Though she’s somewhat confined to her home office these days, Lindsay Bentley is busy opening new doors. She's just completed her first semester of graduate study at Syracuse University's No.1-ranked public affairs school without missing a beat in her career with a local nonprofit health insurer.
The online executive master of public administration (EMPA) degree offered through the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs is designed for midcareer professionals, like Bentley, who want to expand their credentials without losing traction in their work. “I graduated from college in 2010 and immediately started my career,” she explains. The U.S. economy was in a downturn at the time, and the job market was tough. “A lot of my peers went directly to graduate school in fields like public affairs or public health, but I was excited to get started with a job in my field right away.” She worked in the Office of the Mayor and the City of Syracuse’s Department of Neighborhood and Business Development before joining Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in 2016.
Expanding Horizons, Virtually
Bentley's work in local government sparked an interest that led to her managing community and government relationships for Excellus BCBS, including corporate sponsorships, grant programs, and community organizations and community health improvement initiatives. In a career where she can have such a positive impact on her community, Bentley is always looking ahead. “I realized I had a lot of valuable experience, but I wanted to brush up on my skills and make sure I had the credentials to continue building my career,” she says.
Enrolled in the online EMPA program since last spring, Bentley plans to take 30 credit hours in 15 months. She recently completed a course on ethics and morality in public affairs, and one on the public policy process. Other core courses focus on leadership, management and analytical skills. The online format includes asynchronous videos, readings and exercises, as well as group projects and discussions. Bentley says that if anyone thinks online coursework is somehow easier than traditional classes, they should think again. “It’s rigorous, and I’m learning the material very thoroughly.”
Finding Common Ground With Faraway Peers
In addition to the course material, Bentley says virtual, discussion-based meetings every week give her insight into many fields. “My classmates are from all over the world and have many different backgrounds and careers,” she says. “Getting to know them is a great way to learn and to network.” Her first quarter, Bentley worked on a project with professionals located in Togo, West Africa, and in California. She learned about issues her classmates face in law enforcement and the military, diverse areas of nonprofit leadership, international government relations and other fields. Students share their experiences, discuss specific topics related to their work, and collaborate to solve challenges. The professors who teach in the program are also active professionals. “Not only is the faculty entrenched in what they are teaching us, they are out there doing it and are highly respected in their fields,” she says.
An undergraduate alumna of Syracuse's Maxwell School (sociology and political science), Bentley is no stranger to the vibrant Orange community. She can still connect with and experience it through virtual social activities, such as happy hour, and she has access to resources for career development and student support through the program.
Not only is the faculty entrenched in what they are teaching us, they are out there doing it and are highly respected in their fields.—Lindsay Bentley
Bentley fondly recalls the bustle and camaraderie of campus, but the online graduate experience makes her challenge of balancing work, school and home life much more manageable. Instead of commuting and hustling from work to campus to home and back again, she can spend more quality time with her husband Brandon and her two rescue greyhounds, Erika and Brock. “I love that I don’t have to make a choice between one thing or another, or give up what’s important to me.”