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Cross-Disciplinary Executive Leadership

August 17, 2022

Two students pursuing EMPA/ML degrees chatted about harnessing cross-disciplinary opportunities to chart educational paths toward informed and confident community leadership.

At its core, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Master in Law (ML) program both prioritizes and celebrates a cross-disciplinary approach to the study of law. Thanks to a partnership with the Fels Institute of Government, students can earn their ML degrees in conjunction with a Master of Public Administration (MPA) or Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA), equipping them to tackle real, complex problems with informed confidence in their industry’s legal parameters.

Education Expansion

As the director of Penn Home Ownership Services (PHOS), a department within Penn’s Business Services Division, Ambika Singh ML’23, EMPA’23 was eager to take advantage of the University of Pennsylvania’s generous tuition benefits and continue her education, but she was not precisely sure what discipline she wanted to pursue. Though she was curious about law in a broad sense, Singh liked her job and aimed to continue working in higher education leadership.

Singh began researching different options to study law at Penn. She was thrilled to learn about the flexible options of the ML program, which seemed like it would fit into her busy schedule as she continued to work at her job in PHOS.

Ambika Singh ML?23, EMPA'23 Ambika Singh ML’23, EMPA'23“I’ve always loved law, and I have a lot of lawyers in my family, but the structure of being a full-time law student wasn’t something that would work for my schedule and my goals,” Singh said. “When I read about the ML program on the Law School’s website, I noticed that the majority of people who earn the ML are in different disciplines – it’s something you can add to different degrees or curriculums, and that was perfect for what I was trying to do. I don’t need to be an attorney to reach my long-term goals, but I do love law, and I think it’s applicable to every single industry – so this is amazing.”

Aware of Penn’s reputation for cross-disciplinary learning, Singh attended a graduate program open house to learn about the other degree programs the University offered.

“At the information session, the MPA program caught my eye because they said something along the lines of, ‘if you’re looking to have a leadership impact on your community as opposed to the impact a traditional CEO in the business world or entrepreneurship side, then this is for you,’” Singh said. “That was really attractive to me.”

Once she began the MPA program, Singh ultimately decided to take the additional courses on executive leadership and is projected to graduate with her joint EMPA/ML degree in 2023.

Like Singh, Sarah Hamilton ML’22, EMPA’22 found the EMPA/ML program because she wanted to expand both her academic horizons and her impact as a professional. Hamilton, a Chief of Staff at a furniture company, had just wrapped up her last MPA class when a lingering urge to continue learning prompted her to explore further degree programs. For Hamilton, the prospect of continuing to expand her knowledge in the field of law was a welcome opportunity.

“I pursued the ML because I think that having a foundational understanding of law is really helpful in any field, and it was only a couple extra classes on top of the MPA, so I thought, why not?” Hamilton said.

Real Career Application and Exploration

For many ML students, making connections between how legal topics discussed in the classrooms apply to their careers is essential.

Being engrained in the business world, Hamilton expects that the knowledge gained in her ML courses will help her think through more robust solutions to the complex challenges she faces every day as an executive leader.

Sarah Hamilton ML?23, EMPA'23 (center) with her classmates, Robert Palermo ML?22, EMPA'22... Sarah Hamilton ML’23, EMPA'23 (center) with her classmates, Robert Palermo ML’22, EMPA'22 (left) and Aisling McCormick ML’21, EMPA'21In particular, Hamilton emphasized that foundational ML courses – such as “Navigating the Regulatory State” with Lecturer in Law William Peterson and “Fundamentals of U.S. Legal Research” with Associate Director for Educational Programs Mariah Ford – as well as elective courses – such as “Law and Candidacy” with Lecturer in Law Neil Makhija – offered highly relevant and engaging information that applied to fields well beyond the study of law.

Moreover, to earn their MPA or EMPA, students must complete a “Capstone” project that can be tailored to serve their unique educational interests and professional ambitions. The open-ended nature of the Capstone invites students pursuing the joint MPA/ML or EMPA/ML to incorporate different areas of legal research and analysis into their work, thus resulting in highly inter-disciplinary projects that serve each student’s individual intellectual curiosity and growth.

For her Capstone, Singh is analyzing local housing market data with an eye toward if and how she might amend PHOS policies and practices to continue to best serve Penn employees looking to buy houses – which is no small feat in the midst of a rapidly shifting real estate economy.

“There is a benefit that Penn offers all employees, which is a forgivable loan that they can use to buy a house in West Philly or apply for home improvement funds. The program is designed to encourage homeownership in our local community, so that it grows and thrives,” Singh said. “My Capstone project involves conducting an economic forecast of the real estate market in West Philly, and based on those results, seeing if we need to make any changes to the benefit Penn offers to amount to more affordability for the employees, which is important because this is a project that has a huge impact on the Penn community – so I’m excited.”

Interdisciplinary and Diverse

Singh underscored that the diversity among her ML and MPA classmates organically and invaluably enriched every course discussion.

“The students in the classes were from such a wide variety of backgrounds that it was eye-opening just to hear them talk and answer questions based on their own experiences. In my Entrepreneurship class, there was a technologist, a scientist, a veteran, students with consulting backgrounds, a medical student, an MBA student, high-level administrators who have been in their industries for over 15 years, and me,” Singh said. “Maintaining an open forum for conversation and feedback among everyone has been helpful, because there is so much to learn from someone’s lived experience.”

Hamilton echoed Singh’s sentiments, noting that the biggest asset of the EMPA/ML program was the opportunity to make meaningful connections with a wide array of bright people.

“The most impactful aspects of the program are relationships that I’ve made,” Hamilton said. “Penn is an amazing school, and the ability to take those classes and think strategically is huge. Graduate school forces you to think in a different type of way, and of course I’ll have that moving forward, but more than anything it’s the relationships that will stay with me.”

Learn more about the Law School’s Master in Law program.