Rachel McGuffin, EMPA ’19, won this year’s Outstanding Student Award for the Executive Master of Public Administration program. Supportive professors helped Rachel combine her love of language and culture with public administration.
When Rachel McGuffin joined the Air Force right out of high school, she had no idea how much her life would transform. After learning Chinese, she worked as a translator in Hawaii and later New Zealand and taught English in Taiwan where she also earned a master’s degree in sociology. When she returned to the United States, she accepted a position with the Defense Language Institute (DLI) as a Chinese instructor and administrator in charge of one contract and teacher training for the Chinese language school. Rachel subscribes to that old adage that you should leave something in a better state than you found it in. She enrolled in GGU’s Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) program because she wanted to augment her cross-cultural background with the managerial knowledge that would allow her to make a lasting impact on DLI—something she has now achieved.
At GGU, Rachel researched the need for cross-cultural training in her industry to manage cultural conflicts that arise between teachers and students, a challenge she had observed at DLI.
“At DLI, I served as the cultural bridge between students and native Chinese instructors, which involved conflict management,” explained Rachel. “Cross-cultural misunderstanding between Chinese teachers and American students was my biggest headache on a day-to-day basis. I was wondering how we could have more of a preventative strategy.”
After learning about cross-cultural training in one of her classes, Rachel presented a case for implementing cross-cultural workshops to DLI leadership based on previous examples and best practices. She demonstrated that successful and inclusive organizations run these workshops.
“For my capstone, I implemented this training at DLI which has helped connect students with teachers, creating a trusting learning environment which then helps get the mission done,” said Rachel. “Because I was in charge of training instructors, cross-cultural training is now standardized and formalized at DLI.”
From EMPA to New Opportunities
Since receiving her degree from GGU, Rachel has been promoted to a management position with the company JTG, Inc. In her new role, she manages multiple defense contracts for government agencies in need of language training, translation, and interpretation.
Said Rachel, “If I could help veterans for the rest of my life that would be a very rewarding experience. Education holds the power to crack open people’s minds and world views. Being a part of that is what it boils down to for me.”
What led you to choose GGU? I had heard of GGU through a colleague at the Defense Language Institute in the context of how it helped him grow in managerial knowledge after the military. I knew I wanted to pursue a degree that was grounded in practical application and knowledge, something that would translate directly to my work. I wanted to help DLI grow in terms of personnel and strategy and I was also interested in organizational assessment.
Please describe your accomplishments at GGU. For my capstone, I was able to mix my passion for language and culture with public administration through the understanding and implementation of cross-cultural training. Helping military professionals evaluate the efficacy of cross-cultural training and prove the need for it has had a lasting impact for students at DLI.
A second accomplishment I’m proud of is helping co-author “Cities and Homelessness,” an essay collection exploring veterans and homelessness in the U.S. I can’t think of a more worthy cause to study and help provide insight to practitioners who have the power to help resolve the issue. It is my first time professionally editing and writing something in English that will be published in academia.
What courses have proven most valuable to you? The one I enjoyed the most was EMPA 303 Organizational Development and Leadership because of its direct applicability to my professional life and the concepts I learned in how to improve an organization from both top-down and down-up. The textbook teaching us how to apply different lenses to viewing your organization was like a toolkit I could use as a manager and teacher as I encountered problems each day. The class gave me room to reflect on what mattered to me personally in an administration and in management, which then helped me form my own professional approach to the topic.
How have your professors helped you succeed? Dr. Mick, Dr. Curl, and Dr. Jay have all been integral to my success. First, they held me to a high standard, which motivated me to realize my potential. It made me feel like they cared about my learning process and when the workload got overwhelming, they provided support day and night.
How do you think your education at GGU will help you succeed in your career? The EMPA program taught me how to look at the big picture, and provided me with the strategic frameworks and tools I need to grow my business. It filled in the gaps of my understanding of how organizations work, what makes them tick, and most importantly what to do when something goes wrong. It’s through learning about the non-examples, the obstacles in organizational management that makes me feel equipped to handle whatever my job throws at me.
What are your career ambitions for the future? I hope to continue working with private and public partnerships to support our military and national security folks. Learning Chinese and having strong mentors really guided the direction of my life and I want to give back to the system that gave so much to me. In my new role as Program Manager responsible for four different contracts with the U.S. government, I also hope to continue to use my foreign language skills to teach and mentor instructors.
What advice would you give to future EMPA students? Think about your day-to-day life and your job. What is one thing you can fix? Use that as your passion to get through the courses and leverage the courses to fix something in your life and then see if you can build outward.