May 2, 2012
Christina Mortensen has an uncanny knack for seeing the connections between things.
As an undergraduate, she connected social work with Spanish as a dual major to ensure she could help the broadest range of people. While completing her Master’s degree in Social Work at the Temple University Harrisburg Campus, so quickly saw the connections between her program and the Master’s of Community and Regional Planning, also offered at Harrisburg, linked up through distance learning initiatives with Temple University Ambler.
“I was always a bit of an oddball when it came to social work — my concentration was in community organizing and public policy. When I was choosing electives, I decided to take a regional development course in (Temple’s) planning program and it just made so much sense to me — in social work, city functioning and city design has a direct impact on your clients,” said Mortensen, who will graduate with her master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning on May 10, her second Temple master’s. “Social work and community and regional planning, I view in many cases as one and the same — the goal in both is to help people function at their best capacity. In social work, you’re meeting individual needs while in community and regional planning you’re focused on community needs — the two together give you a very well rounded perspective.”
Mortensen, 26 and currently living in Harrisburg, said she prides herself on providing a unique perspective on how a policy or a plan can impact individuals. It’s a perspective that she wants to use to help affect positive change and ensure “social justice.”
“Since I was a 19-year-old undergraduate, I always wanted to work for HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) in program management and functioning — not the typical dream for a 19-year-old, I know,” she said with a laugh. “While I always knew what I wanted to do I think the Community and Regional Planning program helped me concretely identify my future goals and what I want to be involved in. There is a great sense of community among the planning students and while distance learning was an important part of the program at Harrisburg, I always felt I had access to my professors and have had tremendous support in pursuing my goals and interests.”
For Mortensen, currently working as Director of Research and Communications for the National Association of Social Workers, that dream HUD job might be just around the corner.
Out of a field of more than 9,000 applicants, Mortensen was among the few hundred selected this year for the Presidential Management Fellows program, a prestigious two-year paid government fellowship that provides her with the opportunity to work with a variety of United States government agencies, such as the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Defense, Homeland Security and, of course, Housing and Urban Development. The rigorous selection process includes hours of interviews, tests, and assessments, which take place in Washington, D.C.
Mortensen is the second Presidential Management Fellow from Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program in two years — only one other planning program in the country can boast going two for two in 2011 and 2012. Mortensen said she hadn’t even heard of the Presidential Management Fellows program until her close friend and Temple’s 2011 recipient Brandon Porinchak told her about it.
“The program is profoundly competitive and it’s a huge advantage knowing someone in the program because they can provide you with insight on the process. All of a sudden it goes from 9,000 to 1,500 to just a few hundred,” she said. “You get to know the names, you get to know the schools, of the other students vying for these positions — Harvard, Yale, USC, and there’s Temple Ambler right in the mix. I went in with a lot of confidence — HUD likes to work with planners — and I think my experience and my dual education helped make me a finalist.”
Having two Presidential Management Fellows in as many years, “clearly says something about the quality of Temple’s program,” Mortensen said.
“I think the planning program is designed in such a way that you gain skills that are essential for any profession. You’re taught not just how to be a planner, but how to be a planning professional,” she said. “At Temple, our professors have taken the time to invest in us as individuals; the confidence to be aware of what we can do and the ability to truly go in prepared for any situation. Throughout the Presidential Management Fellows process, they constantly stress the importance of adaptability — that’s exactly what Temple gives you.”