Public policy degree programs help students achieve career and personal goals 

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Penn State World Campus offers several degree programs that can prepare individuals for careers in the public sector and law.

Credit: Mike Dawson

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — MarielAnne Sacayan was determined to get a bachelor’s degree because of the sacrifice her parents had made when they emigrated to Guam from the Philippines. Once she did, she was able to pay it forward. 

Sacayan’s first job after graduating in 2021 was as an immigration specialist in Seattle, Washington, helping people who are in the same position her parents were once in. 

Sacayan earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice online through Penn State World Campus and immediately applied what she learned in her courses to the job in which she managed visa applications and processed travel requests. She recently secured a new job as a program administrator for the Woman, Minority, Small Business and Apprenticeship Utilization programs with the city of Bellevue, Washington. 

“The things I was learning at Penn State and the work I was doing at my job went hand-in-hand,” Sacayan said. “I knew it was the right fit.” 

Sacayan is among the many students who say the degrees they earned online in the fields of law and public policy and homeland security have helped them be successful and reach their goals. 

25 years of online education at Penn State 

This year marks 25 years since the launch in 1998 of Penn State World Campus, which expanded access to high-quality Penn State degrees to anyone around the globe with an internet connection. Today World Campus boasts a comprehensive selection of more than 175 Penn State degrees that are available online. 

Those who want a career working in law enforcement, for governmental agencies, in public policy or other roles in the public sector can choose from a diverse array of undergraduate and graduate degrees in public policy, law and homeland security.  

The criminal justice program has offerings at each level of study — an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree. The bachelor of arts in law and society can prepare individuals for future careers practicing law or in public service.  

Graduate degree programs in the master of public administration and master of professional studies in community and economic development can help professionals working in the public sector or who seek a career change gain additional knowledge and leadership skills. 

The homeland security program, which is offered exclusively online at Penn State through World Campus, consists of a base program and options in fields such as biosecurity and food defense, counterterrorism, public health preparedness and more. 

Students leverage public policy degrees to achieve their goals 

Sigita Ramelyte would like to pursue graduate school after she completes her bachelor of science in criminal justice. This past summer, she had an experience that will prepare her for her next endeavor.  

Ramelyte attended an academic conference where she presented research she completed under the supervision of Shauntey James, a Penn State criminal justice assistant teaching professor at the Harrisburg campus.  

Ramelyte wrote a paper titled “Risk Factors of Non-Aggressive Juvenile Delinquency in Girls.” 

“Presenting in this conference encouraged me to further focus on research and gave me a perspective of what I need to improve, showing how rewarding this can be,” Ramelyte said. “Seeing professionals from different areas of the field, getting to meet recruiters offering education and employment opportunities, gave me a better sense of direction when thinking about my future.” 

Tanja Hernandez has used her master’s degree to pursue a higher-level degree. 

Hernandez graduated with the master of professional studies in community and economic development in 2021 and is enrolled in a doctoral program in education, development and community engagement at Penn State’s University Park campus. 

When she decided to get her master’s degree, she needed the flexibility of an online degree program because she was a single mom of three children. 

“Being able to take my learning with me wherever I was going was really important,” Hernandez said. “I was not guaranteed to be where I was for the next two years to pursue a graduate degree.” 

Hernandez grew up in the military, and home was never a single place or neighborhood. So, when it came time to work, Hernandez did not limit herself to one place but rather where she could make the most impact. She completed her course work while in Asia. 

“I know the skills I had growing up and the knowledge I’ve learned in graduate school can help me help others anywhere,” she said. 

Hernandez hopes to continue working internationally through nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations. She said the case studies and discussions shared with her peers enhanced her experience and that she enjoyed the collaboration with those in different communities. 

Danielle Vespaziani is passionate about criminal justice and debated whether to pursue a master’s degree in public policy or public administration. She chose the master of professional studies in criminal justice policy and administration, which she said combined the concepts from the two fields into one program that was perfect for her. 

Vespaziani, who works in investigations for a state government agency, graduated in 2023. Due to the confidential nature of the duties of her job, she could not provide specifics but said the online master’s program combined public administration and public policy into a program that was perfect for her educational goals. 

She said working with Penn State faculty and the capstone project were highlights of her experience. 

“With the ability to complete the program entirely online, I was able to continue working full-time and getting real world experience while also continuing my education. I was also able to apply my understanding in my day-to-day work and able to increase my understanding of my chosen program.” 

Learn more about the public policy and homeland security programs offered online through Penn State World Campus.  


Mike Dawson

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