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Arkansas State University

Wesley Tavegia Builds on Career Experience With Online MPA Program

Now that Wesley Tavegia is back where he wants to be, working for the United States Forest Service, the Helena, Montana, native is eager to grow.

Tavegia is enrolled in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) Public Management online program at A-State. Tavegia, who is on track to graduate in Summer 2019, is an office automation assistant at Huron-Manistee National Forests in Michigan.

Arkansas State online MPA student Wesley Tavegia

“The idea behind getting a master’s degree is to get an education that matches my work experience,” he said. “Both my wife, Andrea, and I work for the U.S. Forest Service, and we worked for the U.S. National Park Service at one time. Getting jobs together in the natural resources realm of federal service is tough. Everybody wants to be a park ranger. And why not? It’s a good job.”

Consequently, the couple spent five years working for different entities and often living far apart. Tavegia, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in recreation resource management from the University of Montana in 2000, even stopped working for the federal government for one year to be closer to Andrea.

“We got pretty close to each other in Arizona around 2014, but things were still kind of uncomfortable,” he said. “She got a job opportunity with a promotion in Montana, and I took a major downgrade to get our family together. Now, I’m trying to get my career going again.”

Tavegia, who served in the Army for three years and left as a first lieutenant, is headed in the right direction with the A-State online MPA program.

“It has been great,” Tavegia said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better. The schedule is great and the classes are flexible. You’ve got to get your workload done each week, but all of the classes I have had have been good with a nice, clear syllabus that lays out the assignments well and gives you a good idea of what kind of workload you can expect ahead of time. Considering that Andrea and I work full time, online is the only way I could do a master’s degree program.”

A-Plus Choice

Tavegia researched online MPA programs and was immediately sold on the quality and affordability offered in Jonesboro.

“The research told me A-State was the best value out there for an MPA program,” he said. “The fact that you’re able to get in-state tuition even though you’re out of state because it’s an online program is great. When all is said and done, I’m going to have the MPA program finished for $15,000. That’s very affordable. We’re paying out of pocket. For us to be able to do that, it’s a great value.”

The flexibility of the program also allowed Tavegia to scale back his course-load when he and Andrea moved to Michigan to start their new jobs in January 2018.

“I work out of one office, she works out of another, but we both work for Huron-Manistee National Forests,” he said. “We’re only 45 minutes apart. She works out of Cadillac. I work out of Manistee. But we live in the same house, we see each other at night, and we just had a little girl, Fern, two months ago. Life is good.”

Tavegia has a set routine for schoolwork each week, which includes always studying ahead.

“It’s something you can do at home,” he said. “Right now, I’ve got a 4.0 GPA. It’s a fair amount of work, but you get out of it what you put into it. I usually get the readings done the Saturday and Sunday before each week of the course.

“As I’m coming into a new course, I’ll have the first 50 pages read before I go to class. It helps out. You can do the writings a little bit easier that week. Then, at the end of the week, you’re done with your writings, class discussions and papers and you start the readings again on Saturday. You definitely don’t want to get behind. Be prepared for class.”

Hands-On Experience

Tavegia has enjoyed several courses in the online MPA Public Management track, including POSC 6613: Administrative Leadership and POSC 6553: Public Budgeting and Finance.

“The curriculum is directly applicable,” he said. “I served as an officer in the Army straight out of college, so I had a fair amount of leadership under my belt. At the same time, the leadership content was dead on and it was an enjoyable course. Leadership principles never get old. The budget class has a lot of direct influence on what I’m doing right now, and it is going to in the future — even more so.” 

However, Tavegia got something extra from the POSC 6573: Grant Writing and Administration course.

“It was awesome because writing grants can be intimidating,” he said. “That was a really nice course to take because it forced you into it. I also did a grant proposal and got awarded one, a $1,500 grant from the Society of Recreation Professionals through the Christopher K. Jarvi Scholarship Program.

“I wrote it for Lumberman’s Monument, which is a forest service site in the Huron-Manistee National Forests. It was awarded for one of the employees there to attend a National Association of Interpretation Conference, where they will teach other folks.”

Tavegia was impressed to see the process come to fruition, even in an accelerated format.

“I realize for a lot of folks in their fields that seven weeks is so short and they might not be able to pull it together or they want to do something bigger,” he said. “I was able to do a grant application and follow the process through the class — and we got awarded. It’s a $1,500 grant, and I paid about $1,000 for the course and books. The course paid for itself plus some. It’s a great return on investment.”

Falling Into Place

With a stable residence, a solid job in the right field and a matter of months left before Tavegia has a master’s degree, he is ready to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this degree will help create career opportunities, if not with the forest service, then certainly in another realm,” he said. “The thing about the MPA program is, you’re not limited to one type of government service.

“There’s the nonprofit side and state, county, local and federal government. It’s a fairly broad degree but at the same time, it’s got enough specific course content to it where I feel like I’ve now got some added skills.”

Tavegia hopes to parlay his skills into a position as a budget analyst, an administrative officer or a position in lands and realty management administration for the U.S. Forest Service.

“My friends and family are excited for me,” he said. “My dad, Jerry, is one of the only ones in our family who has a master’s degree. My wife has her master’s degree, too. It was a natural progression for me. I just needed some time.

“You do your undergraduate work and you’re ready to be out of school for a while. Then, you get out in the real world and start working and think, ‘I need a little bit more education to go along with my work experience and tie it all together, balance things out and have the two reinforce each other.’ I’ve been around natural resources my whole life. I can’t get enough.”

Learn more about the A-State MPA Public Management track online program.

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