Alumni Spotlight: Cynthia Lonergan (Fels ‘12), Civics Teacher at Penn Manor H.S.

February 10, 2016

Where are you now? Can you describe your role in the organization?

Right now, I’m back teaching High School Civics at Penn Manor High School in Lancaster, PA. I started teaching in 2007 and was working there full-time while I attended Fels from 2009-2012. I left teaching for a short while to work in Harrisburg first at the Department of State as Special Assistant to the Secretary, and then later as Assistant/Acting Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs for the Department of Revenue. Due to the transition in administrations, I was unable to continue in that post and returned to teaching in January 2015. I am still hoping to return to a policy position in state government, especially one that will allow me to focus on education.

How did Fels impact your path post-graduate school?

Fels has prepared me to handle major transitions in my career and confirmed my passion for government administration and policy. Having alumni connections and Fels on my resume has also proven to be instrumental after graduating.

Recently, Frank Igwe donated $75,000 to Fels in honor of Dr. Mulhern and sent a message to Alumni that deeply resonated with me. Afterwards, I sent him an e-mail, part of which is copied below, about how my path post-Fels has been impacted. So the “real” answer to this question is in the excerpt below. Some may find this to be “too personal” but this is the reality that so many of our graduates face and therefore it necessitates a public dialogue.

“…Finally, one particular part of your message really hit home for me.  You appropriately described a scenario where students are forced to select (and reject) jobs based on their financial realities and not the reality they may want to help create for others.  Since I graduated from Fels in May 2012, this has been my life.  Though I was a very grateful recipient of a 25% tuition scholarship from Fels, my undergrad and graduate student loan debt has been absolutely debilitating.  I have turned down opportunities to work for a U.S. Senator, a defense contractor, state representatives, state senators, and a foster care/education lobbying firm, all because the salary would not be enough for me to make my monthly student loan payments.

As I look back on my [commencement] speech and remember how it seemed the world was at my feet, the financial reality so many of us face threaten to strip us of our dreams and ambition.  I'm embarrassed to say that I've contemplated giving up on this path, and wondered whether pursuing my education was a mistake given the life I live because of this debt.  Of course, this feeling passes and I know it was worth it.  It will be worth it.  But, if our generosity can save even one student from the pain and stress I have felt and allow them to focus on making an impact... this world will be a better place.”

Not being someone who simply talks about what needs to be done, after pressing “send” on my e-mail to Frank, I made another modest donation to the Sweeney Scholarship Fund at Fels.

What was your favorite class at Fels?

Policy Development with Bob Pearson. For so many reasons: he challenged me, he made me laugh, I loved my classmates and the topics we covered, the group project which nearly killed me but taught me so much about myself… and drilling for natural gas. I also have to give a major shout out to Buck Benedict and Dr. Mulhern, too!

What advice would you give to current students? To prospective M.P.A. students?

Don’t slack off, especially on group projects. You’re at Fels for a reason - don’t make anyone wonder why they let you in.

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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