MPA Students Present Research at Capstone Event

Don Goncalves and Chris Filiciello

At the end of the spring semester, seniors in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program presented their semester-long research of local, real-world issues such as improving ESL programs in Hudson County, combating mental health stigmas on campus, 3rd grade reading in Newark, teaching 9/11 and recidivism in Jersey City’s Ward F, to name a few.

The presentation “Teaching 9/11: Teaching History to 5th Graders in Atlantic City, NJ | What Really Happened September 11, 2001,” by Chris Filiciello and Don Goncalves focused on creating a history curriculum for Atlantic City teachers that included 9/11. Currently, the topic of 9/11 is left to each individual teacher. The MPA program emphasizes experiential learning and to conduct research, the team went into the Atlantic City schools and surveyed 5th grade students to see what they knew and what they wanted to know about 9/11. They also spoke to teachers. Teachers expressed concerns about if the material was developmentally appropriate for 5th graders; they also conveyed that it was a difficult to teach early in the school year.

“What they need is an out of the box curriculum that is specific to age that the teachers can use when they want and when they need to,” said Goncalves.

Their research overwhelmingly showed that students wanted to learn about 9/11 through videos, which is complicated because many of the videos are graphic. However, the team presented practical ways to bring the history alive in the classroom such as relating the events of 9/11 to two individuals who were from Atlantic City and who were involved in the attacks. The group brainstormed creative ways to incorporate interactive media into the classroom.

“The goal of our 9/11 project is to develop knowledge of the historical aspect of 9/11, show love and respect for others, honor our public safety officials, encourage understanding of today’s world and inspire community involvement,” the group said. “We want to thank the school officials in Atlantic City who were generous with their time and who allowed us to speak directly with the students.”

“The Master’s in Public Administration program has provided us with a proactive approach to interact with the community. All of the presentations dealt with real-world issues—serious issues that were dealt with very intentionally in all of the capstone projects,” Goncalves said.

Another presentation, given by Cesar Aguirre and Claire Corea, addressed “Recidivism in Ward F of Jersey City.” Working closely with Circle of Inspiration, a new faith-based nonprofit in Ward F that provides re-entry support to formerly incarcerated individuals, Aguirre and Corea investigated ways in which faith-based initiatives can have a positive influence on community re-entry.

Philip Plotch, Ph.D., AICP, Director of the MPA Program, Second from Left with Presenters

Their primary research included qualitative interviews with practitioners, public officials and individuals who have been previously incarcerated as well as a community survey of Ward F, which is the Bergen/Lafayette section of Jersey City. Their secondary research included literature review and analyzation of data from the City of Jersey City of the formerly incarcerated resident population within the city. They found that the biggest barriers to those who have been incarcerated are familiar support, morale and valid identification.

“Our recommendations are to encourage community between all services, creating a managed care approach across various support agencies, encourage faith-based initiatives in order to assist populations heal and cope and make obtaining valid IDs an easier process,” the group said.

“I’m delighted to see how the research and analytical skills these students honed in the MPA program helped them develop credible solutions to very complex social problems. Our Saint Peter’s MPA graduates are destined to be the leaders of nonprofit organizations and government agencies throughout the New York metropolitan area,” said Philip Plotch, Ph.D., AICP, assistant professor of political science and director of the Master of Public Administration Program.

To learn more about the program, click here.