Alumni Profile: Michelle Goncalves, MPPA 2006

Michelle Goncalves speaking at a lectern at an event

Degree & graduation year:  MPPA, 2006

Current position: Executive Director, UMass Women into Leadership

What I do: I coordinate all aspects of UMass Women into Leadership (UWiL), a professional development and leadership training program for undergraduate students interested in politics, policy, and public leadership.

How I ended up working there: After graduating from SPP (then the Center for Public Policy & Administration!), I stayed on campus to work for the National Center for Digital Government. From there, I moved to Political Science, where I served as director of administration and research, overseeing operations for the Political Science and Legal Studies programs, coordinating the department’s research endeavors, and initiating professional development programming and alumni activities. After coordinating one alumni event related to politics in which few women spoke as panelists and few undergraduate women showed up as participants, I expressed frustration to my boss that we were not doing enough to address the gender gap in politics. I argued that as the state’s flagship, public institution, we had a responsibility to do better and to prepare our students for public service. He was convinced, and UWiL was born!

The best part of my job: I was able to create this program from scratch, so that in itself is amazing. As I reflect on our fifth year, I am grateful for the network of supporters that we have cultivated, too. These supporters—including many SPP alums, faculty, and staff—have helped to mentor UWiL students in countless ways.

A recent exciting work experience: I coordinated Women Leading Western Mass with SPP at the start of the semester. The event welcomed three of our recently elected state representatives and the district’s newly elected state senator to campus to discuss their experiences on the campaign trail and in office. It was a terrific event that helped to get many of our students excited about state politics, a wonderful way to kick off the semester, and a great opportunity to hear about our local officials’ priorities and plans for this region. And I was able to work with SPP, of course!

How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: I’ve always been drawn to writing, but SPP helped me understand the importance of a persuasive, succinct, and direct memo. Also, an information technology course I took ended up teaching me more about managing and developing websites than I realized it would, and those tech skill have proved valuable in every single job I’ve had since.

Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: I knew that I was going to focus on public administration, so it’s that portion of my MPPA that I found most valuable. Coming up with policy solutions is critical, but understanding how to put those plans into action, work within a bureaucracy, and keep a unit functioning smoothly is just as important. Don’t discount that aspect!

Future plans: UWiL is still a newer program, and so I hope that I can continue to institutionalize it on campus and strengthen the relationships we have built with our political leaders moving forward. What the program will look like in five or ten years is anyone’s guess, but I’m excited to find out.

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