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Alumni Spotlight: Dylan Wulderk, MPA '15

November 30, 2017

Dylan Wulderk, MPA '15, currently works as Opioid Policy Advisor for the New Jersey Department of Health in Trenton, NJ. In this interview, Dylan discusses his professional life and his time at Fels.

Please describe your organization and its mission: 

I currently work for the New Jersey Department of Health, within the Public Health Services Branch. We are tasked with promoting and improving health and quality of life for all the citizens of New Jersey. The opioid epidemic, which I work on exclusively, has become a significant part of that mission. In 2016 I co-wrote a grant to the CDC that allowed us to bring in additional personnel and form a team to help combat the opioid crisis. Our mission is to reduce the incidence of opioid misuse and abuse in New Jersey through interagency and interdepartmental efforts. 

Prior to my time with NJDOH, I worked for the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NY/NJ HIDTA). HIDTAs are a network of teams under the oversight of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)  that act as “force multipliers” within their respective regions. I was a part of the ONDCP’s Heroin Response Strategy, which had the mission of bridging the gap between public health and law enforcement in order to have a comprehensive strategy for tackling the opioid epidemic across 17 states. I worked closely with NJDOH and grew to really admire their work.

Please describe your position and the duties it entails:  

I currently serve as Opioid Policy Advisor, which provides me the opportunity to review opioid policies at the state and national level and provide insight into their potential effectiveness and implementation. existing legislation for review by the state legislature. One main task at the moment is to provide an analysis of state policies and programs related to opioids. This includes reviewing initial prescription limits, mandated treatment coverage, drug courts, substance-exposed infants, Narcan, or prescription monitoring. I’m working on a large policy analysis for the CDC, and also analyze and comment on relevant legislation for the Commissioner and the state legislature. The other is to facilitate collaboration with other departments and ensure that this is truly a coordinated, statewide response. In the past I’ve served as a department representative on the Governor’s Council for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and on interagency work groups formed to combat the opioid epidemic in the state. I’ve worked with the DEA, State Police, the Medical Examiner, Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Corrections, and the Governor’s Office on making sure that all departments are collaborating on this issue, rather than operating in silos. 

How did you become interested in this work?  

It was a winding path--that’s for sure. I came into Fels with much of my experience centered on Congress, and I was looking to get experience in public administration to transition to more local work, ideally in something that involved economic development or transportation. That was based on my life, seeing distressed communities up-close and persona having growing up near and working in Camden, Atlantic City, and Utica, NY. I wanted to work on turning around some of the biggest issues these communities faced. In fact, my goal as a public servant has always been to find solutions for the most pressing problems in my community. Coming back home to South Jersey to attend Fels, I noticed how big an impact substance abuse--particularly opioids and methamphetamines--was having in South Jersey. I have friends who are struggling with opioid addiction, and when an opportunity came up to completely change gears and work on reversing the opioid epidemic with HIDTA, I jumped at it. I hadn’t had any experience in the field prior to that--even through internships at Fels, I’d worked in tourism and economic development--so this wasn’t the most natural fit. But my personal interest, MPA background, and policy experience combined to make a great fit for me and for HIDTA. Once I was working on this every day, I knew I wanted to continue in this line of work, and transitioned over to DOH. 

How has Fels helped you in your career?

I’d never have gotten my first position working on opioids without Fels. One of my courses had us review the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Pennsylvania, which really allowed me to understand the complexities of healthcare and public health, and sparked an interest for me. Also, I found my first job in this field through Career Services--so my career would have been completely different without Fels! But on a deeper level, Fels imparted me with the confidence and ability to tackle major problems that span every area of public service. My public finance and performance management courses were critical to making a $2.5 million grant application to the CDC successful. Policy analysis is part of my day-to-day work. The diverse skillset a Fels education provides has allowed me to work on issues across the public sector. This is probably a good time to mention that I also serve as Economic Development Director for Hopewell Township in Cumberland County, New Jersey. What other program could prepare someone to simultaneously work on economic development in a rural community and drug policy at the state level?

What was your favorite Fels course and why?

My favorite course was Politics and Public Leadership. That course was discussion based and examined how we could leverage our own personalities, work styles, and personal strengths to meet the basic competencies of a successful leader in the public sector. My job requires me to work with all types of personalities, and people from different cultural and professional backgrounds. On any given day I’m talking to police officers, doctors, EMTs, treatment professionals, and civil servants. That doesn’t even include the municipal economic development work I also do in another, unrelated position. Understanding my strengths and how I can use them to navigate the complexities of organizational, interdepartmental, and electoral politics has been invaluable. Self-awareness is critical in any leadership position and that course altered the way I thought about myself and the work of public service, and left a lasting impression on me.

What advice do you have for current Fels students? 

Take a few courses in areas where you’re weak or in areas that scare you a bit. I was terrified of finance going in, and ended up pursuing my certificate in Public Finance because I knew that this was a much safer environment to learn and make mistakes than in a professional position. Many of the classes I was naturally drawn to were ones where I already had experience, or where I was doing similar work in my internships--and I passed a lot of them over. I still wish that I could go back and take them--unfortunately we can only cram so many courses in two years--but I’m glad I used Fels as an opportunity to conquer my fear. I may not use public finance every day, and I still don’t love it, but I’m no longer afraid of it, and having that knowledge base has made me a more confident and well-rounded public servant. 

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu