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Executive education helps organizations invest in employees through MPA program

By Leslie Wells, associate director of communication, O’Neill School at IUPUI

In late April, 14 employees of the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center received their Executive Master of Public Affairs degrees from Indiana University Executive Education at the O’Neill School. These graduates spent more than two years working toward this goal and are the latest in a long line of Crane employees to earn their degree through this unique program. 

What makes this path to an advanced degree so different from many others?

“The leadership of Executive Education at O’Neill is very customer focused,” says Angie Lewis, corporate operations department director at Crane. “They want to understand what’s going on within our environment. They’ve been willing to adapt certain parts of the lessons, update, and transform portions of their curriculum to stay current with our challenges and needs. That makes this program especially valuable.”

The Executive Public Management Certificate (EPMC) and EMPA programs are Crane’s largest and longest-lasting investment in employee education. Crane covers all costs of the program for employees and has done so for the past 20 years.

The application process is competitive. Selected employees must first earn their EPMC before they can apply for the EMPA program. Besides the 14 EMPA graduates, 24 Crane employees also earned their EMPC in April.

Participants who complete the 39-credit hour EMPA travel to Indianapolis 12 times during the full program’s three years for week-long courses and to Washington, D.C., for one week of class. Faculty members walk students through topics relating to economics, public policy and analysis, HR policies, and more. [WL1] [Office2] In between each week-long class, these Crane employees develop projects and presentations to prepare for the next round.

For Crane’s courses, each class is geared toward the specific needs of the company’s employees. Each cohort includes participants from various departments across Crane, a strategic decision Lewis says creates lasting relationships.

“People who work in engineering, production, and technology are in class with people who are responsible for regulatory compliance and oversight,” she says. “When you build strong cohorts of people who know how to work across boundaries, they can accomplish projects more efficiently and effectively, despite the natural tensions between their roles.”

John Kleihege, a Crane supervisory engineer who received his EMPA in April, says the courses teach students to speak a common leadership language while broadening their view of their world and their work.

“It exposes you to areas that you don’t functionally work in,” Kleihege says. “That makes you a well-rounded employee and makes it so that when you see public policy shaped, you understand the process and how to communicate about it to others.”

Communication is a key part of the program. The courses prepare students to understand and explain public policy shifts in the context of what matters most to their management teams.

“You can go to a four-year school and learn how to run a business, about bureaucracies and nonprofits, or government- and public-sector roles, but this program educates our employees about the larger system in which they work,” Lewis says.

For Crane, that larger system includes multiple U.S. Navy bases, command centers, and other units around the country. Craig Barton received his EMPA in April after leaving the Indiana-based Crane in 2017 to head to its parent command, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Barton decided to continue with his Crane cohort and cover the cost of the remaining courses himself. That decision paid off. He says the program played a direct role in landing his current position as director of contracts for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

“I give almost absolute credit to the IU Executive Education MPA program for my current job,” he says. “The capstone class occurred the week before my interview. It was essentially a weeklong interview prep that helped me tie everything together. I’m very grateful to the EMPA program.”   

While the content in Crane’s EMPA course may be specific to its needs, the Executive Education team can adapt the case studies and group projects to work for other organizations, even those in other sectors. That’s because — at its core — the program focuses on teaching students to be better leaders, no matter where they work.

“The learnings transcend Crane,” Barton adds. “What you learn applies no matter where you go. It teaches you that leadership is leadership. There is no magic:  It’s simply gaining the necessary tools, learning the appropriate contexts in which to apply those tools and then executing.”

Employers interested in exploring their own Executive MPA cohort in Indianapolis or own their site can learn more about the program at the O’Neill School website, or contact Executive Education Director Sara Johnson.

Leslie Wells is the assistant director of communications at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She joined the O’Neill School at IUPUI in 2018 after three years in nonprofit media relations and a decade in broadcast news.

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