PRAcademic - April 2013



The Buzz on Engagement

Engagement is a new buzz word for higher education. In 2008, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognized NIU’s university-wide commitment to outreach and engagement and the high impact of NIU’s diverse partnerships. In 2010, Carnegie further acknowledged NIU’s commitment with the designation for Curricular Engagement, awarded to only about 300 universities and colleges in the nation.

The MPA program at NIU has focused on engaged learning since its founding 50 years ago. The first student placed in an internship position in the new Master of Arts in Public Administration program was back in September 1963. Our experience with engaged learning is what marks us as the best internship program in the nation, and one of the best local government management MPA degrees in the world. It’s a legacy that we actively pursue today.

This issue of Pracademic includes stories about a student speaking to a 4th grade class about government, and MPA students presenting their research from a class on citizen participation at an American Society for Public Administration national conference panel in New Orleans. We also highlight the engagement of our alumni and friends in the capstones and comprehensive exams of our MPA students, and our global engagement of MPA students who will experience learning about the role of NGOs in development by working with NGOs in building a community library and teacher resource center in Tanzania (alongside MPA alum Dan Scanlon (‘83) and retiring city manager Mark Biernacki).

Engaged learning is the foundation of our program’s core value: gaining competency to lead and manage public service organizations with an unceasing focus on theory and practice. The competencies-based curriculum of the 21st century MPA classroom reifies the legacy of engaged learning and strives to inspire a new generation of students to excellence in public management. I trust you will find these stories engaging. Please share your thoughts with us at

Kurt Thurmaier
Professor and Director


Public Administration Student Association (PASA) held a brown bag lunch for students and alumni. Guest speaker was alum Peter Burchard.


Alex Bertolucci, Alex Buckles, and Lauren Stott took part in the American Society for Public Administration’s national conference that was held in New Orleans. The American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) is the lead organization in public administration that includes both academicians and practitioners from all levels of government in its membership. Lauren, Alex, and Alex presented two papers about the extension of the Elgin O’Hare Westbound. They began this research in Dr. Koenig’s Citizen Participation class. She encouraged them to continue work on the topic and facilitated their proposal submission to the ASPA conference coordinators. The proposals were two of the 150 accepted; the conference organizers reported that over 1,000 proposals were submitted for this year’s meeting. 


ASPA 2013 Conference: (L-R) Dr. Heidi Koenig, Alex Buckles, Alex Bertolucci, and Lauren Stott


The students did an excellent job presenting their research and results and were complimented by members of the audience about the analysis and the way the three students engaged in discussion about their work. At least one member of the audience made note of their work and asked where and when the research will be published! Alex, Lauren, and Alex are currently working together to make final changes to their papers before making them available on line at the Division’s website and Dr. Koenig has identified several journals to send the papers to so they can be formally published.

The students also participated in several panel sessions and discussion circles during the conference. These opportunities allowed them to interact with doctoral students, professors and practitioners. They were able to add valuable knowledge to discussions and supply comments on various public administration topics to facilitate a collective learning experience. These interactions fostered growth of networking skills and built relationships with fellow public administrators from various communities across America.


MPA Alumni Engaged in Comprehensive Exam

A new format for the comprehensive exam was initiated last fall when nine students presented their capstone papers before a panel of three practitioners and two faculty members while their fellow students observed in the audience. Graduating MPA students prepared a fifteen minute presentation and anticipated in-depth questions on their capstone subject.

Many thanks to Joe Fennell, Paul Nicholson, Julia Carroll, Steve Gutierrez, Julie Strahl and Matt Carlson for the generous donation of their time and talents to serve as panelists for the oral comprehensive exam. The panel members were provided with an executive summary of the capstone papers to review in advance as well as a grading rubric to follow as they viewed the presentations. The exercise was very well received by the students and the alumni. The oral comprehensive exam demonstrates the program’s emphasis on improving oral and written communication skills of our graduates.

The spring oral comprehensive exams will be held on Friday, April 19th at the NIU Campus in Hoffman Estates where over 25 students will present their capstone papers. If you are interested in being a member of a comprehensive exam panel, please contact Denise Burchard at



Fall 2012 graduate Cheryl Scott defends her Capstone paper before a panel of practitioners and faculty members.

 What skills make a great public service leader?

MPA Program Curriculum Emphasizes Competencies

The Division of Public Administration is focused on developing the skills that produce an effective public service leader. The division uses a competencies based curriculum which establishes specific skills and abilities that will be acquired by the students as they complete the required courses.

  1. To lead and manage in public governance: This includes the ability to effectively work with internal and external stakeholders to integrate current and preferred management practices of budgeting, human resources, information technology, statistical analysis and performance measurement. Students should be learning to motivate peers and employees to enhance organizational capacity.
  2. To participate in and contribute to the policy process: Decision making theories are taught to frame and address public service problems. This would include using strategic management to facilitate goal identification and execution.
  3. To articulate and apply a public service perspective: This would include effective oral and written communication and the ability to identify opportunities to influence decisions.
  4. To analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve problems and make decisions: Public service issues will be evaluated in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and economy. A professional code of ethics will be the key factor in their decision making, identifing and appling strategies for improving democratic accountability in governance and demonstrating the trade-offs in terms of program alternatives.
  5. To communicate and interact productively with a diverse and changing workforce and citizenry: Policies and programs will be developed or adapted to accommodate changing social demographics for the population that students will serve.

To measure the learning outcomes related to these competencies, the students will complete an assessment inventory as they enter the program and as they complete the program. Intern supervisors will also evaluate intern students in their first and last semesters of the program. These results will be analyzed and used as a basis for continually updating and improving our curriculum to meet the needs of our public service organizations into the future.



Left: Village of Lincolnwood intern Andrea Litzhoff with supervisors Aaron Cook and Timothy Clarke; Right: Village of Carpentersville Public Works intern Sean McGovern

Student Engagement in Action

Downers Grove Intern wins Contest to Attend AFI Conference in Atlanta

David Rauch, Public Works management intern in the Village of Downers Grove , earned an all-expense paid trip to the Alliance for Innovation 2013 conference held in Atlanta, GA.  AFI sponsored a video contest encouraging entrants to share what the Transforming Local Government Conference means to them in a short video. David produced an original video and was selected one of three national winners to represent Downers Grove at the conference.


Influencing the Next Generation

MPA student Matt Simpson spoke to 4th graders at Washington Academy in Belvidere about city government in March. The teacher reported that he did a great job-the students loved him.

Next Generation

Join MPA Students for 2013 Work-Study in Tanzania

Three MPA students and six undergraduates from various majors have enrolled in Dr. Thurmaier’s summer study abroad course in Tanzania. The students will learn about the role of NGOs in development by working with NGOs in building a community library and teacher resource center in Tanzania. They will be working alongside Tanzania Development Support volunteers, including MPA alum Dan Scanlon (‘83) and retiring (DeKalb) city manager Mark Biernacki. If you are interested in volunteering with the students, Prof. Thurmaier would be thrilled to have you along. A primary goal of the study abroad is to have students engage with members of the community in Tanzania; engaging with NIU MPA alumni at the same time is a bonus experience. Volunteers depart Chicago July 4, return July 20. "You are guaranteed to have a transformative experience,” according to Dr. Thurmaier. More information at or



Distinguished Manuscript Awards

Each year the faculty nominates outstanding capstone papers for the Distinguished Manuscript Award. Working with the MPA Board of Advisors, the faculty has established a process to involve the alumni and friends in the Distinguished Manuscript Award selection process. Capstone papers that have been deemed an “A” quality are nominated by a faculty member and distributed to two alumni and friends for their review and analysis.

The practitioner reviewers are asked to:

  • comment on the degree to which the paper demonstrates an advanced level of expected competencies.
  • comment on the weaknesses of the paper.
  • state whether they agree with the faculty nomination that the paper is distinguished.

If you would like to be added to a list of alumni and friends who would like to review capstone papers nominated for the Distinguished Manuscript Award, please contact Denise Burchard at

Faculty News

The buzz is on; it’s true. Dr. Kimberly Nelson is moving to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s MPA program in July 2013.  We have profited by Kim’s contributions to our students and the program.  Unfortunately, we can not compete with family ties out east. We’ll have a farewell celebration for Kim in late May, so keep an eye out for the notice. 

Faculty News

Save the Dates

The 50th Anniversary Working Group has been busy!

Thursday, September 12, 2013: Golf Play Day, Bridges of Poplar Creek Evening Social Event

Friday, September 13, 2013: Seminar: Celebrating the MPA Legacy, Chicago Mariott Northwest, Hoffman Estates, IL

Saturday, September 14, 2013: Bike Rally, DeKalb, IL

Friday, April 11, 2014: Gala Event, DeKalb, IL

Details will be posted on the website very soon.

Save The Date

Job Updates

'82 Brian Coyman: Managing Director-Investment Banking-Public Finance, Edward Jones, St. Louis, MO

'02 Aaron Oppenheimer: City Administrator, City of Sun Prairie, WI

'05 Julian Prendi: Associate Dean, Continuing Education/Extended Learning, College of Dupage, Glen Ellyn, IL

'06 Ben Nelson: Strategic Services Manager, Public Works and Utilities, City of Wichita, KS

'10 Tim Neubeck: Village Clerk, Village of Germantown Hills, IL

'10 Matthew Morrison: Assistant Public Works Director, Village of Northbrook, IL

'10 Dane Checolinski: Director of Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation, Sheboygan, WI

'11 David Fitzgerald: Management Analyst, Village of Deerfield, IL

'12 Andrea Litewski: Executive Administrator, American Fraternal Alliance, Oak Brook, IL

'12 Samantha Brunell: LocalGovNews Coordinator, Center for Governmental Studies, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL


'88 Chris Banda married November 2012.


'06 Ben Nelson married Aimee August 2012 on an Alaskan Cruise.