Executive Master of Public Administration ’23
Juris Doctor, Law, City University of New York School of Law, ’00
Bachelor of Arts, Politics, Saint Joseph’s University, ’94
From her early days in family court, attorney Kirsten Heine learned being a lawyer went far beyond studying law. “As a prosecutor, I also had to be a social worker, a housing specialist, a teacher; there were a million things in my day-to-day job I had to be that I wasn’t trained in,” she remembers. “Law school teaches you how to think, but there are all these other career skills that you have to teach yourself on the job,” she says, noting most lawyers don’t return to school after their terminal degree. As she progressed in her public service career, however, her interest in expanding her professional skills brought her to the Fels Executive Master of Public Administration program.
Kirsten first considered returning to school as early as 2010, after working on diversion programs in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. “I've always had an interest in policy and criminal justice reform and rehabilitation, but I had no formal education in policy,” she says. “That diversion programs experience would become part of why I wanted to go to Fels,” she recalls.
A few years later, after she was hired at the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General as chief deputy attorney general for the criminal prosecution section, her search for an executive education program started in earnest. “I’d been moving up steadily in my career, and I felt like I was in a place where I needed to know more about policy and planning, finance, budgets—all the skills and knowledge that you need to actually make an organization run,” she says. “I wanted to be able to measure if and how the programs we put in place were working. And,” she adds, “I wanted to learn how to be an executive leader.”
Fels ticked those boxes as well as offered an Ivy League education in Kirsten’s own backyard. But what tipped the scales for Kirsten was an endorsement from a former DA’s office colleague, executive assistant US attorney and Fels alum Ebony Wortham. The two connected and discussed the program. “Ebony’s experience really fueled my interest in attending Fels,” Kirsten says. She enrolled in the two-year executive program in fall 2021.
Kirsten describes the course format, designed for executive students, as, “bite-sized and manageable, but building towards a larger goal. Everything you do rolls into something else,” she says, hinting at the culminating capstone project.
The Fels experience goes beyond the course content, she found. “The best part about the program for me is the people in my cohort. They’re all fascinating and diverse in every way. They’ve given me a lot of advice and support, and are a great resource for professional brainstorming,” she says.
Kirsten is also making important professional connections through the Fels mentoring program and gains practical insights from the Fels Executive Leadership Dialogue luncheons and Public Policy in Practice speaker series. “I participate in these learning opportunities because everyone Fels exposes us to is really interesting, and they’re applying the concepts that we’re learning in class to their careers.”
While leveraging the practical aspect of the program, Kirsten also takes opportunities to personalize her experience. “We’ve done projects in every course I’ve taken where we apply concepts from class to real or hypothetical problems,” she says. “Whenever possible, my projects have related to my work in some way.” Some of her ideas from class proposals have already been implemented at her office. “I always come back to my work because I find it fascinating. I want to make the system that I'm part of better, from who we prosecute to how we pay for paperclips,” she says.
Her capstone project will evaluate an important diversion program developed by the Office of the Attorney General to help address the state’s opioid crisis, the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative (LETI). LETI invites counties to partner with her agency to train law enforcement officers and other county-level partners to guide individuals suffering from addiction into treatment, diverting them away from the criminal system. “The idea behind LETI,” Kirsten explains, “is that someone who needs help can walk into a police station or make a phone call and get connected to their county drug and alcohol services.” Twenty counties have joined so far. “Now we want to evaluate what the impact of the program has been,” Kirsten says.
Using what she learned in GAFL 6120 Quantitative Methods for Policy Analysis and GAFL 6410 Program Evaluation and Data Analysis, Kirsten has developed two surveys for her capstone: one for counties that have implemented LETI so far, and one for counties that have not. For a survey to be valuable, she explains, you need to know how to build it without bias, understand its limitations, and know how to measure the results. Her evaluation will include how the implementation of LETI may relate to a change in overdose rates, and how the program is perceived by involved parties, and by those not yet involved.
As Kirsten dives into her capstone and her last semester at Fels, she’s also diving into a new role with the Office of the Attorney General as the deputy chief of staff. “I think some people at the agency noticed me in a different way because I took on the challenge of going to Fels while working full time,” she says. “Fels gave me the credibility to be able to say that I’m more than a criminal prosecutor. I now have experience and skills that most lawyers in similar career paths don’t have.”
For prospective students, Kirsten stresses that the program is worth the investment. “The Fels Executive MPA pays off almost immediately,” she promises. “Fels will make you excited about what you’re doing and give you ideas for what you want to do. The program energizes you in a different way than anything else that you do as a professional,” she says. “It turns on a light bulb that might not otherwise have turned on.”