By: Chelsea Cabral
A Master of Public Policy (MPP) online student, Thalia Valkanos ’18, just received the greatest news any student could hear following their time at an unpaid internship or fellowship—an immediate job offer. Valkanos spent her summer in Washington, D.C. working as a legislative fellow for a New Hampshire senator. Valkanos, an environmental engineering consultant based in New Hampshire and recent president of the American Society of Civil Engineers New Hampshire Section (ASCE-NH), initially planned on moving to Washington, D.C. in November of 2016 to focus more on policy that dealt with environmental statutes and regulations.
After attending a Legislative Fly-In in D.C. hosted by the ASCE in March, Valkanos met with several congressional staffers and connected with the NH senator’s legislative team over infrastructure issues in NH and nationwide, and was asked to apply for their fellowship. “It’s worthy to note that my ongoing MPP coursework contributed to my confidence to make this transition,” said Valkanos. “I knew that such a drastic career change wasn’t something I could do overnight, but I made it my goal to achieve within six months; the senator was also a member of the commerce committee, with jurisdiction over infrastructure, so it was a great fit overall.”
While previously working as an engineering consultant specializing in environmental, health, and safety regulatory compliance, a lot of Valkanos’ work demanded interpreting and applying federal, state, and local regulations. To best serve her clients and attain a better understanding of public policy, she sought out the Environmental Policy Graduate Certificate (EPGC) program at UMassD, and then quickly transitioned to the MPP program afterwards. Now as a legislative correspondent on Capitol Hill, Valkanos has been thankful for the specialized courses she’s taken in the MPP program, which have given her a rich understanding of the intricacies of the legislative and judicial processes.
“I am immensely grateful for the confidence this program has instilled in me; while my engineering background generally assures others that I am technically capable, it can also unfortunately suggest that I am introverted, uncomfortable with public speaking, and uninformed on subjects such as public policy,” said Valkanos. “Knowing that I can prepare wastewater design specifications and file amendments for the markup of a bill is very rewarding and has given me confidence to accept any kind of challenge.”
Valkanos secured the fellowship around the same time she was developing her MPP research proposal, which centered on a healthcare issue that could potentially help the Senator and their legislative team. With the project currently ongoing, she feels fortunate to not only receive input from MPP Professor Korejwa, but also her colleagues on Capitol Hill. “It adds a different dimension to the assignment and makes it feel very real,” she says. After graduating and earning her master’s degree in 2018, Valkanos is considering attending law school or pursing a PhD in International Affairs or Public Health."