Alumni Profiles

Over 1,000 students have graduated from the Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program since its inception in 1969. We currently are home to approximately 100 students who are pursuing a wide range of interests, but who share our commitment to public service and public policy and management education. The following are some profiles of current students and recent alumni to give prospective students and others a sense of the diversity and high-level of talent within the MPA Program student body.

Marlishia Aho (MPA ’12)

Marlishia Aho attended classes both on-campus and online and currently works for 1199 SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East as a Communications Specialist.

Why did you choose Northeastern University for your graduate studies?
 Choosing Northeastern University was an easy decision. The caliber of the teaching and administrative staff, the flexibility of the class schedule, and the MPA Program’s reputation guided my decision and I haven’t regretted it at all. It was an exciting campus with many opportunities for engagement.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northeastern? 
I most enjoyed the relationships that I built with the teaching staff and my fellow students. It is such a diverse community, that you not only learn from your professors but also the other students. That camaraderie enriched my studies and I gained several lifelong friends.

If you took a course online, do you have any positive comments about being able to take online courses or in earning the degree online?
 One of the benefits of Northeastern is the flexibility in taking online courses. Professors ensure that you do not lose the dynamic feeling of a classroom while online. There are interactive lectures and discussion posts, so that you can participate and learn from others even online.

How has the program helped you with your professional career? 
For the last four years, I’ve been a Communications Specialist at 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. My career is dynamic and requires a multitude of skills. The skills I acquired and sharpened in the MPA program have allowed me to excel in my career. From problem solving, policy analysis and writing, I’ve grown and expanded my professional opportunities exponentially.

Esmael Ansari (MPA’11)

Current Position: Senior Public Affairs Associate, Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications and President – Board of Directors, Hyde Park Main Streets

Esmael Ansari studied at Northeastern as what we call a “Double Husky.” This is an affectionate term we use for those who’ve earned both their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Northeastern. While working toward his MPA degree, Esmael concentrated mainly on American Politics and Public Policy.

Why did you choose Northeastern University for your graduate studies?
 Having been an undergraduate at Northeastern, I chose the MPA Program here because it allowed me to continue with the excellent professors with whom I had built relationships in the past. It also allowed me to learn from new professors that I might not have had as an undergraduate. Another advantage was that the evening class schedule allowed me to work during the day and still participate in a high level graduate program.

Were you selected for any honors related to your degree at Northeastern?
 I was inducted into Pi Sigma Alpha, the national honor’s society for political science students.

Do you have any comments about being able to take online courses or in earning the degree online?
 I took several online courses. With a busy schedule, it allowed me to learn on my own time. I sincerely believe it provided me with a comparable experience to a course in a traditional classroom.

How has the program helped you in your professional career? 
Many of the concepts, writing and research techniques that I learned in the classroom I have been able to directly relate to my profession.

What was the topic of your Capstone Project?
 My Capstone project was the creation of a mentoring program for the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration (MassASPA).

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northeastern? 
I enjoyed the great location of Northeastern, the diverse class schedule and my fellow colleagues. I was able to take several classes that had both MA and PhD candidates in them, outside of just my fellow MPA candidates, which provides for a great dialogue across programs.

J. Danielle Bachan (MPA’11)

Current Position: Health Policy Analyst, Massachusetts Division of Healthcare, Finance and Policy

J. Danielle Bachan came to the MPA Program at Northeastern after earning her BA in Political Science at Louisiana State University and working for the oil industry as a policy specialist and for the Department of Homeland Security: Federal Emergency Management Agency as an environmental policy specialist. About her experience working for both the private and public sectors she said, “Having worked within both sectors I felt that this was the perfect graduate degree to bridge the gap between the two, and offer the most flexibility upon graduation for finding employment.”

There were several factors that drew Danielle to Northeastern University’s MPA Program specifically including our location in Boston, our NASPAA accreditation, the Program being located in a political science department, and the achievements and variety of our professors and courses. “It is the perfect program for anyone interested in a career in the federal, local, or state government as well as those interested in non-profit or any other public service career. With a variety of courses offered within many different departments, the possibilities are endless and the political science department is very flexible in allowing your interests and goals to fit into the program. In the classroom, the topics are current and up to date and the professors are easily accessed and willing to help you learn and succeed.”

While studying full-time, Danielle still finds time to stay active with professional and personal interests. She participates in the Louisiana State University Alumni Association of Boston, Delta Zeta Sorority Alumnae Association, Young Republicans of Boston, and she has volunteered enough at various area non-profits to earn a President’s Volunteer Service Award. She also enjoys international travel and photography. Danielle is currently working in public policy for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and is pursuing a law degree at Suffolk University Law School.

Justin Backal-Balik (MPA ’12)

Justin is Manager of Public Policy and Government Affairs at A Better City.

Justin joined the MPA program after completing his undergraduate degree at Brandeis University. Though a native of Philadelphia, PA, he was well acquainted with all that the Boston area offered in terms of student life and professional advancement.  Several of the highlights of Justin’s many accomplishments as a graduate student at Northeastern included a position as a Research Assistant for Professor Hedlund, interning at the White House. Though there are no formal concentration areas for the MPA Program, Justin specialized his studies in American Government and Public Policy.

Why did you choose Northeastern University for your graduate studies? 
I chose Northeastern’s MPA Program because of the flexibility offered students in designing their own experience and tailoring their courses to their individual interests. I was also looking for a program in the heart of a major urban center. Boston, as both a dynamic city and the center of Massachusetts state government, has a lot to offer students.

How did the program helped you in your professional career? 
The program helped expand my professional network immensely, as well as offer me the opportunity to study previous areas of interest in greater detail and to also explore new subjects. Through the internship component of the program, I was able to participate in the White House Internship Program, which was a fantastic experience.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northeastern?
 I enjoyed the balance I was able to maintain between courses and other professional activities such as internships and conferences. Building professional relationships with the faculty in and out of the department was gratifying as well. I enjoyed developing professional relationships with many of the outstanding faculty, but I also learned from the amazing students in the program who were all in different places in their career and worked on a variety of issues.

Andrew Braun (MPA ’12)

Andrew (Andy) Braun joined the MPA Program in spring 2010. He is one of several veterans and active-duty military personnel taking part in the program to further their skills in leadership and management. For more information on the support offered to veterans at Northeastern University, please visit

“I chose Northeastern’s MPA Program for their reputation in career development, flexibility, top-notch professors, and their location within a city that flourishes with opportunity. My experience has been nothing short of outstanding. Northeastern has been extremely supportive towards myself and the numerous veterans throughout the campus. They provide a smooth transition from the military into the classroom.

“As a reservist I recently traveled to Mozambique this past summer to take part in a humanitarian assistance effort that provided an invaluable experience that I can carry back into the classroom and implement into my studies.”

Dan Burgess (MPA’11)

Current Position: Legislative Director for Energy, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

After five years in private sector supply chain management in both the aerospace and software industries, Dan Burgess, Northeastern MPA ’11 and University of Maine BS ’05, moved to Governor Deval Patrick’s Administration where he currently serves as the Legislative Director for Energy. In this position, Dan works closely with the Massachusetts State Legislature on all energy related matters before the General Court. Prior to this role, Dan worked at the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) as a Clean Energy Fellow. At DOER, Dan was responsible for the communication and outreach efforts for clean energy projects in Massachusetts that were funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

In addition to this work, Dan worked as staff on President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign as the Get Out the Vote Director for Massachusetts. As GOTV Director, Dan managed statewide GOTV efforts and the export of volunteers into the battleground state of New Hampshire.  Dan also worked as GOTV Director for a Region in Ed Markey’s 2013 campaign for Senate and as Deputy Director for a Congressional District in the 2010 Massachusetts Democratic Coordinated Campaign.

Why did you choose Northeastern University for your graduate studies? 
I choose Northeastern for its reputation, location, faculty, and the flexibility it offered.

How has the program helped you in your professional career?
 My MPA degree from Northeastern has given me a solid foundation to move my career into the public sector and it has allowed me to network with other public policy professionals in a way which wouldn’t have been possible at other schools.

What was the topic of your Capstone Project? 
I worked with Newton Mayor Setti Warren’s office to determine proper parameters for a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program for non-profits in the area to help pay for community activities.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northeastern? 
I enjoyed the challenging class work and meeting other committed, interesting students from across the country and the world.

Austin Faison (MPA’11)

Austin is a Senior Analyst for the City of Somerville’s SomerStat Department. When asked what he was looking for in an MPA Program and why he chose Northeastern, he listed two factors that helped him make the decision to come here, “First, the school and professors go above and beyond in trying to help students gain a place in the profession of their choosing. For example, former Governor Dukakis, a professor in the program has challenged me academically and become a personal advisor as well. I also chose Northeastern because it is in Boston, my adopted city. When I was growing up in New Hampshire, I was always drawn to Boston.”

When asked what he thought was most valuable about the program, Austin answered, “The program is of great use to anyone interested in a career as a public manager. Though you can learn much in the workplace, a solid foundation of advanced studies is necessary in our current society. Course topics are current and intertwined with our everyday lives. You can read an article before class, and then have the professor bring up the topic in his/her lecture; it brings a needed texture to the program. Also, I have found that the professors each have a good sense of humor, and want to help the students learn and progress.”

Austin participated in several activities while enrolled as a MPA student, including his participation in the Commonwealth Seminar, a program designed to give a group of interested residents a better understanding of the work on Beacon Hill. This program is one of several unique professional public service opportunities for students in the Boston area.

Kate Harrington (MPA ’12)

Kate Harrington currently lives in New York City. She is working as an Account Executive for The Berman Group. Kate emphasized international relations and public policy in her courses and research.

Why did you choose Northeastern University for your graduate studies? Northeastern University is known for having a dedicated and loyal staff with competitive resources.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northeastern? The MPA Program is extremely thorough and explores a number of aspects and fields related to public policy and administration including management, analytical techniques, and financial and economic perspectives.

If you took a course online, do you have any comments about being able to take online courses or in earning the degree online? I took several online courses. I would say that if students think that online courses are less demanding or time consuming then think again! They actually are more demanding and more involved than the on campus courses that I took. However, I got A LOT from the online courses because they forced you to interact more with classmates while also requiring a great amount of independent research.

Did you earn or were you selected for any honors related to your work or your degree at Northeastern? I was nominated for the Presidential Management Fellowship for the 2012-13 class.

How did the program help you prepare for a professional career? I entered the Program because I was interested in public policy and through this Program I not only sharpened my analytical skills but was also been exposed to a number of policy areas and issues.

Ayumi Onaka (MPA ’12)

Ayumi Onaka is originally from Kyoto, Japan. She was one of many international students from every corner of the globe, who worked toward or has earned their MPA degree at Northeastern University. Ayumi concentrated her studies and experiential projects on public policy and international relations. She took courses both on-campus and online.

Why did you choose Northeastern University for your graduate studies? Northeastern University is famous for its practical education. I learned a lot of theories in my undergraduate programs in Japan but I didn’t know how to utilize such knowledge in the real world. Especially, the MPA Program requires all students to do an internship for graduation, which enabled me to gain practical skills combined with what I learn from MPA courses.

What internships and other experiential learning did you pursue while a graduate student at Northeastern? I did two internships in the summer of 2011. One was for the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC. The other was at the office of a city council member in Kyoto, Japan. During the latter internship, I organized a forum on “the Internationalization of Kyoto City” in cooperation with the City of Kyoto, Kyoto City International Foundation, and several universities in Kyoto.

How did the program help you prepare for a relevant career? I was able to gain practical skills that I can utilize in professional work. I was able to work as an intern in the US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC. The CEO of this organization appreciated the practical skills and professional knowledge that I had gained through the MPA program at Northeastern University.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northeastern? Actually, I was very busy with classes because English is my second language and I was not used to the American style of education (a lot of assignments and class participation). Even so, I enjoyed taking classes with American students and learning how they discuss topics in class. They are very good at discussing and selling their ideas.

If you took a course online, do you have any comments about being able to take online courses or in earning the degree online? I liked the online courses a lot. This is because I could understand all discussions by taking as much time as I wanted. I am not a native speaker here in the U.S., so it was so hard to understand what other American students said in an on-campus class. Moreover, for a cultural reason, it was actually hard for me to express my opinions in front of others without being asked. Many people in my country are also better at thinking over time, rather than expressing their opinions immediately – (though this depends on the person). So, online courses enabled me to understand the contents of classes and participate in discussions.

Ruth Strande (MPA ’12)

Ruth Strande completed the MPA Program as a part-time online student. She currently works as a Management Analyst for the US Agency for International Development in Washington, DC. Her primary areas of interest include international relations and development, public policy, and program evaluation.

Why did you choose Northeastern University for your graduate studies? I chose Northeastern University for the university’s reputation of leading in the field of experiential learning. The focus on grounding knowledge in experience was a real draw for me. I also found the flexibility, particularly the comprehensive online options, to be critical as I was looking for a program I could complete while working.

How has the program helped you in your professional career? The online MPA program provided me with information, knowledge, and skills that have helped me tremendously in my current position with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Global Health. On Numerous occasions, I found myself directly applying concepts learned through my online courses to my work. My professors were supportive and available to bounce ideas off of and to further develop my interests and skills.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northeastern? I really appreciated the experience the professors and students brought to the table. Online discussions were never boring and always filled with examples from real world experiences that are both interesting and informative.

Do you have any comments about being able to take online courses or in earning the degree online? The best part of doing an online program was the flexibility. Being able to work when I wanted, and where I wanted, was incredibly helpful for me. In addition, I found myself becoming more disciplined and learned how to manage my own time better, which had a positive effect on my work in general. Finally, I think that the online platform allowed for more diverse student participation. Students signed on from all over and were able to provide examples and experiences from the different communities around them, which added to the course discussions.

Aishatu Yusuf (MPA ’12)

Aishatu Yusuf came to the Northeastern University in 2010 to study in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program after receiving her B.S in Political Science and Intercultural Communications from the University of Utah.  Prior to attending NEU, Aishatu ran a national child safety campaign at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, VA.

Aishatu decided to attend NEU because of the outstanding faculty’s commitment to social policy reform and public interested education.  She said about the program, “I came to Boston to engulf myself in an area that sets great precedent in state policies and reform. Living in Washington DC, I was able to encapsulate the dynamics of national policy, but felt if I was going to aspire for a career in policy, it was also important to obtain a grasp on state policy–and what better place to do that, than Boston, Massachusetts.”

During Aishatu’s first year as a MPA student, she worked as an intern for Councilor Ayanna Pressley (first women of color to hold a City Council seat). In this position, Aishatu helped further initiatives related to the, “Women and Healthy Communities” program, particularly in areas of grandparents raising grand children, and school-age parent policies in the Boston Public School System. She also completed the Commonwealth Seminar with the State. During Aishatu’s second semester she began working at One Family, Inc., a non-profit organization committed to changing policies and practices pertaining to families facing homelessness.  In her role, she worked with Massachusetts state leaders to create legislative policies to prevent and end family homelessness.  In addition to her great work in Boston, Aishatu returned to Washington DC for the summer of 2011 to work as a Fellow with the United States Council of Mayors.

Aishatu graduated in 2012, and began working as an intern at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) in Oakland, CA on the Children Exposed to Violence Task Force, lead by US Attorney General Eric Holder.  After completion of her internship, she was hired by NCCD as full time staff. She currently works on issues surrounding juvenile justice and education.  In this position, Aishatu has the opportunity conduct research and policy reform on issues effecting our often silenced and invisible populations, children and youth of color. Aishatu has also had the opportunity to work with the Singaporean government, Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to develop structured decsion making (SDM) tools for their Child Protection Services (CPS).

Aina Azza Zaid (MPA’11)

Aina Azza Zaid joined the MPA Program with several years of experience as a public administrator in her home country, Malaysia. Although transitioning from one culture to another can always pose challenges, Aina and the many other international students in our graduate programs brought a useful professional and cultural background that improved the overall experience for all our students.

When looking for programs in public administration, Aina was very attracted with the opportunity to study in Boston, “the intellectual hub of America, which has given me a chance to explore positive educational and professional experiences not only at Northeastern but in the many facets of the city.” She ended-up choosing Northeastern’s MPA program because it is accredited by NASPAA (The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration) and she appreciated that it was located in a political science department

“The MPA Program has given me an array of multidisciplinary fields related to politics and public affairs which have been very beneficial for my career and knowledge advancement. Back in Malaysia, I am already attached with the Government of Malaysia as a public administrator. The MPA at Northeastern has allowed me to relate things I have learned in my work experience in Malaysia with what I learn in the classroom and conversely my class experiences have been very pertinent to my continued work in government and for my overall career advancement.”

Among the factors Aina has enjoyed the most about the MPA at Northeastern are the breadth of subjects covered in the courses, helpful staff, and professors who are knowledgeable and specialized in their fields but also understanding and helpful.

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