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50 Years of Masters of Public Administration graphic

Celebrating 50 years

History of the MPA Program

The MPA program started in the summer of 1969.  The person who saw the need, designed the program, and shepherded it through the approval process was O. B. Conaway, Jr.  He had been Dean of the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the State University of New York in Albany.  He was originally from Sistersville WV and was recruited to come to WVU as a Benedum Professor.

Dr. Conaway hired David Williams as the junior faculty member.  He started in the Summer of 1969.  Dr. Williams had been in graduate school in Albany and was completing a Public Service Fellowship in Washington, DC.  Dr. Herman Martins joined the faculty in mid-year as director of the MPA program.  He was a mid-career person from the NY Port Authority who had returned to Syracuse University to complete the doctorate.  These three constituted the initial faculty of the MPA program.

The original design of the MPA program was to have students start a few weeks before the regular semester, do two full semesters, and then do a jointly taught capstone seminar before summer school.  The summer capstone remained for a number of years, but the program found it better to accommodate to the regular semester schedule.  With the growth of the program and the increased student body courses were offered more than once a year and students didn’t have to move lockstep through the program.  This also accommodated many part-time students.

With the growth in graduate students, additional faculty were hired.  Dr. Gerald Pops was the next faculty member, then joined by Dr. Harvey Wolf.  These five constituted the core MPA faculty for many years.

The program was housed within the Department of Political Science in the early years, but had a separate staff and budget.  After a number of years, it became a separate Department.  Dr. Mertins was the program head for the first decade, until he was appointed Vice President for Finance and Administration, when Dr. Gee first became WVU President.  Dr. Williams was the next Department Chair and served in that capacity for 22 years. Of special interest, the MPA program at WVU played a role in the national accreditation process when it was first established during the 1970s.  WVU was accredited in the very first year of accreditation.  Dr. Mertins served as chair of the national commission.  Dr. Williams was chair for two years during the reorganization of the accreditation system to be mission-based.  WVU had continued to be accredited since that time.  

Over the years more than 1,900 students have graduated from the Master of Public Administration program at West Virginia University.  Many faculty and staff have come and moved on, but the connections have not gone away.  With the addition of email and internet it is so easy to keep in touch with everyone.  

In 2019, the WVU Master of Public Administration program turned 50. A celebration was planned but COVID postponed the event. The first cohort of nine students enrolled in 1969 and graduated in 1970. Fifty years later, the program is proud of the over 1,900 alumni who have made public service their calling.


The WVU MPA program prepares the next generation of public service professionals through experiential opportunities, such as action research projects, the signature internship experience and welcoming leaders in public administration as guest speakers. 

Our faculty address important public administration issues through research, teaching and service projects that support West Virginia communities and regional collaborations and advance a global perspective.