Leadership Program Targets Region's Public Employees

When Maria Stipe ’87, ’96 (B.A. psychology, M.P.A.), Garden Grove’s deputy city manager, enrolled in the Leadership Development for Public Agencies certificate program through Cal State Fullerton University Extended Education, she wasn’t sure what to expect.

But because Stipe’s education at Cal State Fullerton has served her well, it made sense to count on her alma mater for her professional development. She wasn’t disappointed: As a result of the program offered by UEE to employees of cities and public agencies, she believes that she is more effective in serving the city and its residents.

“The program provided a useful toolbox – the best management practices regarding leadership in public agencies,” said Stipe, who recently completed the program. “Instructors with real-world, local experiences were very practical, presenting relevant subject matter.”

Like Stipe, Kelly Hart, senior transportation analyst with the Orange County Transportation Authority, recently completed the program. “Ours was a diverse group; we all came from different functional areas,” Hart noted. “There were city clerks and human resources representatives, people from parks and recreation departments. We all had different experiences but met on common ground regarding how to lead and manage a public agency. We have similar issues, and we learned how to tackle them.”

Julie Espy ’92 (B.A. communications-journalism) is OCTA’s manager of training and development. Espy is impressed that UEE is innovative in developing customized approaches with its public agency partners. “We want classes taught by working professionals that are interactive and teach transferable skills that are immediately applicable,” she said.

Featuring a disciplined, strategic approach to developing innate leadership potential, the program keeps pace with change and growth in the public sector, said Carol Creighton, UEE senior director of academic programs.

“The Leadership Development for Public Agencies program has attracted at least 100 participants from 25 cities and special districts,” Creighton said. “The program addresses public sector core competencies, as well as offering a forum to share best practices and common challenges. It’s built on a solid foundation and involves true community engagement.”

That foundation began in 2007, when UEE and human resources directors from public agencies throughout Orange County created an informal consortium to address critical education and retention issues facing public employers.

As a result of this collaboration, public agencies can now take part in educational opportunities, regardless of size, according to Sally Starr, UEE director of corporate relations and workforce solutions. An organization may choose between sending a small group of employees to courses shared with other consortium members or on-site classes tailored specifically for their employees.

David Riley ’77 (B.A. business administrationmanagement), director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, manages 2,600 employees and a $614-million budget. Riley thinks the solid partnership between the agencies and Cal State Fullerton’s UEE is an important part of the program’s success.

“It’s a very collaborative approach,” he said. “It’s a pragmatic and high-quality, university-based program that provides a high level of training to meet our needs on a practical basis.”

Jimmee Medina Jimmee Medina ’02, ’10, the city of Irvine’s human resources administrator, said that the partnership between the city and Cal State Fullerton has benefitted Irvine with an efficient, cost-effective way to provide training to employees.

What’s unique about the program is its focus on public agencies, said Jimmee Medina ’02, ’10 (B.A. communications-public relations, M.P.A.), the city of Irvine’s human resources administrator. Irvine has hosted the Leadership Development for Public Agencies program as its way of supporting the growth and development of leadership talent in Orange County, she added.

“For us as a city, this is a shared commitment,” she said. “The city and the employees both invest in the program. Perhaps most importantly, it refocuses the importance of serving the public with integrity.”

Connie Phillips agrees. A former training and development professional from the city of Anaheim, Phillips teaches in the Master of Public Administration program, as well as courses in the leadership program, including ethics and influencing skills, and creativity and innovation. Phillips believes instructors are key to the program’s success because they understand that they must reinforce the sense of “an obligation to serve people,” she noted. “We must have a high level of responsiveness and equity in the community.”

Beyond achieving the goal of preparing public sector employees to meet upcoming challenges, said Shelly Wang, program manager, “the most rewarding experience for UEE has been the opportunity to work with our alumni throughout the Orange County public sector,” Wang said. “We have not walked into a class or a meeting without someone introducing themselves as a Titan.”

Starr noted that University Extended Education is the portal to extend resources from CSUF to a broader audience. “We help people make connections back to the university.” end of story