Finding inspiration from abroad

When it comes to JSGS alumni, Andrea Geisbauer is something of an insider—she’s the manager of the school’s Executive Education unit. It is a position she’s held since 2002, when the unit was still a separate entity known as the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy (SIPP). It became part of the newly formed Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) in 2008.

Work-Life Balance

Andrea’s ties with the U of R go back to her undergraduate days. “I’m a Regina girl,” she says. “I grew up in the city and took my undergrad degree here in Business Administration—although I did take a break mid-way through to spend half a year in Australia.”

Inspiration Abroad

Australia turned out to be a watershed moment in Andrea’s career path, even if she didn’t realize it at the time. “I was there during a federal election. Voting is mandatory, so unlike Canada, where my peers didn’t seem that interested in elections, over there it was an incredible thing to witness.”

The experience sparked a latent interest in politics and the impact of politics on the way we live. “When I came home, I took a class on federalism and something just clicked. I wanted to know more about politics, about government and about how things worked in our society.”

After graduating with her business degree, she landed a job in the Communications Branch of the Ministry of Finance—another watershed moment. She spent two years getting a close-up view of government. “There’s no better way to learn how government really works than to spend time working in a central ministry like Finance. Even in communications, I was privy to fascinating conversations and late night sessions during the budget process. I remember thinking how great my job was. Unfortunately, a number of communication positions were abolished at that time and mine was one of them.”

Wanting to Know More

Andrea moved from the ministry to SIPP early in 2002. Around the time SIPP became the JSGS Outreach and Training unit (now Executive Education), she was considering a return to school. “I was surrounded by governance and policy issues, and I wanted to know more”

At first, she thought about getting another undergraduate degree, this time in political science. Then someone she respected suggested she enroll in one of JSGS’s graduate programs. She was accepted into the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program but found herself struggling with a case of cold feet.

“I had heard about the toll grad school can take, especially when you’re working full-time and studying part-time—and we were going to start a family. I was so nervous. Just before my first night class, I called my mom and said, ‘I’m going to do this one class, but then I’m done.’ Then you meet people like yourself—mature students who have jobs and families—so it’s not quite so scary. There was a group of us making our way through a grad degree while raising a family and working, and we had great camaraderie.”

Andrea completed three classes before her first daughter was born and finished her MPA before her second daughter was born.

Memorable Classes

Several classes stand out when Andrea looks back at her JSGS experience. “The public finance class really tied things together for me. I had been involved at a practical level in my job with the Ministry of Finance, and now I was learning the theory behind everything that goes on at budget time,” she says. “The governance and administration class was another favourite because I learned how the Westminster system works: the division of power, the levels of government, the role of First Nations and so on.”

She particularly remembers the negotiation class with Bob Hawkins, which had a reputation for being both “gruesome and awesome. You were given several scenarios, and then you and a partner had to get your negotiating strategy in place. When you walked in to the presentation, you had to know what you’d give up and what you wanted to get. If you didn’t get to a resolution, you got zero on the assignment, so you couldn’t just walk away—you had to solve the problem. It was a great way to finish my degree on a high note.”

Like many JSGS alumni who worked full time while pursuing a masters’, Andrea was not looking to change jobs. “The Outreach and Training unit does so much work with government that I didn’t feel the need to look for a government position; I’m using my degree. The unit has four business lines: outreach, which includes public lectures; executive training, which includes workshops to train public employees; a governance program, which we deliver through a partner; and consultation work, which involves research on public sector issues. As manager, I oversee all of that, so my work is diverse. On a given day, I could be looking over workshop curriculum, reviewing our budget, working with JSGS colleagues on marketing or working on consulting projects.”

Inspiring Her Kids

With two young daughters, Andrea is also working hard to ensure work-life balance. She recently moved to half-time at JSGS. “I really struggled with that decision. I have competing priorities, like many professional women. I want to use my brain and have adult engagement on topics I’m interested in, but I also chose to start a family. Your children are only little once—I want to be there when my little one comes out her Kindergarten door every day. I feel very fortunate that the school was able to accommodate me.”

“Before getting my MPA, I was the only one out of my siblings without a graduate degree. With two daughters, I want to set an example of a highly educated woman. So when we talk to our kids, it’s not ‘if you go to university,’ it’s ‘what will you study when you get there?’