A legacy of leadership and excellence
Photos by Maria Errico and Meghan Keating November 29, 2023
Institute for Public Administration celebrates 50 years of applied research, professional development and the education of tomorrow’s leaders
The Institute for Public Administration (IPA) at the University of Delaware celebrated its legacy of applied research, professional development and the education of tomorrow’s leaders at its 50th anniversary celebration at Clayton Hall in October. IPA was established in 1973 by its founder and current director, Jerome R. Lewis.
As a research and public service center in the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration, IPA’s 50th anniversary celebration brought together state leaders, alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends for a full day of festivities. The ceremony featured a dignified guest list of Delaware state and University leaders, including Gov. John Carney, U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Delaware State Sen. David Sokola and Delaware State Speaker Valerie Longhurst, along with UD President Dennis Assanis.
The morning session began with introductory remarks made by Biden School Dean Amy Ellen Schwartz. She introduced Lewis and read an official presidential letter sent directly from the Oval Office to Graham Hall. In his letter, President Biden stated, “For half a century, the Institute for Public Administration has embraced the responsibility of preparing students to succeed by equipping them with the resources they need to thrive in careers devoted to uplifting others.”
These sentiments were echoed throughout the day as alumni discussed how IPA served as a launching pad for their current careers and livelihoods while also allowing them to positively impact their communities. This was evident in the event’s archive room, where historical memorabilia showcased photos, documents, pamphlets, research studies and a timeline that walked guests through the history of IPA. A video featuring several alumni lit up the room with memorable stories and well wishes to IPA on reaching its golden year.
One clip showcased Savannah Edwards, AICP, a 2017 graduate of the master of public administration program and planner at the Rossi Group.
“IPA, congratulations on fifty years of excellence and making Delaware known for more than just one type of IPA,” Edwards said. “Over the past 50 years, you have fostered a group of leaders who are sincerely and deeply committed to public service. A number of individuals like myself built the foundation for their careers at IPA … The numerous connections I established while at IPA continue to aid me in my career and have led to valuable friendships.”
Other alumni expressed their gratitude for finding their first job by way of IPA, helping them to embark on successful careers. Some alumni referenced the infamous white University minivan as a vehicle that held great memories as they traveled across the state for events, internships and other programs.
A history of the Biden School and IPA
During the remainder of the morning session, Daniel Rich, professor of public policy emeritus at the Biden School and IPA senior fellow, discussed the dynamic history of IPA, explaining its roots and how it all came about. From program updates to name changes, IPA is no stranger to transitions. IPA was originally named the Delaware Public Administration Institute, and it was housed within the Division of Urban Affairs.
In 1996, the Delaware Public Administration Institute transitioned into the Institute for Public Administration, focusing on program expansion across the state of Delaware, promoting local government technical assistance, growing professional staff and providing professional development workshops and seminars. Although it has faced many changes, one thing that has not changed about IPA is its commitment to bringing optimal value to Delaware through its continued support of local governments, state agencies and students.
Throughout his speech, Rich emphasized that IPA has continuously served as a great example for 21st century research centers. For many years, other policy programs and departments across the nation have sought out the expertise of this research center to develop their own. As Rich put it, “The Biden School and IPA are pillars of a 21st century engaged land-grant university.”
IPA’s professional staff and research assistants work on a variety of public policy issues within programs that Lewis fondly calls “product lines:” the Grant Assistance Program, Water Resources Center, Conflict Resolution Program, and the Delaware Center for Civics Education, regional development and planning, education policy, health and aging policy and local government training.
Rich noted that “[IPA] has helped to shape the Biden School identity while also expanding public purpose and enhancing Delaware’s public sector.”
Rich’s speech was followed by a thunderous applause that not only celebrated the 50th anniversary but also honored the legacy of leadership demonstrated by Lewis. Following Rich’s presentation, a video of U.S. Sen. Chris Coons appeared on the screen. Coons shared his admiration for countless Delaware leaders who have come through IPA’s program from the local to the federal level.
“Congratulations on 50 great years of service to our state,” he said. “To Dr. Jerome Lewis, what an incredible legacy you have established as founder and director. As you and your professional staff gather today at Clayton Hall and celebrate a half-century of training, preparing and improving public policy leaders of today and tomorrow and providing resources to the public sector, I am happy to take a moment to recognize all of the incredible work you’ve accomplished.”
IPA alumni share their stories
The latter half of the morning featured an alumni panel moderated by Troy Mix, associate director of IPA. The panel included alumni spanning several decades:
Natalie Criscenzo, Legislative Director, Office of Governor John Carney
Andrew Haines, Executive Director, The National Public Employer Labor Relations Association
Nicholas Konzelman, Chief Education Fiscal and Policy Analyst, Delaware Office of Management and Budget
Melanie Ross Levin, Director of the Office of Women’s Advancement and Advocacy, State of Delaware
Ivan Mitchell, Director of Transit and Equipment Services, City of Port Arthur, Texas
The Honorable Sophie Phillips, State Representative, District 18
Devona Williams, President and CEO of Goeins-Williams Associates
Lexi West, Principal Associate, The Pew Charitable Trusts
For about an hour, this highly accomplished group of leaders discussed how they found their way to IPA, their field experience and what they took with them in their careers. Throughout the conversation, alumni emphasized how Lewis’ leadership impacted them directly on both personal and professional levels.
Williams spoke about the genuine connection and care that IPA provided for her as a working wife and mother.
“IPA drew me mostly first because of the relationship and support I received from Jerome,” she said, noting how Lewis served as somewhat of a guidance counselor for her, helping her navigate various challenges as she pursued her master of public administration degree.
Ross Levin emphasized the importance of student opportunities such as the Legislative Fellows Program, where students conduct nonpartisan, in-depth research while assisting legislators in addressing critical issues facing the state.
“The Legislative Fellows opportunity was so key for me in getting connections, lifelong connections that have influenced my work,” Ross Levin said.
State Rep. Sophie Phillips discussed her on-the-ground work with IPA’s Water Resources Center.
“I think it was really great to have an overall understanding of the state of the watershed but be able to talk about those tiny details because we had that on-the-ground experience of actually collecting the data,” Phillips said. She then went on to discuss just how much this hands-on work has impacted her current career as a legislator.
These sentiments were continued by Konzelman, who described his shock at the amount of exposure IPA provided students.
“It [felt good] working for a group of people that actually were interested in us as students and also us developing as students and eventually actually practitioners of policy or administration,” he said.
Mitchell spoke about the financial aspect that supported his academic career and how it can serve as a driving force to recruit students.
“Keep empowering your students. Financial support is helpful. I think a non-negotiable is to maximize the scholarships and stipends that you guys offer to the students that will definitely attract top students,” he said.
Toward the end of the discussion, they also shared thoughts on what IPA should focus on in the future.
“I feel like there’s a real opportunity to build out the IPA experience for undergraduates and to make it available to more students in the Biden School,” Criscenzo said. “I know there is a longer history of graduate programs at the Biden School, but I look back at my time and know I was really fortunate to have that experience as an undergraduate. I hope that the IPA experience will be increasingly common for Biden School undergraduates in the future.”
Following the alumni panel, Mix discussed the future of IPA and how establishing and growing the Jerome R. Lewis Director’s Fund will help continue the mission of IPA for years to come.
“Not only did our partners show up to celebrate 50 years of public service impact, they also made it clear that they're invested in our future,” Mix said, reflecting on the event. “Thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends, we blew past our fundraising goal for the IPA Endowment.”
Delaware officials recognize IPA
The 50th anniversary celebration ended with a luncheon featuring Delaware’s senior elected officials. Carper delivered a heartfelt speech honoring Lewis’s profound legacy, stating, “People get to take care of their families due to your tutelage.”
Sakola and Longhurst expressed their gratitude for IPA’s impact on the state of Delaware as a whole by presenting Lewis with official tributes from the Delaware Senate and House of Representatives. Moments later, Valdese West, IPA assistant policy scientist, recognized the Municipal Clerks Institute (MCI) for its 30th anniversary. MCI provides yearly training to local government administrators from Delaware and Maryland.
Carney gave the final address to close out the celebration. He began by introducing Rich’s book, The Biden School and the Engaged University of Delaware, 1961–2021, and how it highlights the journey of IPA through the years. He explained that he enrolled in the MPA program in 1982, but his original plans were to become a football coach. One year into the MPA program, he was selected to be a part of the inaugural class of Legislative Fellows, and the rest was history.
“IPA has been an invaluable source for state leaders,” Carney said. He shared how IPA’s roadmap informed changes, including capital investments into education throughout Delaware. “IPA’s mission is to give students real-world knowledge, one of the most important things you can do for students.”
Before departing the stage, Carney presented Lewis with the Order of the First State, an honor bestowed by the Office of the Governor to signify Lewis’ “outstanding efforts, knowledge, integrity, prudence and ability” in serving his community and his state.
A weeklong celebration
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPA, Biden School staff, faculty and students hosted a food drive to benefit the Food Bank of Delaware. IPA staff built a “birthday cake” tower out of the non-perishable food donations. On Oct. 17, Schwartz and Lewis presented the food drive donations to Food Bank of Delaware representatives Kim Turner, vice president of communications, and Trevor Turner, chief operating officer.
With the Food Bank's purchasing power, every $1 donated provides three meals. IPA's food drive raised $408 in online donations, providing 1,224 meals for Delaware residents facing food insecurity. These meals are in addition to the non-perishable food items collected. Each donation, whether monetary or physical, will make a real difference for the Food Bank as it works to combat food insecurity across the state.
In the days leading up to the celebration, the IPA anniversary planning committee hosted Spirit Week to celebrate Biden School students, highlighting IPA’s student-first mentality. Running Oct. 17-19, students were provided with three fun-filled days that included a visit from the YoUDee mascot on Tuesday and delicious subs, bagels and snacks. Undergraduate and graduate students expressed their gratitude and joy throughout the week.
The celebration at Clayton Hall was the finale of official festivities for the 50th anniversary, but each moment since 1973 has led to this one and will lead to many more to come. As President Biden stated in his letter, “It is my hope that the Institute for Public Administration will continue to instill that spirit of service in students for many years to come.”
About the Institute for Public Administration
The University of Delaware's Institute for Public Administration (IPA) addresses the policy, planning and management needs of its partners through the integration of applied research, professional development and the education of tomorrow’s leaders. As a research and public service center in the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration, IPA collaborates with state agencies, municipal governments, nonprofits, communities and businesses to examine complex policy issues and improve quality of life in Delaware and beyond.
About the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration
Established in 1961 and named in 2018 for the University of Delaware’s most distinguished alumnus, the 46th President of the United States, the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration prepares students with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in research and public service to improve the quality of life in communities around the world. Biden School faculty, staff, students and alumni create and use interdisciplinary, nonpartisan research, and empirically based analysis to inform effective decision-making and policy and to improve leadership and administration. The Biden School partners with organizations from all sectors to discover innovative and equitable solutions to the critical challenges of our time.