UGA’s MPA Program: Fifty-five years in the making

Philip Rosenberg (AB ‘68) is an inaugural graduate of the University of Georgia’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. Founded in 1966 by Robert Golembiewski, the MPA program’s first class graduated in 1968 with only a handful of students.

At the time, Rosenberg found himself transitioning from UGA’s Political Science program at the encouragement of Dr. Golembiewski. That one decision changed the trajectory of Rosenberg’s career and his entire life. Fifty-five years later, he can look back on a robust career that has allowed him opportunities in local municipalities, federal agencies, and international governments all over the world. 

Rosenberg’s career in public service began even before graduation. Similar to the current program requirements, the original MPA program also required graduate students to participate in at least one experiential learning opportunity. While Rosenberg had options for his internships- having the choice between a number of local government agencies, the Georgia Fish and Game Commission, and the federal government, he chose to intern at the Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) in New York. His experience at HUD set the foundation for a career that would take him across the world- living in over twenty countries, working with foreign leaders across the globe, and helping local governments develop sound financial policies.

“At the time that I went to HUD, it was a new agency. HUD brought together housing, home finance, FHA [Federal Housing Administration], and a public works side. HUD became an umbrella over all these various agencies, really looking at urban renewal and public housing.” 

Working alongside other graduate students from Ivy League universities, Rosenberg knew he was vying for a few coveted jobs within the newly formed agency. This “bright intern group was here to solve all the problems,” said Rosenberg, and he was right there among them. Having been a research assistant for Dr. Golembiewski, Rosenberg contributed to program development, policy analysis, and made himself invaluable by understanding block grants, something HUD was utilizing at the time.

His courses in local government and financial management prepared him for the internship, and despite the competitive environment, Rosenberg landed a full-time position with HUD after graduation. Shortly after being hired, he was promoted and asked to lead a new HUD office out of Boston. In his mid-twenties, he suddenly found himself in federal leadership being “in charge of all the programs in Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts.” 

Gaining experience working with communities while at HUD, Rosenberg shifted to local government working for the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts to concentrate on city development. He then accepted an offer to go to Washington, DC and work for a public interest group, the Municipal Finance Officers’ Association. This position gave him the opportunity to travel throughout the United States on behalf of the association. His experience at Cambridge doing research on federally funded programs through HUD and the National Science Foundation set him up for success with the association. His MPA courses at UGA prepared him for these career shifts by building his confidence in the area of public finance.

“My timing could not have been better. Public finance became the hot subject for federal funding, research, and grants. Here I was, Deputy Director for an association that was full of finance people without having a finance background.” As a result of his experience with the association, Rosenberg even co-authored a series of books regarding public finance. 

Deciding that he wanted to try his hand at starting his own business, he became a consultant. Rosenberg advised clients from all over the country, including state and local governments in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Illinois. The work was rewarding, but he was looking for something different without knowing exactly what it was.


“Sometimes you come to a career crossroad and don’t always know what way to take. You kind of want to take the risk. Some of the best advice I ever got was- take the risk. If you fail, you can always go back to the crossroads. If you don’t take it then you’ll always wonder where it could have led you.”

This time though, the crossroads came in the form of an out-of-the-blue phone call that opened up a world of opportunity- literally. Rosenberg  was asked to consult in Poland. His book had been translated into Polish during a time when the Soviet Union had just fallen and Eastern Europe was opening up to the West. “USAID [United States Agency for International Development] was putting a lot of money into that part of the world to build up the work of local governments.” His background in housing and experience in local financial management made him an expert in areas that Eastern European countries needed at that time.

Rosenberg made the move overseas, saying the decision “put me on a path to international consulting, not just consulting within the United States.” 

He became an expert in transitioning governments. “They were struggling with the shift from a Soviet style of management to a more Western style of management. Older bureaucrats had a different way of thinking than the younger people who were more proactive. Older folks were more status quo. I was younger and advocated for local governments to be self-sustaining.”

Romania was just the beginning. Rosenberg found himself living in Hungary, Poland, Armenia, Moscow, Liberia, Montenegro, Croatia, Iraq, Pakistan, and finally the country of Georgia. His career brought him full circle- starting in Athens, Georgia and ending with his last assignment in the country of Georgia, all the time doing what he loved.

Rosenberg enjoyed the challenge of problem-solving, working with nations and local governments that had never before seen a budget let alone create one. We were “trying to make the budget more accessible and transparent for everyday people. I knew what I was doing was influencing culture and local governments for years to come.”

“The best part [of working internationally] was that my personality got along with a lot of people from different countries. In some of these places, I was the first American they had met. You realize you’re representing the U.S. in a way.” 

He appreciates the chance he had to see the world, learn about new cultures, and make new friends. “It made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself.” 

He knew he had made lasting relationships with his colleagues, but it wasn’t until September 11, 2001 that Rosenberg realized the connections he had all over the world. “On 9/11, I got emails and texts from all over the world. It was very touching.” 

When asked if he had any regrets, Rosenberg simply stated, “No regrets.” But when asked if he would have done anything different, he said that he “would have been a better student as an undergraduate,” but that luckily Dr. Golembiewski became his mentor during undergraduate year and is part of the reason he joined the newly formed MPA program.

“There were 7 or 8 in that class, and we all made it through.”

According to Rosenberg, the inaugural cohort was close. He remembers one holiday season that he played Santa Clause one year to Dr. Golembiewski’s kids. Even though he passed away, Rosenberg still remains in touch with one of his daughters. “I had some really good professors at UGA. They all emphasized experiential learning more than theoretically. I think that’s what made it so valuable.”

One of the biggest lessons Rosenberg wants to pass on: “It’s not always a straight line. There are a lot of opportunities if you’re open to them.”

Rosenberg is retired and lives in Stewart, Florida. He spends his time traveling to the Blue Ridge area when he needs to beat the Florida heat.