Have You Met Rutgers-Newark?

SPAA Grad Explores New Possibilities

When the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Central and Southern New Jersey announced her retirement in 2013, she urged her mentee Natasha Southerland to apply for the position.

Southerland was the highest-ranking chief marketing and communications executive for the Girl Scouts in New Jersey. She had a national reputation and a résumé that boasted more than 14 years of experience with the Girl Scouts. She seemed like a shoo-in.

Unfortunately for Southerland, something was missing.

She was eliminated in the last round of the selection process, and told that the only thing separating her from the top two candidates was her lack of an advanced degree.

“That’s why I decided to go back to school, because I didn’t want that opportunity to be presented to me ever again, and for that to be the reason,” the Piscataway, New Jersey, resident said.

After three years, Southerland is graduating with a master of public administration from the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University–Newark. She said she took every assignment seriously and maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout the program.

When she enrolled in graduate school, she was nervous about being among younger students, but quickly embraced her life and work experiences as academic strengths. Her employment with the Girl Scouts prompted her to select the degree concentration of nonprofit, public, and organizational management.

For her final research project, Southerland studied the nature of volunteerism in public organizations and concluded that volunteer satisfaction is crucial for organizations like the Girl Scouts that rely heavily on volunteers. She asserted that when volunteers report high levels of satisfaction, they not only continue to serve as volunteers, but encourage others to volunteer as well.

Southerland used her findings to highlight the need for organizations to optimize the volunteer experience through methods like duty rotation to prevent volunteers from being overworked.

Her time spent in the master's program not only informs her current work with the Girl Scouts, but has established a stronger foundation for her larger goals.

“Ultimately, I would like to open my own nonprofit in Barbados – where my family is from – when I retire,” she said. Southerland’s dream is to be the executive director of a Bajan nonprofit that supports the arts, with the goal of stabilizing the arts industry so that it can thrive with the tourism industry. 

Southerland looks forward to building her dream, but says that her priorities are currently rooted in the present. For years, the mother of three has juggled several responsibilities, including work, school, and her children’s extracurricular activities. After graduation, she is going to embrace the advice of a mentor who suggested that she use the next six months to “just live.”

“Life is way too short to not enjoy it,” Southerland said. “I’ve been going and going for so long, and to just ‘be still’ is going to be really refreshing.”

After her six-month relaxation period, Southerland says she will then determine her next steps.

“While I’ve been here, I’ve probably been offered one job a year…opportunities that I would not have had, had I not been [at SPAA],” she said. “Now I’m going to open myself up to seriously consider those opportunities.”