MPA alumna uses degree to embark on second career


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"This picture was taken in Kotzebue, Alaska, in early June 2013. We contracted with the City of Kotzebue to put on a Firefighter I class, and I flew up for the testing and certification. We almost doubled the number of certified Firefighter I’s and greatly increased the fire protection capabilities of the community. Kotzebue is above the Arctic Circle on the western coast of Alaska, near the Bering Sea."

Jan Mitchell, MPA ‘09
State of Alaska Fire Training Administrator and Supervisor for the Training and Education Bureau

Jan Mitchell earned her Master in Public Administration with an emphasis in homeland security from Upper Iowa University’s Online Program in 2009. She talks about her journey into a second career with the help of Upper Iowa.

What is your educational background prior to UIU? I received a Bachelor of Arts from Northeastern Oklahoma University in 1980. My major was in sociology and minored in psychology and music.

 What led you to discover Upper Iowa? I was nearing the end of my first career and looking out over the horizon to see how I could leverage experience with higher education into a second career.

"Upper Iowa met my criteria which were the emphasis in Homeland Security, Online program and strength of educational history and real-world experienced instructors."

 Why did you choose the MPA? What was your goal with this degree? I chose the MPA because it is broad enough to transport into a variety of governmental agencies. Plus, I really wanted to focus on Homeland Security and it was attached to the MPA.

Where were you working at the time you were going to school? How did you leave that position? At the time, I was employed by the Loudoun County (VA) Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management. I was fortunate because my employer offered tuition reimbursement up to $3,000 per year. I was eligible for retirement two years ago and it was time to move on. I didn’t have another job offer at the time, so I took a year and one-half off before Alaska came along. One of the other benefits is that I received an increase in pay upon completing the program which translated to a higher retirement income.

What do you do now for the State of Alaska? I am the State’s Fire Training Administrator and Supervisor for the Training and Education Bureau. We provide firefighter training throughout the State of Alaska and also have an active public education program.

What was a favorite aspect of the MPA program? I really enjoyed the world-view that the instructors and students brought. I went to school with people from all over the world. Having spent a career in a specialized field in Virginia, it was refreshing to be challenged into others’ viewpoints and to learn how they were functioning in their professional and personal lives while going to school. Every day I took something from work into the virtual classroom and vice versa. The asynchronous environment forced me to participate; I couldn’t just sit back and let others talk. My input was as important as every other student.

You attended commencement on the Fayette campus. What was your favorite part? How did it feel to accomplish this milestone? I loved the history behind the bricks and mortar. I felt solid and connected even though it was my first time there. But, also, there were a number of new construction projects underway and I liked the interplay between the old architecture and the modern. Sitting here now I still feel such immense accomplishment and pride; pride in my husband for supporting me, pride in my fellow students for walking with me, pride that my family was watching across the country via Internet.

Final thoughts. I greatly enjoyed my time with UIU. I use the skills and knowledge gained through the master’s program in my new job with the State of Alaska. Having tackled and succeeded in the master’s gave me the confidence to move across country and start another career in an amazingly challenging environment. I bring something to the table that is unique and valuable.