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Bernie Hillenbrand, MPA 1951: A tribute to the Storied Tradition of the Maxwell MPA program and its Graduates

Bernie Hillenbrand, MPA 1951, outside the State House in Wisconsin, his first job, post-Maxwell

For most university programs, the summer months are quiet.  But, not so for Syracuse University Maxwell School’s MPA program.  This Friday, we will celebrate the graduation of the MPA Class of 2019 at the Public Administration Convocation.  And on Monday, July 1 we will welcome the newest class of MPA students.  This summer start has been a part of our program’s tradition since it was founded in 1924.  We were recently reminded of the storied tradition of the MPA program when the family of Bernard (Bernie) Hillenbrand, MPA 1951, reached out to share a bit about his life and accomplishments both prior to his studies at Maxwell and beyond. What an amazing story and man …he will be missed by many.

“Bernard Hillenbrand’s rise from a childhood of profound poverty and malnourishment to severely wounded soldier to the role of Washington power player and intimate of presidents is awe-inspiring.  He was a decorated WWII veteran, Methodist minister, and longtime Executive Director of the National Association of Counties.  His remarkable one-man campaign helped save the Antietam Battlefield area from power company development.  Bernard Hillenbrand died October 5 in Washington, DC. He was 93.”

Bernie Hillenbrand also earned his BA in Political Science from Syracuse University in 1949.

Bernie’s story reminds us that while the broad mission of the Maxwell School’s MPA program is Public Service, our program does not create a sense of public duty in our students… they come here with a devotion to service already.  Our MPA program simply seeks to “enhance their knowledge and skills allowing them to make greater contributions to the broad public good across levels of government and with nonprofit and for-profit organizations, nationally and internationally”.

Bernie Hillenbrand was the first executive director of the National Association of Counties (NACo), and over 25 years built NACo into one of America’s largest and most influential public interests groups.

“There are a lot of people in Washington who get paid as lobbyists, and there are some people who are lobbyists, but there are very few whose representation rises genuinely to the level of public service,” Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said in 1982. “Bernie Hillenbrand is one of those men.”

(Excerpts taken from Bernard Hillenbrand’s obituary, written by his daughter, and noted author, Laura Hillenbrand, see full obituary here)

Even this blog post transcends the history of the MPA program… first informed by the impressive life and career of Bernard Hillenbrand from the Class of 1951 and written by myself, Class of 1996 and Michael Fandrich, Class of 2019.  Each of us lived a life of public service even before attending Maxwell.  Bernie as a soldier and war hero, myself working with at-risk youth and Michael serving elected leaders in upstate NY.  And each of us extended our careers improving the lives of others post-Maxwell (we fully expect Michael to).  And hundreds of Maxwell alumni before and in between benefited from the tradition of enduring excellence that is Maxwell’s MPA program.    I am most pleased to share the following tribute to this enduring tradition, inspired from Bernard Hillenbrand’s admit letter from 1949, and written by Michael Fandrich who graduates tomorrow.  Congratulations Michael and to all your cohort in the Class of 2019!

Michael Fandrich     MPA 2019

by Michael Fandrich, MPA 2019

Many things have changed since the Maxwell School was founded at Syracuse University in 1924.  The school has been led by ten different deans, expanded its physical footprint to include Maxwell and Eggers Halls, and has grown to include numerous undergraduate and graduate degree programs and interdisciplinary research centers.

Despite the many changes that we have seen at the Maxwell School over the past 94 years, the core mission of the school’s highly-regarded Department of Public Administration and International Affairs (PAIA) – to prepare emerging and midcareer leaders with the knowledge, experience and skills to have an enduring impact on the public good – has remained the same.

The family of Bernard Hillenbrand who began his program at the “Maxwell Graduate School of Citizenship and Public Affairs” in August of 1949 recently provided us with copies of his letters of admission from Dean Paul H. Appleby.  These letters – from 70 years ago – demonstrate that the Maxwell School has always been focused on providing a high-quality education to students who are committed to public service.

The following sections of Dean Appleby’s letter highlight five attributes of the Maxwell School in 1949 to which the school remains committed.    These attributes continue to make the Maxwell School one of the premier destinations for students interested in careers in public administration and international affairs.

Student Cohorts with Diverse Background and Experiences

The strength of the Maxwell School’s PAIA Department comes from our diverse student body.  Each year, the PAIA Department enrolls students from all across the United States and the world with a variety of different backgrounds, including varying amounts of work experience and different undergraduate academic experiences.  You do not need to have studied political science or international relations in undergraduate school to be successful in the PAIA Department’s MPA and MAIR programs.

Visit the Admissions page to learn more about the PAIA Department’s application criteria.

Interdisciplinary Curriculum


The fields of Public Administration (PA) and International Relations (IR) are interdisciplinary by nature.  Students pursuing degrees in these fields may study political science, history, economics, management, statistics, and foreign languages, among many other subjects.  The Maxwell School’s MPA and MAIR programs give students the flexibility to explore their interests through different concentrations, academic tracks, and elective coursework.

Click here to learn more about the PAIA Degree Programs’ core requirements and concentrations/tracks.

 Student Commitment to Serving the Public

Students come to the Maxwell School because they want to make an impact.  The MPA and MAIR programs are professional degree programs that focus on providing students with the practical skills, knowledge, and experiences needed to make an impact on their communities, no matter how narrowly or broadly defined.  Maxwell graduates serve the public by working in local, state, national, and international government, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit companies through the United States and the world.

Visit the Alumni Profiles Page to learn more about the impact that Maxwell graduates are making in the world.

Focus on Job Placement and Career Services

The Maxwell School’s Palmer Career Center is committed to providing students with the resources necessary to develop successful strategies to achieve their post-graduate career pursuits.  Nearly all MPA and MAIR graduates are employed or enrolled in further education 6 months after graduating from their program.

Visit the Palmer Career Center’s website to learn more about the Maxwell School’s Career Services.

Accessible Faculty

The Maxwell School’s PAIA Department faculty are nationally and internationally-renowned experts in their fields and practitioners of public policy and international affairs from around the world.  In addition to conducting groundbreaking research and participating in decision making at the local to the international level, the Maxwell School’s faculty members are excellent teachers and advisors who are readily accessible to their students.

Visit the PAIA Faculty Page to learn more about our faculty.


A photo of Bernard Hillenbrand’s original Letter of Admission from Dean Paul Appleby, dated June 1949

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