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Photo of Sack Thongvanh

Using Public Administration for Good: Sack Thongvanh MPA ’06

Photo of Sack Thongvanh as a child, along with father and two siblings, at a refugee camp in Thailand

Hamline’s Master of Public Administration helped Sack Thongvanh MPA ’06 figure out his career path—which, in turn, opened doors to driving change in Minnesota communities.

Thongvanh stumbled upon Hamline’s Master of Public Administration degree while attending open houses for law schools. Originally, he said, he was more interested in law enforcement, but a conversation with a Hamline professor opened him to the opportunity to create positive change through public administration.

“After hearing from practicing administrators and hearing the impact that they have on local government, I took some classes and never looked back,” said Thongvanh.

Thongvanh was drawn to Hamline’s small, personal degree program, especially after earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. For him, the biggest benefits of the MPA were the connections he made with mentors and others in the field. Through Hamline instructors like political science professor David Schultz, along with lecturers and guest speakers including current and former senators, mayors, and sheriffs, Thongvanh learned from people who understand what it takes to run a city government.

“With Hamline there was that balance, exposing you to real life through those people that are working in the field day to day,” he said. “It’s nice to have the connections and network, and I think Hamline really provided that opportunity.”

Thongvanh has been the city administrator of Falcon Heights since 2015. Previously, he worked in the city governments of Albert Lea, Eagle Lake, Sherburn, and Northfield.

In Falcon Heights, he’s especially proud of the city’s progress in creating a more inclusive community since the police-involved shooting of Philando Castile in July 2016. Though Falcon Heights is a small community of around 5,000 people, Thongvanh believes cities of all sizes can impact progress toward equity.

“Not one person or organization has all the answers to solve the world’s problems, but if we work together, hand in hand, this can be a better world,” said Thongvanh.

Thongvanh was born in Laos and came to the United States with his parents and three siblings when he was four years old after fleeing an unstable country and living four years in a refugee camp in Thailand. His family’s journey has inspired him to work toward equity and to value each individual’s contributions, regardless of job title. It’s an outlook that drives Thongvanh’s work as a public administrator.

“If you’re at the top of your organization, you’re not any more important than the person who empties the garbage can. Everyone plays a role, and that’s a philosophy I live by,” he said. “When employees, the city council, and the rest of the city work together, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.”

Learn more about the Master of Public Administration Degree from Hamline School of Business at hamline.edu/MPA.

Pictured at top right: Sack Thongvanh (child in center), two of his siblings, and father are pictured at a refugee camp in Thailand.

Written by Anne Kopas

February 8, 2021