Disa Upton is a student in the JSGS online Master of Public Administration program. (Photo: Submitted)
Disa Upton is a student in the JSGS online Master of Public Administration program. (Photo: Submitted)

Building equality and opportunity with a public policy education

Disa Upton has a passion for making sure everyone has equal access to services and spaces in the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Library.

And it’s a combination of work and personal experience when it comes to access that’s led Upton to pursue the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) online Master of Public Administration program.  

She is currently the Operations Manager, Access Services at the USask University Library. But it was while working at the Saskatoon Public Library and exposure to different levels of government, non-profit organizations and community builders that pushed Upton to enrol in the MPA program. 

“I found the library is central to a lot of people’s lives,” she said. “It is how they connect with their community and exploring that further really appealed to me. “The MPA appealed to me because it highlighted connections and collaborations, and had aspects of leadership.” 

Upton has a sister with Down Syndrome and says that relationship drives her academic exploration with policy and finding a way to amplify inclusion. 

“With that work, and my personal experience with my sister, I really wanted to figure out how to amplify that in a professional manner,” she said. 

Soon after beginning the MPA program Upton’s current position at the University Library came up and she jumped at the chance to work at USask. 

“A large part of my work is employees and employee support and experience and working closely with my colleagues to carry out the vision for the USask libraries,” said Upton, who has Bachelor of Arts in Art History from USask.  

Upton has fast tracked her MPA studies and will finish this April after just 18 months. 

“Everyone at JSGS – the staff, the professors, my peers –have been really supportive,” she said. “Most of us are working professionals so there is a sense of camaraderie. There is lots of balancing between school and work and life.” 

“It has been challenging because you have to be self-disciplined,” she added. “But it is also flexible. If you have a heavy workload, you can reach out and there is lots of room to support you.” 

An unexpected highlight from her online experience, is building two close friendships with peers 

“One’s in Regina and one’s in Victoria, and that’s been pretty amazing building really strong relationships through school,” said Upton, who grew up in Saskatoon. “That is something I haven’t experienced until being in this online program. You go through it together and it’s been great. There is definitely a bond there.”  

Upton has focussed her MPA on leadership and governance, but has also brushed up in areas such as finance to complement those other skills. She has also been able to use actual work scenarios as part of her assignments. 

“We get feedback on how to manage situations and policy implementations,” she said. 

“For example, with the fiscal planning and the operations management side I’ve been able to work on streamlining current procedures and developing my team, and also learn how employees interact with users and managing accessibility to spaces and services.” 

Upton says once she finishes her term at the end of April she’ll begin her Capstone at the beginning of May and graduate in the fall.  

“The MPA program gives me so much flexibility in sectors I can work in,” she said. “I want to continue to contribute and grow my leadership position with the University of Saskatchewan Library and broader campus, and apply my MPA to support an equitable and accessible space."

She is also really interested in staying connected with JSGS in some capacity.  

“It feels good to not be limited,” she said.