student Spotlight

January Student Spotlight with Elaine Perez, MPA ‘20


This month we shine our spotlight on Elaine Perez, who is senior director of operations and strategic planning at Year Up New York and found a reason to come back to school after more than a decade away.

Why did you decide to go back to school after so many years? Why did you choose the Marxe School?
It took me 11 years to go back to school. I would start applications during that time and was paralyzed by fear of not getting in and being able to manage the coursework as a mother of three. At the same time, I felt there was this missing piece that I needed to do to both honor the sacrifices my parents had made for my future and for advancement in my career. I am proud of the growth I’ve achieved in my career, but not having a Masters was feeding into experiencing impostor syndrome and I needed to break through it. With push from family and friends, I decided to work through the application and apply to the Marxe School. After visiting several programs, there simply was none in comparison that offered the support, flexibility, and balance between theory and the practical. The Executive Masters of Public Administration program has built up credibility after so many years that you can trust you’re getting the best education. The cohort model is amazing and I’ve made friendships that will go beyond graduation. I often look back now and think why didn’t I start earlier, but I know this was the right time to return.

How do your classes bridge the gap between theoretical learning in the classroom versus practical learning on-the-job?
I often joke with my colleagues on how my assignments double for school and work. Each class has brought learnings and assignments that I can bring back to my organization. These range from a presentation on change management that I then used to share at work to the creation of a staff survey from my Research and Analysis II course that I used to measure the communication preferences of our employees. How I phrase questions or understand concepts in meetings now come from what I’ve learned at Marxe. There hasn’t been a class that hasn’t brought value and I still have a year to go. Looking forward to what future courses will bring.

Tell us what you do at Year Up New York as senior director of operations and strategic planning. What are some of your biggest challenges and most rewarding initiatives?
I lead the amazing team that helps drive operational and organizational effectiveness through our office systems facilities, planning and organizational development, and volunteer and events management. One of my specific focus areas is staff communication and professional development, as well as strategic goal setting and facilitation for our New York site. As a member of our Senior Leadership Team, I work with my colleagues to ensure we set annual goals and facilitate spaces to track their progress. It can be challenging to balance the multiple focus areas under my purview. It is why I have been blessed with an amazing team to help push forward the initiatives in their respective area, as well as having colleagues who are thought partners and support in balancing it all. The most rewarding part is being able to serve our staff and students. It’s an honor to play a role in their professional development and growth as they confide in us with their time and talents. Whether it’s organizing a staff professional development day or Bring you Child to Work day, I get the gift of planning something that aims to help our staff feel appreciated by the organization.