Choosing Pace: An Interview with Senator Stewart-Cousins

  Senator Stewart-Cousins
    Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins

After 20 years in marketing, sales, and journalism, New York Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins entered county government, serving as the first African American Director of Community Affairs in the City of Yonkers. She spent a decade working as a Westchester County legislator before being elected to her current position as State Senator in 2006. She had already authored and passed landmark legislation including the county’s first human rights laws before returning to her alma mater, Pace University, for graduate work.

Q: You already had a very successful career underway, why did you choose to come back for a Masters in Public Administration?
A:  First of all, I enjoy learning and I never assume that because I’m in a certain position that I know everything I need to know. I realized very early on, in terms of not only what you’re doing now, but future aspirations, educational accomplishments matter. I wanted to make sure that I was not only able to do my job in the best possible way, but to make sure that if other opportunities came about, that I would have the appropriate credentials from a respected institution should those doors open. Education allows you to expand your opportunities and do your job better.

Q: Why did you go into government work?
A: I’ve seen how government can play a very positive role in people’s live whether it’s making sure that you’re safe, making sure that there are recreational opportunities like free parks, or making sure that the environment is preserved, that our water and air are clean, whether it is creating opportunities for employment or housing or access to healthcare, making sure that people are able to cast their ballot unencumbered so that their voice can be heard. There are many good roles for government. The reality is that when you need it, you want it to be there in all the positive ways that government assists ordinary people. For me it is an opportunity to do great service to our fellow man and woman.

Q: Why is education so important to you?
A: Education is the great equalizer and as my parents always taught me, it’s something nobody can take from you. So the more you know, the more valuable you are because knowledge is indeed power. You cannot maximize how important education is in one’s life, in the choices you make and in the role modeling you can do for those that come behind you.

Q: What did you gain from the program?
A: It gave me a chance to see how public policies have impact, to look at budgets in a critical way as well as how to best advocate for the people that I represent. I also learned about the historical perspective as well as how other people did what I did. It was a completely rewarding experience.

Q: What did you think of the professors at Pace?
A: We were taught by professionals who had their own experience to bring to the classroom. It wasn’t a boring academic exercise. It was an enlightening and participatory laboratory where there was just the right mix of all the right ingredients.  The professors had the ability to take the various experiences that people in the classroom brought and expand it so that not only did you understand the practicalities, but also the applications.

Q: Do any particular lessons stand out?
A: I had been the author of the county’s human rights laws. Those laws established a human rights commission to implement the law, and it was very interesting as I learned in class the whole creation of new departments. In my own experience, there was a lot of resistance to establishing the commission and the laws. But I was interested to, in retrospect, examine the path that I had taken to create the law and the commission. I often wonder if I had had the course first, would it have been easier? The knowledge and blueprint of that were frankly right in my textbooks, so it was interesting in retrospect to analyze it. I was able to contextualize the experience and why it was so hard.

Q: Did you learn from your classmates too?
A: Many of the people in my classes were also involved in government and public service, and many of them had achieved impressive positions in various communities or government entities. They had hands-on experience and were able to share those experiences at appropriate times so everyone could benefit from the perspective that they brought.

Q: Why Pace?
A: Pace happens to be one of those places where, chances are, if you are thinking of going in a particular educational direction, it can offer you the affordability and the professional staff to help you get there. Pace certainly provided me an education that made me knowledgeable and, frankly, in awe of the responsibility of public service.

Find out more about the Master of Public Administration Program at Pace University.