Rutgers and Center for Puerto Rico Team Up to Prepare Next Generation of Commonwealth’s Leaders


By Tom McLaughlin

In an unprecedented effort to prepare the next generation of leaders in Puerto Rico, Rutgers University–Camden and the Center for Puerto Rico have teamed forces to offer an executive master of public administration (EMPA) degree specializing in community development through the Department of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers–Camden.

Beginning this summer, the 45-credit program – designed for leaders, professionals, and citizens whom are dedicated to community-development efforts on the island – will be offered at the facilities of the Center for Puerto Rico in San Juan, a nonprofit organization founded and led by former Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderon.

Rutgers–Camden faculty will teach a series of hybrid and online courses focusing on a range of important topics such as leadership development, strategic planning, and effective communications within the context of community development.

puertorico2“This is the first time in the history of Rutgers University that we will have an EMPA focusing on community development,” says Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers–Camden, who was instrumental in creating the degree. “This program will be able to support Puerto Rico’s sustainable development by training a new generation of leaders, particularly in the government and third sector, and shift into a new paradigm of what the new Puerto Rico could look like.”

According to Bonilla-Santiago, the Puerto Rican government is in the midst of a pivotal, transformative period in its history. After years of economic crisis, due in large part to inefficient, centralized government bureaucracies, emerging leaders with unique administrative, operational, and strategic capabilities are needed to solve the commonwealth’s dire social and economic problems.

“At a time when the government is facing a serious economic crisis, we are preparing this group of professionals who will be ready to embrace new political and social changes, so that Puerto Rico doesn’t continue to have the same kinds of problems,” says Bonilla-Santiago.

The distinguished Rutgers–Camden professor adds that, because of the seriousness of the economic crisis, the third sector – comprised of organizations outside the government and private sectors, such as nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and faith-based organizations – is emerging as a major field.

“Hopefully these third-sector individuals can then become bridges to government,” she says. “We welcome any working professionals to this program who have an interest in creating change, building communities, and developing new organizations.”

puertorico3The EMPA program, open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree and five years of professional work experience, builds on the knowledge and competencies introduced in the 18-credit graduate certificate program in community development, launched two years ago by Rutgers and the Center for Puerto Rico.

In addition to taking six core courses – Leadership and Communication Skills, Community Development Theory, Principles of Public Administration, Introduction to Budgeting and Financial Management, and Citizen Participation and Community Economic Development – students in the certificate program must complete a community service project that utilizes the knowledge and strategies learned through their coursework. These credits can then be applied toward earning the executive MPA.

Once the current cohort of students completes the certificate program in June, a pool of 52 students will be eligible to pursue the full master’s degree.

“These students love Rutgers University–Camden and are very excited to continue learning how to address the current issues and challenges facing Puerto Rico and be able to sustain an agenda of sea change,” says Bonilla-Santiago.

For more information on the EMPA or the graduate certificate in community development, contact Gloria Bonilla-Santiago at (856) 225-6348 or or visit

Posted in: Community Outreach

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