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Kean University

Kean Public Affairs Alumni Offer Students Expertise in Government

Panelists in the Public Affairs career forum speak to students at a dais

Panelists (L-R) Rahway Councilman Jeffrey Brooks; Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage; AARP senior manager Sarah Mack; former Keyport Mayor Collette Kennedy; and South Orange Police Chief Ernesto Morillo at Kean's Public Affairs Career Forum. All but Morillo are Kean alumni.

A panel of public officials, many of them Kean University alumni, shared career advice during a Kean Public Affairs Forum held on November 20.

Students learned about career options in municipal government, law enforcement and nonprofit organizations from experts who hold roles ranging from mayor to chief of police.

“When doors are slightly open, you have to push them wide open. Nobody’s going to push that door open for you,” said Kean graduate and Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage ’81, ’89 MPA.

Former Keyport Mayor Collette Kennedy ’08, ’16 MPA, advised the group to welcome change, noting she took her first course in New Jersey government after the program she originally wanted was canceled. 

She went on to have an impactful career in local government, serving as mayor and leading her Monmouth County community through recovery following Superstorm Sandy.

“Be open to change and be willing to pivot,” Kennedy told the group.

The panel was sponsored by the Kean Department of Criminal Justice and Public Affairs, Kean Career Services, and Pi Kappa Alpha, the honor society for public affairs and administration.

In addition to Bollwage and Kennedy, panelists included Rahway Councilman Jeffrey Brooks ’10, who is currently enrolled in Kean’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program; Sarah Mack ’18, ’23 MPA, a senior manager with the nonprofit AARP; and Ocean Township Manager David Brown ’97, ’00 MPA; all of whom are Kean alumni; as well as South Orange Police Chief Ernesto Morillo.

“They make society better,” Kean College of Business and Public Management (CBPM) Dean Jin Wang, Ph.D., said of the panelists. “A degree in public administration and management opens up many opportunities.” 

The speakers all touted the Kean MPA as strong preparation for jobs in their fields. 

“I wanted to be as prepared as possible, and what better way than to study public administration,” Brooks said. He also encouraged students to learn about public service by volunteering.

Mack told students “your network is everything” in building a career.

“Take risks while you’re young,” Mack said. “Say yes to opportunities as they come to you.”

Morillo advised students to be persistent. 

“What you want to do today is probably not what you’ll be doing tomorrow,” the police chief said. “The world is very dynamic, and you have to be dynamic to do well in today’s society.”

Brown, who was student government president and student representative to the Board of Trustees while attending Kean, said students can achieve their goals by putting in the effort.

“Don’t sell yourself short. And show up to things, because you don’t know what will happen,” he said.

Students said afterward they found the panelists’ advice very helpful.

“I’m new to my major, and I’m definitely interested,” said Amori Cross of Montclair, a sophomore communication major who said she’s now considering taking a public affairs course. “I wasn’t aware of the impact I could make.”

Senior Eric Cantos, a public administration major from Newark, said he is planning to pursue a master’s degree in business administration.

“It’s great to hear the different backgrounds and viewpoints,” he said.

The panel was introduced by Bok Gyo Jeong, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Public Affairs; and moderated by John C. Raue, Kean assistant vice president of strategic initiatives.