The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Amy Ferrer

headshot of Amy Ferrer., MPPA 2008
Executive Director
American Philosophical Association

Degree & graduation year: Master of Public Policy & Administration, 2008

Current position: Executive Director, American Philosophical Association

What I do: I run the primary professional organization for philosophy professors, students, and scholars in North America, which is headquartered at the University of Delaware. I manage the organization’s daily operations as well as its long-term strategy and direction, supported by eight other professional staff members and numerous volunteer leaders, including a twenty-eight-member board. The APA has more than 8,000 members around the world, and our activities include organizing three annual philosophy conferences, publishing a journal and a blog, hosting a job board, advocating for philosophy and the humanities, and providing a variety of other professional development opportunities and member services. I also serve on a number of boards of partner organizations, including the National Humanities Alliance and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, collaborating with other scholarly societies and higher education leaders to promote and support philosophy, the humanities, and liberal arts education more generally.

How I ended up working there: Immediately after completing my MPPA, I worked for four years as the associate director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (now Defending Rights & Dissent) in Northampton, Massachusetts. In that role, I was able to develop communications, fundraising, and management skills that eventually prepared me for my work with the APA. So when my husband (a philosophy professor) learned that his professional organization was seeking a new executive director, he suggested I apply, and the rest is history. Interestingly, I’m the first executive director in the APA’s more than one-hundred-year history who doesn’t have a PhD in philosophy. They chose me because the organization had grown to the point where the executive director needed to have a background in nonprofit administration, not just expertise in the discipline of philosophy.

The best part of my job: The APA was going through a difficult time when I arrived in 2012, and it’s been challenging but incredibly rewarding to work with the staff, board, committees, and members over the last few years to get the association to where it is today—stable and on the path to long-term success. I also really enjoy working with the leaders of other scholarly societies to learn from one another and try to find innovative and collaborative solutions to some of the big issues confronting higher education and, in particular, the humanities disciplines.

A recent exciting work experience: Over the last year or so I’ve been part of a joint project between the APA and the American Historical Association, funded by the Mellon Foundation, working with philosophy and history faculty at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Our project aims to understand the particular circumstances and challenges facing humanities faculty at HBCUs and explore ways that we, their professional associations, can better serve and learn from them. It’s been incredibly rewarding to meet and connect with these faculty members, and I’m excited about the future possibilities this project has revealed.

How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: Some of the courses I took at what was then the Center for Public Policy and Administration—like Budgeting—apply to my work in obvious and direct ways. I’ve also spent a lot of time updating and developing internal and external policies and procedures for the APA, and the ways that my MPPA work taught me to analyze processes and develop creative solutions have been really helpful—I’ve been complimented on how clear, concise, and effective the policies and procedures I develop are. I also honed my ability to work collaboratively and diplomatically during my MPPA, and that’s served me well.

Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: Nothing can substitute for real-world experience, so get as much of that as you can—western Massachusetts has a great nonprofit culture, and taking advantage of that before, during, and after grad school set me up for success as a nonprofit executive today. And don’t underestimate the power of the communities and networks you can develop at SPP and elsewhere—the friends I made in grad school and I have continued to support and mentor each other as we’ve found our own career paths, and the faculty I worked most closely with have been wonderful resources as well.

Future plans: My current appointment as APA executive director runs until 2022, so I expect to remain in my current position for the next few years.