Like most people, 2020 was a difficult and challenging time for Tiffany Chum. A self-described extrovert, Chum found the social distancing orders and lockdowns that marked the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic hard to navigate.
So, when she decided to obtain her master’s degree (as she had long been planning to do) via an online program, it felt like an unexpected choice.
After doing some research, Chum discovered the Master of Public Administration (MPA) online program at the USC Price School of Public Policy and quickly realized it would be the perfect fit. The program was fully compatible with her work schedule and complemented her career aspirations.
And ultimately, the social aspect of the program surprised her. While Chum was well-aware of USC’s reputation for networking and making connections within the alumni community, she knew her cohort all had full-time jobs and personal responsibilities.
“I didn’t really anticipate fostering a lot of relationships. I was pleasantly surprised … when I made really great friendships. It’s been nice just getting to know the professors, getting to know my peers in different capacities,” Chum told USC Online.
The friendships and personal connections weren’t the only things about the program Chum ended up loving. Hitting the milestone of graduation in May after two years at USC Price, she’s had time to reflect on how much the experience has transformed her.
“Time has been such a trip, especially with the pandemic. In some ways, I feel like I just started, but I also feel like I’ve been in this program for 10 years. At times, it was pretty challenging, but we got through it with the help of professors, who are great and really hands-on. It’s just been a little bit surreal now that we’re at the end of the journey of my USC grad life,” she mused.
Chum’s decision to study public administration at USC, however, did not exactly stem from a lifelong passion or childhood aspiration. As with many others, it had more to do with gratifying a mother’s dreams, as well as finding a career path that would make positive impact on her community.
“My mom always joked and said, ‘It would be great if one of my kids went to USC.’ And of course, my sister and I did not go on to USC,” said Chum, who received a dual bachelor’s degree in music and religious studies from Claremont McKenna College.
While Chum has predominantly worked in the private sector throughout her career, she believed pursuing a degree related to public policy and management would help her make a bigger difference in the world.
In her current role as a talent acquisition specialist at industrial supply company McMaster-Carr, she has already taken on multiple projects and positions related to inclusion and diversity efforts as well as racial equity initiatives.
“When I found the MPA online program … just looking at all the course offerings, there wasn’t a class that didn’t sound like something I wouldn’t be interested in,” she explained.
Chum found the program itself to be particularly rigorous, as well as very group project focused. Despite her inclinations to be a social butterfly, Chum prefers to work independently, but she soon realized that collaboration and teamwork are pillars of any organization or business success.
In fact, she now considers that emphasis on group work to be one of the most valuable parts of the MPA program. Other highlights include developing a foundation for writing in the public sector, taking classes on economics and nonprofit management, and the diversity of perspectives she encountered. Chum knew she did not want to attend a master’s program “where all the thoughts [and experiences] were homogenous,” and she actively sought out schools that valued different viewpoints.
“What I loved most about USC is the type of people it draws in … it’s such a reputable school with great programs, great resources, and professors and students across the world. [I was] able to interact with folks with all different types of backgrounds and truly get their perspective,” she explained. “[If] we all have the same experiences … you’re not growing, you’re not learning.”
Chum plans on taking the next few months to reflect on her experience in the MPA online program now that she has graduated — and to take a break from her demanding schedule balancing school and work.
At some point, she hopes to end up in the public sector, putting to use all the skills she’s gained in the past few years. For now, though, she’s simply relishing the myriad of opportunities her time at USC has brought her.
“I’m definitely hopeful. But who knows where the world will take me, where life will take me? I feel like a lot of us make those plans five years, 10 years out of where you’re going to be, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, it’ll happen … I’m not 100 percent sure what will happen next, but I’m hopeful,” Chum concluded.
Learn more about the Master of Public Administration online program today.