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Alumni Spotlight: Talia Stinson, MPA '10

November 12, 2017

Talia Stinson, MPA '10, currently works as a Performance Management Analyst for the Office of Performance Management of Philadelphia. In this interview, Talia discusses her professional life and her time at Fels.

Please describe your organization and its mission: 

Reporting into the City’s Managing Director’s Office, the Office of Performance Management (OPM) serves as an internal consulting arm for departments throughout City government, with a heavy focus on improving business processes.  OPM collaborates with city leaders and staff to identify opportunities for improvement, share best practices, measure, track, and report on the progress towards major goals and initiatives of the Kenney Administration.  OPM’s vision is to establish a citywide performance management system, where meaningful data drives policy, operational and budget decisions.

Please describe your position and the duties it entails:  

As a Performance Management Analyst, I am half of the Office’s staff so we always have a lot going on and there’s never a dull moment!  I work closely with the Director, Angelina Ruffin, MS, to manage the Office’s diverse project portfolio, which includes strategic planning, data collection & analysis, report drafting, meeting design & facilitation and more.  My specific skill background in writing, program evaluation, meeting facilitation and technology helps in every aspect of our Office’s core functions.  

How did you become interested in this work?  

Prior to working in city government, I worked in both the private and nonprofit sectors.  More specifically, I worked in a for-profit tutoring center right out of college (C ’05) in Upper Darby, where I learned of my love for working with children.  That was pretty much the start of my career in education, an issue area I’d revisit later in my career.  After tutoring, I transitioned to a management consulting firm, TCC Group, where I was exposed to project management, evaluation & analysis, financial analysis, capacity building and more.  Working with consulting project teams nationwide forced me to learn how to communicate with all five senses; I had to learn how to communicate in silence and pay attention to every detail to help teams succeed, particularly those that were in different states and time zones. 

I left the consulting world during the Great Recession around the same time that I complete the executive program at Fels, and made the switch into Philadelphia’s start up community, at a local education-focused nonprofit.  At that point is where I learned more about project management and technology product development, as I was the founding Project Director for GreatPhillySchools.  My biggest takeaways from the startup world included learning how to be uncomfortable with the unknowns and becoming more technically focused.  And then after a brief stint at a tech firm, I made the leap into the government workforce, where I can honestly say that the skills acquired and professional experiences I’d had have come in handy in one way or another.  Our office is essentially a startup within city government.  To be successful, I have to communicate effectively, and sometimes that means doing so in silence.  I’d like to think that I specialize in communicating without speaking, a skill that works to my advantage often.  Paying attention to detail and collaborating with professionals throughout the workforce across departments is also essential.  One common thread throughout my career is my inherent, unending curiosity; figuring out how to solve problems effectively, impact major systems and define success is something that comes naturally to me.

How has Fels helped you in your career?

Honestly, my time at Fels continues to be a key reason why I can perform at all, both personally and professionally.  I completed my graduate studies while working full time in consulting, so I could bring my professional experiences into the classroom and vice versa.  While it was challenging to balance both my studies and my career at the time, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  Graduate school is all about working in teams, and my Fels experience really emphasized that.  Further, I really appreciated having my Fels experience during what was a historic political time; I became more civically engaged and in-tuned during President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign and ultimate victory in 2008.  Timing is everything and I’m learning more and more that there’s really no such thing as a “coincidence,” so my now being a public servant in the City of Philadelphia falls in line with my overall personal and professional trajectory to date.

What was your favorite Fels course and why?

My favorite course was the Managing Public Funds: The Treasury Function, which was taught by Ms. Folasade Olapenikun-Lewis.  She was a great teacher and made a topic that I’d originally thought would be too “dry” for me very interesting.  I took the course in Fall 2009, and at the time she worked in the City in the Commerce Department.  She is now the Philadelphia International Airport’s first ever Chief Administrative Officer, and one of my mentors.

What advice do you have for current Fels students? 

I honestly think that the best things a current student can do is learn how to network effectively.  Philadelphia is full of Fels alums who work in various sectors, with a lot of knowledge and support to offer.  The key is to learn and understand how to connect, communicate and engage with us—we all have a lot going on in our personal and professional lives, however when approached with respect, humility and genuinely we’re more likely to be receptive.  I’ve had the most positive encounters with both current students and more recent alums who demonstrate their ability to network effectively, and when I can, I am as supportive and engaged as possible.  

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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