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

An MPA Education and Returning to Work During COVID-19

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by Désirée Adair:

Since March, with the onset of stay-at-home orders, each of these events  have occurred:

  • My husband continued to work in-person as an essential worker despite the risk.
  • I worked on my Applied Research Project (ARP) with consistent interruption.
  • I became a major contributor to my children’s education by providing assistance for the online school learning curve, time management, and workflow prioritization.
  • Confusion, adaptation, and general upheaval of our personal and professional lives.

Sound familiar? I know that I am not alone in taking on additional roles due to the pandemic, but my public administration studies helped prepare me to do more with less.

My experiences as a student and a mother during COVID-19 have further contextualized my understanding of the theories that I have learned studying public administration. I am a non-traditional student with past experience in government who enrolled in the MPA program at Texas State University in order to return to meaningful work in the public sector. My courses have provided the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to implement effective policies and public programs. My ARP focused on professionals returning to work after a career break, and how returner programs are an innovative tool for HRM (Human Resource Management). Many professional women leave their positions at some point in their careers to care for their families. A majority of these women would like to return to pursue their career but have to overcome the employment gap on their resumés.  This project raised my awareness of HR topics and gave me an opportunity to focus on women returning to work in the public sector. My research led me to discover how many women, and others,  have these career disruptions and are attempting to return to the workplace.  Returner programs allow organizations to gain access to an untapped pool of educated and experienced professionals, and candidates are provided with an opportunity to serve in higher level positions; this creates a win-win situation for both employing organizations and skilled professionals seeking positions after a career break. 
My ARP was a descriptive study of municipal human resources’ directors’ perceptions toward returner programs. While my timing was not ideal – I sent the survey in March of 2020 just as the WHO declared a pandemic – I was able to incorporate recent academic research.  The associated economic fallout from COVID-19 caused an unprecedented 14.7% unemployment level in April of 2020, thus many educated and experienced professionals found themselves searching for new positions (Chaney & Morath, 2020). Some have characterized this as a “Shecession” due to the disproportionate unemployment experienced by women who accounted for 55% of the jobs lost (Gupta, 2020). This finding provided motivation for me to contribute solutions to HRM issues including gender diversity in high-level positions. Returner programs offer one solution by filling open positions with qualified and experienced workers while reducing risk and improving organizational performance. My research benefits public sector organizations wanting to help reintegrate the workforce which is desperately needed for our economic recovery.  

COVID-19 caused my research topic to acquire new meaning and put it in a new context.  I realized that the government is always trying to do more with less and that requires innovation.  This predicament was only magnified by the pandemic and has created difficulty for HR professionals in the public sector competing for employees with the private sector. Through my courses at Texas State University, I gained a new appreciation of public servants as they face new challenges – such as work modifications, balancing risk for employees and the public, and rapidly managing change. I have a deeper understanding of how the HR world in the public sector needs to adapt. 

As I look forward to my internship during my final semester, and my children start school in a virtual learning environment, I wonder what adaptations and innovations will become normal. As I proceed back into the workforce after graduation, I know that it will require a great balancing act as a woman in the public sector labor force, yet I am motivated to look for solutions to serve my community.  


Chaney, S., & Morath, E. (2020, May 8). April Unemployment Rate Rose to a Record 14.7%; Unprecedented 20.5 Million Jobs Shed As Coronavirus Pandemic Hit The Economy. The Wall Street Journal. 

Gupta, A. (2020, May 13). Why Some Women Call This Recession a ‘Shecession’. The New York Times. Retrieved from 

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About the author:

Désirée Adair is a Master of Public Administration candidate at Texas State University. Previously she earned a BA in Economics and minored in Mathematics. Désirée’s current research interests include local government, human resources, and economic development. She hopes to obtain a position in local government post-graduation.