In 2011, Colleen Dilenschneider graduated from USC Price’s Master of Public Administration program with a concentration in nonprofit management. Today, she is the Chief Market Engagement Officer for the marketing intelligence and consulting company IMPACTS, where she makes big data accessible to organizations and specializes in audience engagement initiatives and digital marketing.
In addition, Colleen also dedicates her time to helping advance the service sector through her popular website, Know Your Own Bone, a resource that offers creative online engagement strategies and best practices for nonprofit and cultural organizations including museums, zoos and aquariums.
Going back to school after a long career can be a hard decision, leaving behind a career and a life. Anne Ferree (MPP, 2007) was at the top of her profession, working in real estate strategy for an international architecture firm, but she found herself gravitating toward projects in the public and nonprofit sectors, work which she found far more rewarding. It was clearly time for a change, but if she was going to go back to school, she had to know it would lead to future success.
She chose USC’s Price School of Public Policy (since renamed), and the school’s connections were a big part of that decision. “I knew USC had a great reputation, an amazing alumni network, and good career services, and I also loved how USC Price had this wonderful multi-disciplinary approach to the work I was interested in.” She made a home for herself at the school, also working as research assistant at the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy. Her practicum project – where students work with an organization on a real-world problem – involved developing a scorecard for South Los Angeles to illustrate health care disparities. That scorecard, still in use by the client today, gave Ferree experience in health care policy and solidified her interest in the issue.
Her post-USC career shows the power of school connections. Shortly before graduating, Career Services notified her of the USC-exclusive Orfalea-Clinton Fellowship at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation. Her practicum work was an ideal match, and she spent a year in Harlem, New York, working against the rise of childhood obesity. That fellowship then led directly to a full-time position at the Alliance back in Los Angeles. “It all lined up so perfectly,” Ferree says of her back-to-school experience. “That’s when I knew I had made the right decision to come back.”
These are tough times for all nonprofits, but especially for smaller organizations working in low-income communities. Fortunately, highly trained professionals like Hilary J. Harmssen (MPP, 2005) are devoted to helping these nonprofits and foundations work better. Since graduating from USC’s Price School of Public Policy, she’s been working on the issues she’s most passionate about with the organizations that most need her skills. So how did Harmssen get so lucky?
With several years of nonprofit experience under her belt, Harmssen found a great match for her interests at USC. “I’m most passionate about policy and advocacy work in urban settings and about working with underserved populations on the issues of education, homelessness, housing, and job development,” she says. She was drawn to the program’s size and proximity to urban populations, knowing she could work closely with colleagues and faculty on the issues that mattered most. That closeness translated into a research position at the school’s Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy, where she worked with the Center’s director, professor James Ferris, on a number of research projects.
In the professional world, Harmssen has found the skills she perfected at USC – writing, qualitative and quantitative analysis, and research methodology – very much in demand, especially at smaller nonprofits. In 2006, she founded her own consulting practice, Axio Policy Research & Consulting, where she has advised a number of nonprofits and foundations, including Arriba Juntos, one of the largest Latino nonprofits in San Francisco, and the Coalition of Community Advocates for Workforce Development, a group of San Francisco-based service agencies.
Of course, Harmssen has kept the USC link alive too, working with CPPP to publish two papers about foundations and public policy engagement in the intervening years. The old adage is true: Once a Trojan, always a Trojan.
At a time when the economic crisis is threatening millions of homes, people like Jeff Schaffer (MPA, 1987) are stepping up to help keep the American dream alive in Los Angeles. With a Masters of Public Administration in Intergovernmental Management, Schaffer has spent two decades sharing his expertise in domestic and international community development with a variety of charities in the Southern California area, currently with Enterprise Community Partners as its Vice President and Los Angeles Impact Market Leader.
“At Enterprise, we’re very involved responding to the foreclosure crisis, and we’re also helping community housing organizations to navigate this challenging economy. It’s our goal to help stabilize at-risk communities,” says Schaffer, whose interest in helping others stretches back to a stint with the Peace Corp in Micronesia. In 2008, Enterprise, in partnership with the City of Los Angeles, helped launch the New Generation Fund, a ten-year $108 million effort to provide predevelopment and acquisition lending for affordable housing. “It’s a public-private partnership that provides quicker access to bigger loans, with better terms than otherwise available.”
To get where he is today, USC offered Schaffer just what he needed: the opportunity to intern at nonprofits related to his studies where he could broaden his understandings of community issues. “My studies and my internships were mutually reinforcing. I interned at CARE and studied, through USC, in Washington, DC, which gave me the opportunity to look at international development issues from a broad macro perspective.” His connection to USC, of course, is still alive and well: Schaffer is an adjunct instructor at the School for Policy, Planning, and Development, where he teaches a Masters internship seminar.
As the Founding Executive Director of Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles, Grace Cainoy Weltman (MPP, 1999, B.S. PPMT 1997) coordinates the partnership of 13 nonprofits and public agencies that deliver child services to over 60,000 children in the county and operates with a collective budget of nearly half a billion dollars in state and county funding. All together, it’s a complex organization that works within both the nonprofit and public sectors, addressing early education and child care issues, and frequently has to represent the 13 member agencies to a variety of funding entities, stakeholders and legislators. All this didn’t just happen, though; before Weltman could succeed in the real world, she had to ground herself. And that started at USC.
What she found was unlike any other program around the country: “It offers a strong academic foundation, but is balanced with the practical, real-world perspective, which really speaks volumes to what USC Price presents its students and the clients that it works with.” That practical element imbued every aspect of the program, including her Practicum project; in that, she learned all those necessary things about working with a group: “working with diverse people, how you build a team, how you work with each other.”
Through Career Services and the relationships she built at USC, she landed various internships, including one at the LAPD, which gave her a more thorough grounding in real-world problems and solutions. She came to understand issues from both sides – the policy-maker and the service-deliverer – and that understanding serves her today.
Today, Weltman happily gives back to the school: she’s an adjunct professor and a founding co-chair of the USC Price School Alumni Association. The training in intelligent writing and quantitative analysis; the broad perspective on policy understanding; the networking and the relationships; the presentations she had to make before real organizations: it all added up to her success. The school gave her the tools she needed and she went out and prospered. As she puts it succinctly, “If it wasn’t for my education at USC, I don’t think I’d be this successful at my job.”