Setting Her Sights on a Future in Government, Alumna Returns to USC for Online Master’s

“All of the fundamentals that you learn in classes, they come back [in your career] … The payoff is there,” says Master of Public Administration online graduate Erica Robles.

Erica Robles was no stranger to the Trojan Family when she decided to join the Master of Public Administration online program (MPAOL).

Robles had completed her undergraduate studies a few years prior at USC, where she double majored in history and political science. While she considered pursuing a graduate degree at the time, Robles ultimately chose to take a break from higher education to gain work experience.

“After I graduated, I entered the workforce and I told myself that within three years, I was going to go back to grad school, but I wasn’t sure what it was going to be … I worked at a law school and then at the Rand Corporation, and during that time, it hit me: I want to go back to study public administration,” Robles told USC Online.

After all, Robles said she always wanted to work in government — whether it was at the city, county or federal level — and she knew a master’s program would give her the necessary knowledge and training to make this next step in her career.

Looking to return to her alma mater, Robles began researching what the MPAOL program entailed, spoke with a family member who had tried their hand at an online graduate program, and communicated with admissions counselors and other staff at the USC Price School of Public Policy. After extensive research, Robles realized the MPAOL degree was the perfect fit for her goals and background.

What to Expect in the Online MPA Program at USC Price

For Robles, her time in the MPA online program was quite hectic, although it was by choice.

She purposefully decided to take on a full schedule of classes in order to complete the program as quickly as possible. It wasn’t easy, Robles admitted, but she felt heavily supported by the USC staff, and she finished the program within two years, graduating in 2017.

The MPAOL degree is designed to fit the needs of full-time students and working professionals alike, and it can be completed full-time within two years or less. Preparing students to become leaders in the complex, ever-changing political landscape, the program focuses on two areas of managerial competency: institutions and organizations, and analytics.

Course topics include policy and program evaluation, public financial management, budgeting, urban planning, social policy and nonprofit management. There is also the opportunity to tailor the degree to specific career goals with two certificate options: Public Policy or City and County Management.

These courses provided Robles — who was working in administration at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy research organization — a deeper understanding of how to approach real-word issues.

“I prefer to be on the ground actually implementing [policy], and I think it helps if you have the operations and the administrative side. You write better policy because you know how to make things more attainable,” she said.

During the MPAOL capstone project, Robles was starting a brand-new contract with a client. While juggling the two responsibilities was a challenge, Robles said the work she did in the capstone successfully informed the research and analysis for her client.

“It was hard, but at the end, it was very rewarding because the client still uses our work to this day … I was able to go to briefings and understand what they were talking about. And all of the fundamentals that you learn in classes, they come back [in your career] … The payoff is there,” said Robles.

Throughout her time at the RAND Corporation, Robles was able to focus her operational portfolio on Homeland and National Security questions. Today, she works at Tyto Athene (an IT services and solutions company that serves federal, state and local governments across the U.S. and the globe) under its contract with the United States Space Force (USSF).

Being Part of the Trojan Family

For Robles, another major benefit of attending the MPA online program was rejoining the USC community. As she puts it, she’s been a fan of the university since 1997, when her cousin first attended USC.

“The Trojan Family is real. I’ve been in it for a long time, and I always tell people about [the network],” said Robles, recalling a time she visited Colorado and was stopped by multiple alumni because she was sporting her USC gear.

But it’s not just the strong alumni network that has led to Robles’ lifelong admiration of the school. She cites USC’s well-rounded programs, diverse student body, general vibrancy and “amazing” professors as reasons she had such a positive experience.

“[The staff] is there for you, whether it’s personally or academically. They’re very happy to see you succeed and move forward in your career. They’re going to be a cheerleader for you … If you have the chance to attend, whether it’s online or in person, you have people who are willing to reach out and help. You have counselors [and faculty] to support you,” Robles said.

When asked what advice she would give to others considering the MPAOL, Robles emphasized doing your own research into the program objectives and learning outcomes to confirm it complements your career path.

And if you do decide to pursue the degree, it’s important to always be engaged in the program. After all, the workload can feel overwhelming, but staying committed to participating in class and interacting with your professors is key to success, Robles advised.

“If you’re willing to go to the classes, attend all the sessions [and] make the full effort, you’ll get more out of the program. And that also requires you to talk to your professors [when personal issues arise] at work or in life. It is all about communication. If you’re able to do that, it will translate into your work and the lessons you learn,” Robles said.

Learn more about the Master of Public Administration online program today.

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