Student Stories

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Defining Purpose: Tina Simonson, MPA ’11

When she was growing up in a small town in northern Minnesota, Tina Simonson, 2011 graduate of Hamline’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, did not dream of one day managing workforce administration. Even when she was a first-generation college student, she did not know that her passion was in public administration. After a few years in the workforce, however, Simonson realized that what she really wanted to do was help people.

“Defining purpose—having a correlation between a technical job and helping people,” Simonson said when asked what drew her to public administration. “Having worked in private companies immediately after college, even though I appreciated the experience I was getting, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference.”

Simonson now serves as the assistant director for Washington County’s Workforce Centers, which provide employment and skills trainings. She assists in running 12 programs, including ones tailored to at-risk populations, youths, veterans, dislocated workers, and human services clients.

Simonson’s duties are many, but what she is really drawn to is helping people find their paths.

“That’s what we do day to day: resume development, job interviewing skills, teaching how to job search and network, putting on LinkedIn classes,” she said. “If someone has something that’s not a fit, we help to find the right one.”

Simonson attributes her success to her time at Hamline. She spent ten years in the workforce before deciding to pursue her master’s degree, and though she looked at a several programs, she knew Hamline was the right fit right away.

“Hamline had everything that was applicable,” she said. “I looked at the class list and realized all the courses applied to what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I liked the practical aspect and that the program is friendly to maintaining a full-time job while at school.”

It also helped that Simonson knew she wanted to devote her life to public service. As one of the only public administration graduate degrees in the region—and the only cross-section business program—Hamline’s MPA stood out almost immediately.

While Simonson was in her last semester of the program, the assistant director for the Washington County Workforce Centers position became available. Simonson knew immediately that it offered everything she was looking for in a job. Because of her time at Hamline, Simonson believed she could offer everything the Workforce Centers needed as well.

Since taking the position, Simonson uses the knowledge and skills gained from her MPA almost every day.

“In-company training is great, but it doesn’t give you the extent of critical thinking that Hamline’s program gives,” she explained. “All the information I’ve learned has been applicable to my work, from holding different conversations to managing projects at any level.”

Hamline has impacted Simonson’s professional life as well as her personal life. She has served on the School of Business Alumni Board almost since its inception—a position Simonson says is more fun than work. Additionally, Simonson has become involved in Hamline’s Women in Public Service (WIPS) conference.

“I think the WIPS initiative really highlights how woman leaders are successful in public service today,” Simonson said. “We talk a lot about balance—how woman are balancing personal and professional lives and are able to see great successes in both—and how to be a woman leader without being seen as aggressive or as undermining people. Showcasing ourselves as competent leaders and equal to men is a daily and long-term struggle, but having the support of other women through WIPS is helpful because you can talk about these things.”

For Simonson, the decision to go to Hamline and receive her MPA has only had positive outcomes, both in her career and in her personal life.

“Anyone intending on continuing a career in public service is a great candidate for this program,” she said. “You’ll get all the skills you need to enhance your career and elevate it to the next level. I truly believe you can complete this degree and expect more opportunities to come your way.”

And for those students planning on entering the MPA, Simonson has a final piece of advice: “Get involved. Meet people, make connections, engage with your professors, find out what career paths are available as a public servant. I have a whole list of jobs I would love to do that I learned simply from other people doing this work. There’s a lot of great information out there, but you won’t get to know it unless you get to know people.”

For more information on Hamline’s Master of Public Administration program visit the website or contact Graduate Admission. To find out more on the Women in Public Service conference and the other programs that the Center for Public Administration and Leadership hosts, see the website.