Gloria Bonilla-Santiago knows all too well the various elements that make up a thriving – or failing – community. It was her understanding and inspired passion which led her to found the Community Leadership Center (CLC) at Rutgers–Camden more than 20 years ago. Since that time, the CLC has evolved into the largest center on the university’s campus, and a force for partnership and change in Camden and the surrounding region.
With her proven track record of success and experience, Bonilla-Santiago began to turn her attention to the poor living conditions in her native Puerto Rico. “I thought, ‘How do I apply my life’s work to the island,” recalls Bonilla-Santiago, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers–Camden. “Puerto Rico and Camden have a lot in common in terms of the populations in need. There are a lot of small towns in Puerto Rico with problems, and the need for new initiatives.”
So she reached out to her longtime ally, former Puerto Rican Gov. Sila M. Calderón, and her nonprofit organization, the Center for Puerto, to examine ways to impact public policy in the commonwealth, and transform it into a more effective economic engine. Calderón’s ties to Rutgers run deep, having been awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 2004 for her efforts to end poverty on the island. Calderón later created the Sila Calderón Fellowship, awarded to talented students in the master in public administration degree program at Rutgers–Camden.
Years of planning and collaboration have now come to fruition, as Rutgers–Camden will offer a graduate community development certificate (CDC) based in Puerto Rico. Enrolling its first cohort in summer 2014, the certificate program was approved by the Rutgers Board of Governors in June, and has just been granted a license from the Council on Higher Education in Puerto Rico.
Offered in conjunction with the Center for Puerto Rico, this standalone graduate certificate will be 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 problems.
“This certificate program will offer graduate training in community development that highlights leadership, research skills, finance, and policy understanding and implementation, as essential tools for solving social problems in poor communities,” says Kris Lindenmeyer, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers–Camden.
The 18-credit graduate certificate will initially include the following three-credit courses: Introduction to Public Budgeting and Finance, Principles of Public Management, Executive Leadership and Community Skills, 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.
According 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 will oversee the program.
Bonilla-Santiago explains that leaders enrolled in the CDC 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.”
Bonilla-Santiago notes that the CDC program will serve as a great recruitment tool for students interested in the master’s and Ph.D. in public affairs, as well as transfer students wishing to explore the certificate and/or M.P.A. program. Furthermore, she says, 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.