,” she explained.

Eventually, Kelly determined she would need to obtain additional education in order to land a more hands-on, influential role in the nonprofit space. She initially considered pursuing an MBA and researched various business schools in the Chicago area, but decided to focus on applying to more public policy-focused programs.

“I wanted to delve deeper into nonprofits, and as I continued researching, I learned about the MPA program [at USC Price School of Public Policy],” she explained.

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) program online prepares students to become leaders in the public sector, emphasizing skills such as policy analysis, budgeting, strategic planning and other areas needed to succeed in a government or nonprofit role. It was a perfect fit for Kelly’s career goals, and since the program is offered online, she could complete her studies from Chicago.

“It just really felt like the right program for me. Everything was just clicking that this would help me level up the exact skills that I needed to continue on this path,” she said.

USC lived up to that first impression. Kelly began the program in 2018 and immediately connected with her cohort and other members of the Trojan community, no matter where they were in the world.

“It was amazing to hear about different people’s paths and how we all ended up at this program,” she said. “And we’re all really supportive of each other to this day.”

It wasn’t just the people, however, that stood out during Kelly’s time in the program. She was also able to gain both the hard and soft skills needed to thrive in the nonprofit sector and future leadership roles.

“There are so many applicable things that I still use from the program, specifically budgeting. All the different assignments really helped me in my career, and I’m now able to lean on some of those tools in order to look ahead and figure out how to solve a problem,” she said.

Currently, Kelly works as an operations manager for Foster Progress, a boutique nonprofit that supports Illinois youth who have experienced foster care as they successfully transition into adulthood. In addition to advocacy work, Foster Progress has a mentoring and scholarship program as well as a therapy component.

Kelly credits the MPA online as a crucial step to landing her position, which covers finance, human resources, grant management, soliciting and more.

“Each part of my path definitely was related with the coursework in my master’s degree. I absolutely got what I wanted to get out of the program, which is I have a deeper understanding of the nonprofit field,” she said.

Today, Kelly continues to stay connected with USC, whether that’s attending online seminars, checking in with members of her cohort or keeping an eye on newsletters to stay updated on the latest university happenings.

In fact, her advice for potential MPA students is to do exactly that: Put effort into becoming a member of the USC community and forge bonds with the people around you. That’s how you’ll achieve the true Trojan experience.

“You need to network within your cohort. You meet some really wonderful people. That really helps you get more out of the program, so you have to put yourself out there. That’s why they’re all there,” she said.

And as Kelly notes, USC fosters an environment that facilitates both those connections and experiences.

Original article on USC Online.

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