Alumnus - Class of 2017

professional headshot of class of 2017 alumnus Sami ElfarCurrent position: Policy/Program Advisor (Strategic Policy & Transportation Economics), Ministry of Transportation 
Co-op positions: Safety Research Advisor, Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Assistant Project Officer, Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change 
Academic background: Honours Bachelor Arts in Political Science and History from Wilfrid Laurier University

Why did you choose Waterloo’s MPS program?

I chose the MPS program because it is the only professionally-focused master’s program in Ontario that is geared toward a career in public service. The eight month co-op option, combined with the track record of placing students in great jobs was definitely the biggest draw.  The academic portion of the program also provided a cross-disciplinary mix of courses that I felt would prepare me for multiple career paths that include public policy, project management, and communications.

Tell us about your current co-op position.

Currently, I am an Assistant Project Officer with the Environmental Approvals Branch at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. In this role, I review project documents for large infrastructure, transportation, waste, and mining projects throughout Ontario. In reviewing these projects, I ensure that environmental standards are being met, I communicate with multiple stakeholders regarding projects, and act as a liaison between senior management and the public. This position has allowed me to gain an insight into the operational side of government while learning to work with sometimes politically contentious issues.

How did the MPS program, including your co-op experiences prepare you for a career?

The course work and project based nature of the MPS program allowed me to tackle real world policy and governance issues while collaborating with others. The collaborative nature of the work really prepared me to work in a real-world group environment in the public sector. The course work is extremely relevant and teaches students the hard and soft skills they need to be successful in multiple fields of government. The fact that the program takes a broad approach really affords students the opportunity to explore a vast range of career choices in the public and private sectors.

The co-op experience was extremely valuable in allowing me to apply the things I learned in class to real world situations. I was fortunate enough to work in two high-volume, politically charged areas of government which allowed me to gain experience working in a fast paced environment. The opportunity to work eight months in a professional setting also allows students to build their professional network while providing a solid foundation for their career.

What are your favourite MPS moments?

I think the friendships forged were definitely the best part of the MPS program. In my short time in the program, I was fortunate enough to develop some amazing friendships with fellow students who I keep in touch with on a daily basis. It has been extremely important to have this support network as I went through the challenging program.

If I had to pick one favourite moment it would definitely be the Diwali celebrations in November 2015. This was such a great moment because the students really rallied together to plan the celebrations. We had students teaching traditional dances, the class had an Indian inspired potluck, and we learned about a holiday that many of us did not know about. It was a great example of how we celebrated each other’s diversity and will be a moment that I remember for a long time.

What have you learned about yourself as a result of the program and your career?

Just making it through the extremely intensive and challenging course work was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I learned the importance of teamwork and working with others to overcome challenging situations. I think the strength of our cohort was in sticking together and helping one another out. Whenever things got challenging you would see people working together, tutoring one another, and working in groups to complete projects. If I had gone through the program alone, I honestly don’t think that I would have been successful. This taught me that there is always strength in numbers and that fostering a helpful and collaborative working culture will allow everyone to thrive.

What has been your most interesting experience working in the public service?

Having the opportunity to work with two hot button issues like transportation and the environment has been really interesting. It has shown me that most topics are politically charged and will engage people on all sides of the spectrum. Having an inside look at how policy and programs are delivered, and the passion that many public servants have, has been an extremely fulfilling experience.

What advice do you have for someone interested in taking the MPS program?     

My message would be to simply be positive and keep an open mind. Many of us have areas of interest within the public service that we want to pursue, but my suggestion would be to learn as much as you can about a variety of policy issues.  Learning about a variety of subjects will really help you zero in on some career options and it’s a very real possibility that you will discover an interest that you never knew you had. Use the co-op terms to network with people and explore as many career paths as possible. For myself, I have had two different co-op experiences, which has allowed me to expand my knowledge base and become a better-rounded professional. 

University of Waterloo