Useful Information

April 10, 2003
Useful Information
By Howie Mansfield
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Marist College offers master’s in public administration degree program in Syracuse

As the world economy continues to fluctuate, individuals must come up with creative ideas to better manage organizations. Marist College, a Catholic college founded by the Marist Brothers in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has been offering classes in Syracuse for those enrolled in its Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) degree program. Occasionally, Marist College schedules classes for the program in selected areas, or cohorts. These cohorts allow students from areas outside of Marist College to earn a degree from the school without setting foot on the Poughkeepsie campus. Students from the Syracuse area use a mix of on-site and online classes to complete their MPA degree.

Father Charles Vavonese, administrator of Holy Trinity Church in Syracuse and assistant diocesan superintendent of Catholic Schools, is one of the local professors teaching classes in the Syracuse cohort for Marist College. He said he first heard about the Marist MPA program from a friend and sent in a resume and letter of interest. “Soon after, I was contacted and then, here I am teaching the class,” Father Vavonese said.

With over 30 years of experience with parishes, Catholic schools and serving on boards of directors for various nonprofit agencies, Father Vavonese said he felt prepared to teach students in his MPA class, Management in Nonprofit Organizations. The eight-week course that finished in early March focused on not-for-profit management from a strategic and governance point of view, he said.

“The course met once a week for four hours. I would introduce the unit we were working on; there would in some cases be a guest speaker on the topic, and then we would have some lecture and group work,” said Father Vavonese of his class with 35 students. “Teaching graduate students was very different. Some students in the class had over 20 years experience in their profession.”

Ed Bragg, a local sherrif and student in the class, said Father Vavonese was a “motivated and resourceful educator.” Many of the students said the class was prepared well for the assignments and other classwork because of Father Vavonese’s expertise.

Michael Carinci, an investigator for the City of Oneida Police Department, said the course covered many topics in a short period of time. “This class seemed to serve all of the students’ needs. Previous classes impacted us on an individual basis, depending on where and who we worked for. Father Vavonese presented very useful information regarding non profits, from a mission statement to obtaining desired goals, successful internal operations to public perceptions, and the complicated world of funding and philanthrophy,” said Carinci, also a Juvenile Aid Officer and Youth Court Director the Oneida Police. “ I also learned valuable information regarding proper grant writing, constructing adequate press releases, we discussed management styles, including strategic planning and strategic thinking.”

The Marist College MPA program is similar to the Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) degree, Father Vavonese said. “Management is generic. What’s different here is we focus more on government and less on accounting. This is a broader degree, while the MBA goes deeper,” explained Father Vavonese. “To get the degree, you need 39 credit hours, or 13 courses. And each student needs the nonprofit course to get their degree.”

Students can complete their degrees in less than three years, Father Vavonese said. Typically, students enroll in two courses each semester, or one class every eight weeks. Taking one class at a time allows students to focus more closely on the class work. In order to take courses online, individuals must have a computer with Internet access and appropriate word processing and spreadsheet programs. Father Vavonese said the MPA degree is one that could be achieved from a number of different fields and backgrounds. “Basically Marist College wants a student to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. But there isn’t one major or majors they require for enrollment,” he said. “To have success in this program, you need to have a sense of leadership along with skills and qualities for good management or administration.”

Sgt. Tom Connellan, public information officer for the Syracuse Police Department, said the class presentations were very helpful to him as person working with media. “It was a very good class. When we focused on public relations, Father Vavonese had a person from a local station come in to talk. That helped me understand more what I do,” Connellan said. “I also sit on the board of Home Aides for Central New York. The information will help me with my work with them. By taking this class, it will certainly help me get more out of my career as we strive toward positions in administration.”

Yoly Barrio-Taylor, an employee of New York State and active community volunteer, said the class was a tremendous help. “It was really good experience,” Barrio-Taylor said. “From the guest speakers, I made a number of personal contacts which helped me in my volunteer work.” Lynette DelFavero, a police officer with the Syracuse Police Department, said she came into the class with few expectations. “I didn’t know anything about not-for-profit organizations. But the course really opened my eyes to what it takes to run these organizations. I didn’t realize the effort that went into being successful,” said DelFavero. DelFavero said taking the class has given her more possibilities for opportunities in the private sector after her retirement from the police department. “This class was beneficial to the whole MPA curriculum,” said Village of North Syracuse Police Sgt. Paul Gottfried. “The knowledge of nonprofits will only enhance my abilities in the field and future career aspirations.”

Another student, Michael Sullivan, a real estate manager, said the class was one of the most useful in his job. “I think the class fit very well into the MPA program. It was right on the mark,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t know at first if I was going to use this information, but I use it every day. You can really modify it to apply to your line of work.” Sullivan said the guest speakers gave him a sense of the passion behind running a non-for-profit entity. Sullivan said having Father Vavonese’s network of friends in the non-for-profit sector speak was a great benefit to the class “One of the speakers, Sister Kathleen [Osbelt], the director of Francis House really impressed me. Her determination, stamina and drive came through in her presentation,” said Sullivan, a parishioner at St. James Church in Cazenovia. “These people are really in love with their job and the people they serve.” For more information about the Marist College MPA program, call (845) 575-334 or visit

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