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Sylvia Rios’ passion for non-profit pushed her to get an MPA

Hardika Singh
April 7, 2021

Sylvia Rios firmly believes there is no perfect time to go back to school. She thinks if one wants to achieve their goal, they just have to do it and not let excuses stand in the way. With her graduation in May, Rios certainly embraced this philosophy.

Rios found out she was expecting her second child shortly after she started the fully online Master of Public Administration program at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs in 2018 . Determined to succeed, Rios pursued her degree while raising her children and starting a new job as a project manager in the Business and Growth Services department at Lorain County Community College.

“For years, I was just waiting for a good time and that never came,” Rios said. “I wanted to show my kids that anything is possible if you try hard enough or you wanted it bad enough. So, I took the first step because it’ll only get harder to get that degree the older I get. Now, it’s all going to be behind me, and I will have a master’s under my belt.”

Rios was first motivated to learn more about public administration when she volunteered in the AmeriCorps after earning her undergraduate degree in international studies from Baldwin Wallace University. Inspired by her one-year service with City Year in Cleveland and a second year with VISTA in Oklahoma, Rios learned that her true passions lay in the nonprofit sector.

“By serving locally, I felt really connected to my community and saw what I could do here,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience and that’s how I knew I wanted to get my master’s. It worked out perfectly since the Voinovich School MPA Program would prepare me for any future role.”

Rios was initially attracted to Voinovich School’s MPA for its flexibility and 100% online instruction, allowing her to receive the degree from the comfort of home. She stayed because it incorporated everything she was looking for: leadership, economic development, communications and other components that would make her successful in pursuing a career in nonprofit management.

Through the coursework, Rios learned that leadership roles in the public and nonprofit sectors rely on effective partnerships with stakeholders. So, she became strategic and intentional in planning those relationships. She also learned how to use data to guide and develop processes.

Rios credits the development of these skills to her professors: Kate Leeman, director of strategic initiatives; Marsha Lewis, retired professor and senior associate dean; and Judith Millesen, online MPA faculty. The hands-on relevant coursework taught through peer learning, group projects and other innovative methods made her online degree much more fruitful.

“It’s partnerships and collaborative strategies that make things happen, and it takes communication, shared resources, intentionality and foresight to plan those,” she said. “I’m so glad I chose the Voinovich School to advance my career.”