Fifty Years of Going Forth to Serve
What started as a few professors teaching public administration skills within the political science department has grown into today’s nationally recognized BYU MPA program, with fifty years of graduates impacting the communities they serve.
In 1963 political science professor Stewart Grow established the first graduate program focused on public administration—a master’s degree that would prepare students to serve in the public sector. Grow and fellow professors Dale Wright and Doyle Buckwalter developed coursework that would help students apply what they learned in political science to work in local government.
“Our original goal was to create a professional program with a set core of required courses that we felt everyone in the field would need,” says Karl Snow, who helped shape the program while serving as a director of the Romney Institute from 1969 to 1978. “It has always been my belief that there is something unique about public administration. Whether you are working in law, government, or city management, you need to be sensitive to the public interest as you conduct the public’s business.”
In 1965 the first group of students graduated, ready to put their degrees to use. Meanwhile the program continued to grow and soon split off from the political science department to join the School of Management—a move that brought new resources and renewed focus on developing specialized MPA curriculum.
Dale Wright, who was one of the MPA class of 1966, returned to BYU as a professor to help shape the public administration degree after receiving a PhD from the University of Southern California. The switch to the management school helped Wright and other professors create an MPA program that gave students practical skills to manage effectively.
“There are a lot of really successful MPA programs that are housed in political science departments, but we had the flexibility to develop the coursework that fit the needs of the MPA students and their careers,” he says.
Skills in accounting, knowledge of organizational behavior, and high ethical standards became the hallmarks of a BYU MPA. In 1998 the institute received an endowment from the George W. Romney family, officially becoming the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management. The added resources allowed the institute to evolve and keep pace with the changing world.
“For many years our focus was preparing leaders in all forms of government, and that is a precious legacy that we continue to foster,” says Jeffery Thompson, current director of the institute. “We still place a lot of students in government, but we’re seeing a lot of growth in nonprofit management. Part of our charge as the Romney Institute is to expand our reach in the nonprofit sector, and we’re well positioned to do that.”
While the program has evolved over time, at its core are the values the original graduates and professors held—serving communities and the public interest.
“I watched alumni who worked as city managers, in state governments, and in federal agencies and saw the good that one can do in society,” Wright says. “That is why the MPA degree is important. You can make a difference in people’s lives.”