Stephen Belongia, MPP Class of 2015, was well into his career in the FBI when he joined the course. “I’d been in the FBI for 19 years, and I came to the School to make a greater impact in what I was doing. I also wanted to expand my horizons – the diversity is one of the greatest values of the MPP. I have friends from all over the world now and it’s very enlightening to have the different perspectives they bring.”
After finishing the course, he was soon promoted to Assistant Special Agent in Charge, leading the field office in Tampa, Florida. He has responsibility for the cyber programme, counter intelligence programme, technical programme, surveillance programme, and administration programme. “With eight million people, it’s a big area of responsibility, and with the military facilities, Kennedy Space Centre, Space Coast, and amusement parks, it’s also a target-rich environment.”
In addition to his extensive professional experience prior to the course, Stephen was able to gain new skills on the MPP, which he believes will help him further his career.
“The MPP organised my thinking by giving me frameworks to use. The science module was particularly useful with its focus on policy evaluation. Now, when I’m making changes with senior leaders, I’m aware that we need to build in time for reflection, evaluating along the way. As I progress, I hope to bring these tools into my work even more.”
Adjusting to studying after a long time away from university was a challenge, but the transition was eased by the supportive nature of the class.
“It was a big adjustment. All the study skills and habits were still there, but it was extremely challenging after working at a career for 20 years. However, it was a cohesive social experience, and very different from my undergraduate degree. It’s such an enriching environment – you miss that afterwards.”
Stephen did his summer project with the FBI, looking at policies related to selection of senior executives, and was able to apply the frameworks learnt on the course. “For me, the politics of policymaking is what matters most. People might have a lot of passion, but they still need to understand the importance of the politics. It can be frustrating but it’s essential to navigate politics within the system to achieve your policy goals.”
Since completing the MPP, Stephen has been an active member of the Blavatnik School alumni community, acting as a mentor so that his classmates can benefit from his professional experience.