UTEP Speaker Series Highlights New Opportunities in Revamped Department
Last Updated on July 29, 2022 at 12:00 AM
Originally published July 29, 2022
By Daniel Perez
UTEP Marketing and Communications
While summer may mean quiet times for some, Ljubinka Andonoska worked the phones and her computer to entice notable individuals to participate in the 2022 “Public Administration in Action” speaker series that will launch in September at The University of Texas at El Paso.
Andonoska, Ph.D., assistant professor of public administration, said she is finalizing her calendar for this series, which is popular with graduate and undergraduate students in political science and public administration. She said it brings in powerful and influential scholars, researchers and leaders in government, industry and nonprofits who are excellent communicators.
For example, this year’s list includes El Paso City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez, a two-time UTEP graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree in political science in 2010 and her master’s degree in public administration three years later. El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, who received his MPA from Texas Tech University in 1995, and Meghna Sabharwal, Ph.D., professor of public administration at The University of Texas at Dallas, also will be part of the “PA in Action” program.
The series, which is open to the public, started in fall 2021. Organizers said it attracted students whose interests straddle political science and public administration.
“PA in Action connects our students with community leaders and exemplary scholars,” Andonoska said. “It gives our students the opportunity to learn from the leaders directly regarding their best practices, and allows them to take a step forward to their desired future career.”
The speaker series is another way that the Master of Public Administration program has blossomed since it merged with the Department of Political Science in 2019. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), acting on UTEP’s request, changed the name to the Department of Political Science and Public Administration in May 2022.
Leaders from both sides said the new name has led to an enhanced identity and opportunities for faculty collaborations on research and curricula.
Gaspare Genna, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department, and Eric Boyer, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the public administration program, agreed that while the subjects are distinct disciplines, there is some overlap and they want to take advantage of those opportunities.
Boyer spoke of a broad spectrum of possible research collaborations between both faculties to co-author papers, co-host colloquiums and the like. He mentioned one project where he teamed up with Rebecca Reid, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, and a colleague from the University of Alabama to research gender representation among nonprofits and its effect on leadership styles and organizational cultures.
“There are many synergies in research and teaching interests with our colleagues in the department so working in more integrated ways with the political science faculty is very good for public administration,” Boyer said.
Genna said he expected additional “hallway collaborations” because of the faculty interests and familiarity with the leadership structures within American politics and public administration from the local to the federal levels.
He called PA in Action a “great and prudent” benefit to students from both disciplines, but especially to the political science majors who intend to participate in local government. While UTEP does not offer a bachelor’s degree in public administration, the department does offer a concentration.
“Now that we are together, public administration is a part of our mission,” Genna said. “The merger opens more opportunities for undergraduates in political science.”
Genna said the series has created a greater mingling of the faculty, which would enhance curricula for students interested in political science and public administration. He expected more interest in the public administration minor and the concentration in public administration and service. He also said that the merger created a stronger conduit for undergraduates to pursue an MPA.
“Before that pipeline from undergraduate to graduate didn’t exist because we were two separate entities,” Genna said. “Now we have that ability.”
Abel Legaspy, a senior political science major, said he took a public administration course with Boyer during the 2021 Wintermester that gave him a unique insight into public-private partnerships. This was important to the El Paso native as an entrepreneur who wants his services to benefit society.
Legaspy, who leads an El Paso technology consulting company that develops software for property managers, said the key to successful partnerships is an understanding of the mechanisms of government, public administration and the political arena.
While he enjoys his role as an executive, Legaspy said that he looks forward to joining the legislative process after graduation to have a bigger effect on the community. The first-generation college student said he wants to learn as much as he can from both disciplines and eventually find ways to improve government agencies and policymaking.
“I profited greatly from Dr. Boyer’s course,” Legaspy said. “I can see how this merger could greatly benefit the next generation of government leaders.”
The roots of UTEP’s political science department stretch back to 1927 when the campus expanded its liberal arts course portfolio. Campus leaders placed the unit under different departments until it became the Department of Political Science in 1967. UTEP established its MPA program in 1974 under the political science umbrella. The program, which earned accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, became an independent program in the early 2000s.
Genna said he expects the department to grow. To that purpose, the department hired a new visiting assistant professor of public administration for fall 2022 who will specialize in nonprofits. He added that the department also submitted a request for a tenure track assistant professor in public administration.
“We have other things in the pipeline that will require a greater infusion of public administration faculty,” Genna said.