Blog The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education: Student Perspectives on Public Service Values and Public Service Motivation

An Introduction on The COVID-19 Pandemic and MPA Education Blog Series

woman in black blazer using a laptop
by Dr. Shilpa Viswanath:

Beginning in  March 2020, during the weeks preceding spring break for many students at institutions of higher education (IHEs), thousands of colleges and universities across the country abruptly cancelled in-person teaching, campus events, and campus travel in response to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. While teaching and advising moved online, students were suddenly and completely cut off from accessing campus resources including campus housing, libraries, campus-based technology, sports facilities, health facilities, counseling facilities, dining facilities and more. Six months later, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve rapidly into a worsening public health crisis with the United States witnessing 5.75 million coronavirus cases (CDC COVID Data Tracker).

While IHEs such as Notre Dame, UNC-Chapel Hill and University of Alabama have reopened or attempted to unsuccessfully reopen college campuses in Fall 2020 amidst government issued public health regulations; recent discussions in the context of higher education have mostly focused on administrative consequences of the pandemic including strained university budgets, shrinking enrollments, hiring freezes, declining faculty productivity, efficient course delivery mechanisms, and student accountability and assessment. This blog series aims to incorporate graduate student perspectives on public administration training and its relevance to understanding the role of the public sector and the differential impacts of public policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The question becomes, how can current and future public administrators contribute to some of our “big questions” surrounding the administration and public policy outcomes emerging as a result of COVID-19. 

The Masters in Public Administration (MPA) degree is targeted at developing skills and techniques used by (future) public managers to implement public policies and public programs. According to the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) there are currently 308 member institutions, which offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in public affairs and administration. This blog series invites personal narratives of current and future MPA students in public and nonprofit organizations. Guest bloggers explore issues surrounding public administration learning outcomes while experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic as students or street-level bureaucrats. This blog series is particularly interested in understanding how MPA education informs understanding of the pandemic and provides students with the skills to work on the frontlines of the pandemic. Our student contributors write about the public service values they learnt from their MPA programs which helped them better understand and better serve in administrative roles on the frontlines of the pandemic. 

These insightful contributions from  MPA students across the United States discuss public service values, public service motivation, ethical considerations, and leadership skills of local, state and federal bureaucrats during the rapidly evolving and complex circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. This collection of MPA perspectives also sheds light on the relevance of public administration classroom teaching and the connections graduate students make between their course work and real world applications of public administration theory and research. To begin this series, MPA student Lauren Cooper from University of Central Florida highlights the fragility of the administrative state during the COVID-19 pandemic and shares personal experiences from the frontlines in her role as a legislative aide in the Florida House of Representatives. In her blog post, she explores the importance of citizen-government interaction and administrative accountability during an emergency situation. This is intended to be an ongoing and productive dialogue, we welcome further contributions and diverse public administrative perspectives from current and former MPA students. To contribute to this symposium, kindly send your thoughts to If you have any questions, please contact the blog series editor: Shilpa Viswanath,

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About the author:

Dr. Shilpa Viswanath is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Dr. Viswanath studies public sector human resource management with a special focus on gender. Her work also spans the study of bureaucracy in India. She has published in Administrative Theory & Praxis and Journal of Public Administration Education. Dr. Viswanath is currently serving as Chair of Section for Women in Public Administration (SWPA) at American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and is a board member of Academic Women in Public Administration (AWPA). Before coming to John Jay in the fall of 2020, she was an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin.