Jessie Contreras ’12 ’23
M.P.A. Helps Jessie Contreras ’12 ’23 Land Job with FEMA

Current Job: Emergency Management Specialist, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Degrees: B.S. Legal Studies, Masters of Public Administration (M.P.A.)

Mentors: Anthony Philips, Former Cross-Country Coach/Fitness Center Manager
Programs/Clubs: Cross-Country Team
Honors & Awards: CUNY All-Star, Pi Alpha Alpha Honor Society
Hometown: Inwood, New York

What was life like growing up?
My parents are from the Dominican Republic, but they immigrated to the U.S. and I grew up in Inwood, New York. Neither of them went to college, but they encouraged my educational goals and wanted me to apply to top-level schools. When I was in the eighth grade, my mom bought a house in Newark, New Jersey, so I went to high school there. It was an interesting experience because in Inwood I was surrounded by other Dominican families. In Newark, I was exposed to a more diverse community. I learned to adapt and appreciate different cultures. It made me who I am today, someone who can relate to anyone from any background.

Why John Jay?
My parents are older and I didn’t want to leave them. In Dominican culture, you don’t leave your family and go to college far away. Luckily, I had a few cousins who went to John Jay and sang the College’s praises. Since I was interested in pursuing a legal career, it felt like a good fit. It also had a great cross-country team and was a Hispanic-Serving Institution—which made the school even more appealing to me.

Who were your mentors?
From the moment I stepped onto campus, Anthony Philips—the cross-country coach—showed me how to navigate the college experience. I met him when I was a prospective student looking into the cross-country team. Then, when I enrolled in John Jay, he always looked out for me and showed me what I should be doing as an athlete and a student striving for excellence. After I earned my bachelor’s degree, Anthony hired me as an assistant manager at the College’s fitness center.

Why did you decide to get an M.P.A.?
Growing up, I aspired to become a lawyer. After I graduated from John Jay with my bachelor’s degree, I worked as a paralegal at a law firm and a real estate company. During that time, I realized that a legal career wasn’t the right path for me. That’s when I started to think about a career in public service and determined I needed to get my M.P.A. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I ended up specializing in two areas: human resources management and operations management. Both specialties worked perfectly for public service positions at government agencies.

How did you get your current job?
A counselor in the M.P.A. program circulated an email to students, letting us know that there was an open house event for FEMA positions. I went to the open house and applied for a position. I was excited when I received an invitation to come to the World Trade Center for an interview. I did a group interview, and then two weeks later, I got a call from the FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C. asking me to come in again. I knew that the interview process for most government positions was long, so I stayed focused and kept going. I did another group interview followed by a single-person interview. After that, I was offered a job. Earning my M.P.A. allowed me to get my current position with FEMA.

What is your job at FEMA like?
I work for Region 2, which covers New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Right now, I’m in the Generalist Pilot Program. In this program, every 90 days, I switch to another division and fill whatever role is needed. I’m learning how the different divisions of the agency work and come together. At the end of the two-year Generalist Pilot Program, I can decide where I’d like to work.

Currently, I’m working in the national preparedness division and reviewing a lot of research data as a risk analyst. It’s fascinating because I’m learning how capable the region is in terms of withstanding any kind of disaster. I’m seeing how ready we are to defend ourselves if there was an attack; what resources we have if there’s a natural disaster, like a hurricane; and how prepared we’d be if there were a major event, such as a train derailment. My M.P.A. education prepared me on how to use this type of data to help serve the public. It truly set me up for success in a federal agency career that I love.