Extending the Public Sector Network

1009-15 Marriott School of Management Portraits Okerlund, Vicki 08 1009-15 Portraits of faculty and staff from the Marriott School of Management requested by Nina Whitehead. September 9, 2010 Photo by Kylea Knecht/BYU © BYU PHOTO 2010 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322

With a couple temporary employees and 2,500 phone numbers, Vicki Okerlund set out in 2001 to create a network of BYU MPA alumni. Eight months later, she and her team had called every single alum, reaching about 90 percent of them and starting an alumni network that continues to enrich BYU’s MPA program today.

Okerlund, a 1991 MPA grad, is the Romney Institute’s external relations coordinator. Since starting the position, she has helped the network grow to include about 3,600 alumni. She maintains connections with alumni throughout the country, helping past and current students help each other in the world of public administration.

“Our alums are an engaged, approachable group,” Okerlund says. “I don’t think that happens in every graduate program, but it does in ours, and I love it!”

She began working for the Romney Institute in 2000, just a few years after her graduation.

“When I was in the program, I enjoyed everything about it. It seemed like we were a big family,” she says. “So when they asked me to come back and work, I jumped at the chance.”

Even with her love for the program today, an MPA was not always on Okerlund’s radar. She graduated from BYU in 1984 with a degree in finance and marketing, planning to work in retail. After an internship in retail and a mission in New York City, she decided she was more interested in the public sector than in inventories, so she applied to the MPA program at BYU.

“I just knew I didn’t want to work in the corporate world,” she says. “When I got into the program I found that I really liked working in local government. I could see the fruits of my labors and the impact I was making.”

She interned with Provo City for a year, and after graduating did healthcare research for a professor. After taking a couple years off to care for her two children, she joined Romney Institute admissions team, and just a year later started working with alumni.

After initiating the alumni network, she also coordinated regular alumni luncheons and newsletters to keep everyone connected and build their networks. Her latest project involves teaching alums how to share their passion for public service by reaching out to potential students. Many people have never heard of an MPA, she says, and alumni are the perfect representatives to find more people who want to work in the public sector. She’s helping the Romney Institute implement their plan to give alumni recruiting materials to share with the world.

“Every time I go visit the alums, they say, ‘I want to give back in some way because the MPA program was the best thing I ever did,’” she says. “And here is their chance!”