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Lisbeth Pereyra has become a leader in the master of public administration (MPA) program, thanks to her role as MPA Graduate Student Organization president.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Commencement 2015 profile: Lisbeth Pereyra
May 14, 2015Tweet
When Lisbeth Pereyra was 10 years old, her family moved from Santiago, a large city in the Dominican Republic, to the vast metropolis of New York City. The experience was challenging, especially for a fifth grader, and the language barrier was a huge obstacle. It was this firsthand experience with the difficulties of growing up an immigrant that led Pereyra to pursue a master’s in public administration at the College of Community and Public Affairs.
“That’s one of the reasons why I pursued my studies and a career in public service, because you do see that need within your own community, and you see the help that, whether it’s a neighbor or your own family, someone has been able to get from community organizations or government itself,” Pereyra said. “So you see the difference that it makes in people’s’ lives, and I’d like to pay it forward in a way.”
When Pereyra got the opportunity to work toward that goal as a human development major, she didn’t waste any time making herself busy. During her time as an undergrad, she worked in the Admissions Office as an admissions counselor, served on Chi Alpha Epsilon National Honor Society’s executive board, mentored youth at a residential facility in Lansing, N.Y., and conducted research on volunteer retention on nonprofit organizations as a McNair Scholar, a program offered to low-income, first-generation college students. Public service became a lifestyle for Pereyra.
It was during a study abroad trip to Shenzhen, China, in December 2011, that she became serious about a career in public administration specifically. While there, she met her future mentor David Campbell, chair and associate professor of the public administration program. He invited her to participate in his Philanthropy and Civil Society class, and discussed the MPA program with her in detail. She was hooked (it didn’t hurt that she and Campbell got to sing Backstreet Boys and NSYNC songs together at karaoke.)
“Aside from being a really funny, nice and sweet person, David really provided me with a lot of information about public administration,” Pereyra said. “His teaching was very challenging because he forces you to discuss and engage.”
When she entered the MPA program, Pereyra wanted to remain active. She knew the course load was going to be challenging, but she got a lot of satisfaction from doing things outside class as an undergrad, so she continued to stay involved.
One of her biggest duties was her graduate assistantship through the Public Service Learning Community, a new learning community committed to service in Greater Binghamton, and a first-of-its-kind partnership between CCPA and the Hinman College residential community. She oversaw coordinators in the community and made sure residents followed through with their service projects.
“That allowed me to really help further those students’ knowledge about public service, and what it means to be civically engaged and participatory in society,” Pereyra said.
Pereyra also served as president of the MPA Graduate Student Organization (MPA GSO). She organized local social events for students, raised over $1,000 for the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) Hunger Walk for two consecutive years and brought Binghamton Mayor and CCPA alum Rich David in to talk about his career, among other things.
Through her experience in the MPA GSO, Pereyra has been a leader in the MPA program, reaching out to students and encouraging them to participate in activities that give them a chance to practice what they’re learning, Campbell said.
“Being the president of the MPA GSO, participating in the CHOW Walk ─ these are all the kinds of things we emphasize in the MPA program, thinking about the practical ways you can make a difference, both as a volunteer and as a professional,” Campbell said. “She’s really embodied those qualities as a student.”
Pereyra impressed Campbell and other faculty in the MPA program so much that they decided to award her the Li Guo Ambassador Award. Named for a visiting professor who was killed in the American Civic Association shootings in 2009, the award is granted to a student who “builds bridges.” Granting Pereyra the award, however, proved to be difficult.
“When it came time to recognize her, we had a very friendly fight among the faculty to see who would be the faculty member who got to give Lisbeth the award, because there is such consensus among the faculty about what an important and noteworthy student she was in the program, and what a great alum she’ll be,” Campbell said. “All of us wanted to give her the award, and only one of us could, and we had a very friendly back and forth about it.”
Looking back on the last several years, Pereyra describes her time at CCPA as life-changing. She often thinks about how different her life would have ended up had she stayed in New York and not pursued college.
“It’s made me a leader in a way. Not always in the traditional sense, because I’m not always the loudest or the most outspoken, but it’s allowed me to lead by example and be a leader behind the scenes, but also pushed me to be at center stage,” she said. “It’s all happened here, in Binghamton.”
While she is proud of a great many things that transpired during her time at CCPA, she is most proud simply to graduate. She is the first person in her immediate family to earn a college degree, let alone a master’s.
“I’m very proud to be graduating. It’s not something that is very common in my community, and in my family it’s not very common,” she said.
While she doesn’t have any concrete professional experience yet, she feels that her degrees have prepared her for a solid career in public administration.
“I’m 100 percent certain that the things I’ve learned in the classroom I can apply directly at a job,” she said. “The program is very focused on providing you with an experience that is very applicable to where you will work. From the program, I can know what to expect.”
Pereyra is heading back home to New York City for her job search. She’s currently applying for jobs and hopes to land a position working at a community nonprofit.
“I really have an interest in homeless populations,” she said. “It’s just an interest because I’ve lived in New York for a very long time, and you get to see that first-hand as a resident. You get to see that need and that issue. It’s right in front of you. It’s not an issue that has been paid enough attention, but there is a lot of work that can be done there.”
In five years (maybe 10), she hopes to be working as an executive director of a nonprofit.
“I think that would be really ideal for me,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people in that position, and I really admire a lot of the work that they do, how they’re able to lead their organizations in a mission-driven way. I’d love to have that opportunity.”
Campbell doesn’t doubt that Pereyra will succeed. He said that everyone who meets her wants to hire her. He thinks his star student will be a leader and make a difference.
“She has all the things we hope graduates of our MPA program have,” Campbell said. “I would use her as an example with any prospective student about what you can accomplish in the two years that you’re here.”