Common Wealth: Certificate Prepares Leaders in Puerto Rico to Solve Social and Economic Problems

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After years of planning and collaboration, the Rutgers graduate certificate program in community development was launched on July 31 at the Center for Puerto Rico in San Juan. Thirty-seven talented leaders, working in various capacities for organizations in Puerto Rico that focus on neighborhood and economic development, took part in the first course, an intensive seminar on executive leadership and communications.

The course, led by Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers University–Camden, addresses the important topics of leadership development, strategic planning, and effective communications within the context of community development.

Offered in conjunction with the Center for Puerto Rico, the standalone graduate certificate is available to working professionals in government, community development, and the nonprofit sector, who hold bachelor’s degrees, and are seeking to strengthen their administrative, operational, and strategic capabilities to solve social and economic problems.

“This certificate program offers graduate training in community development that highlights leadership, management skills, finance, and policy understanding and implementation, as essential tools for solving social and economic problems in poor communities,” says Kris Lindenmeyer, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers–Camden.

cdcphoto1According to Bonilla-Santiago, the program will be extremely beneficial to the commonwealth, where the unemployment rate is near 40 percent, there is a high dropout rate among high-school students, and the economy is stagnant. “Mayors, as well as other government and nonprofit leaders, are seeking greater leadership and management skills in order to deal with these longstanding issues,” says Bonilla-Santiago, who proposed the certificate and oversees the program.

Bonilla-Santiago explains that leaders enrolled in the program will learn how to create social capital for their communities, which includes creating jobs, building neighborhoods, and sustaining communities long-term. Likewise, she says, school superintendents and principals will learn how to carry out initiatives that are less costly, more entrepreneurial, and driven by community values.

She emphasizes that, as “an engine of intellectual knowledge,” Rutgers–Camden has a unique opportunity to introduce new perspectives and resources in the commonwealth. “We can play an incredible role, because we have the intellectual capacity and knowledge to do it,” she says. “It advances the mission of our university, as well as that of the Center for Puerto Rico.”

The program was approved by the Rutgers Board of Governors in June 2013 and was subsequently granted a license from the Council on Higher Education in Puerto Rico in December. The certificate initially also includes the following three-credit courses: Introduction to Public Budgeting and Finance, Principles of Public Management, Community Development Theory, Civic Engagement, Public and Non-Profit Community Development, and Colloquium in Community Development. All credits earned for the certificate will be transferable to a master in public administration degree.

Bonilla-Santiago notes that the program allows room for innovation, including a series of hybrid and online courses, which will further enable it to be implemented successfully on an international scale.

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