BU News

MPA students get firsthand look at issues surrounding homelessness

May 15, 2018
Mirna Galvez

Mirna Galvez, center, organizes a group of Whittier residents to discuss homelessness in that city.

Students in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program earned some real-life public policy experience while guiding focus group discussions on the topic of homelessness in late March.

They collected input from the Whittier, California, community on what should go into that city’s official plan to address homelessness.  The meetings required volunteer support to make them happen, said Assistant Professor David Gonzalez, DPA, who leads the MPA program at Brandman.

Three students – Mirna Galvez, Jennifer Payton and Amitra Mahmaneshrad – gathered input from small groups of residents, took notes and presented the information to the larger group.

“Having discussed ‘wicked problems’ such as homelessness in class and through discussion boards gave me a foundation for some of the general issues of homelessness,” said Payton. “In addition, having familiarity with the different types of data collection (which students learn in their business statistics course and the policy analysis course) helped me understand the process and goal of the focus group.”

The process also furthered their education. “The Whittier focus groups on homelessness opened my eyes to the many steps necessary for public policy and actual change. The differing opinions and viewpoints are valuable and necessary but can slow down the process of policy making,” said Mahmaneshrad.


Amitra Mahameneshrad
Amitra Mahmaneshrad goes over the issues raised in her focus group.
“During the process itself, it is difficult to see that innovative ideas or valuable ideas are being brought forth. When analyzing the data, the major themes were fairly easy to pull out,” said Payton.


Among the issues raised was the need to provide training in life skills along with shelter, food and clothing. “There seem to be several organizations helping homeless individuals with the basic needs, but there is a desire to focus on long-term goals and needs as well as short term,” said Payton.

This was not Payton’s first work involving homelessness. 

“Homelessness is a topic that affects everyone at some level, so it is of interest to me.  I work with an organization in my home city, Tustin, called Operation Warm Wishes (OWW).  This organization serves large groups of at risk and homeless individuals and families, but it also works to mentor individuals one-on-one.  Through OWW I have seen how investing in an individual makes a difference, which I find hopeful,” she said.

The students all expressed an interest in seeing the city’s plan. “As MPA students, these are the kind of topics we discuss and research,” said Mahmaneshrad.  Participating in the process of developing policy gives students a more complete picture of how cities plan for the future while providing valuable volunteers to the city, according to Gonzalez.

Jennifer Payton
Jennifer Payton listens to the discussion.

Mahmaneshrad would like to continue into a doctoral program once she completes her MPA in another year. She wants to continue studying public policy. Payton is pursuing her MPA to advance her career in human resources at the school district where she works.

“I work full time, so I was looking for a program that was structured to accommodate full-time working students.  When working in human resources at my current school district I participated in a career fair at Brandman University and became familiar with their partnership with our district.  Also, the fact that the Irvine campus is only a couple of miles from my office was very influential,” said Payton, who expects to complete her degree in 2019.

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