Published December 21, 2020
Come spring, Peter Farruggia will be juggling two UB commencement ceremonies.
Good thing he has one under his belt already.
Farruggia is a rarity, even among the ambitious UB students who pursue a joint graduate degree in law and another field. He recently completed a master’s degree from UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, and is on track to earn a JD and MBA this spring.
It’s all in service to his goal: to help make policy in the public health field, perhaps with an international focus.
“I’ve been dead set on having a career dedicated to public service, especially in health and health care,” says Farruggia, who received his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Geneseo. “I want to make it my life’s mission to increase health access and decrease health disparities and inequities for people who have been pretty consistently left behind.”
Now he’s taking a giant step into that world with the news that he has been named a Class of 2021 Presidential Management Fellow. The highly competitive program, administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management,is the federal government’s premier leadership training program for promising recent graduates. Next year, Farruggia will begin a two-year assignment in a federal agency, further developing his leadership skills and giving him the opportunity to leverage his knowledge of health policy and health administration in the policy-making arena.
He’ll bring to the task hard-won experience juggling demands on his time and energy. In addition to his studies, Farruggia has been an officer and participant in a number of student organizations in all three schools.
As the semester winds down, UBNow spoke with Farruggia about his journey and the personal drive that has taken him to the start of his public health career.
Congratulations on your designation as a member of the Class of 2021 Presidential Management Fellows program. What excites you most about the opportunities the program provides?
This fellowship is going to get me in the door to having a career in public service in the federal government, and I hope it’s going to help me be the best agent of change in society that I can be.
You’re currently working toward a total of three graduate degrees at UB — a JD, an MBA and an MPH. Why this particular combination?
The three degrees have given me the opportunity to really experience firsthand interprofessional collaboration, which I think is largely lacking in health care. It’s incredibly important, though, because health care is collaborative in nature. I’ve been able to make all three of these programs work together, and that has been really useful for me.
What is your ultimate career goal, and how will your law degree help you to achieve it?
My goal is to end up in the federal government, or to work in an international health organization, like the World Health Organization, doing regulatory and legislative and health policy work. I want to be able to craft and reinvent and rework policies that need to be rewritten and implemented, and also create new policies that will help to affect change.
On top of your ambitious academic schedule, you are a leader in student organizations in the School of Law, School of Management and School of Public Health and Health Professions. Why is this important to you, and how do you balance it all?
I’ve always enjoyed being involved in extracurricular activities, from middle school and high school on. They give you an experience that sitting in a classroom doesn’t. I’m a naturally extroverted person, so developing relationships with classmates and peers outside the classroom is really important to me. I’ve had to force myself to become a master of time management.
Why did you choose UB to pursue your education?
One of my best professors at SUNY Geneseo, Dr. Kristi Krumrine, was finishing her PhD here and she loved UB, and one of my best friends as an undergraduate completed her master’s here. It’s a really great school. I had such a great experience at SUNY Geneseo, and the SUNY system is so worth it.
What was your most valuable course, advice, experience or professor in the MBA program?
I had two professors who made a big difference for me. Professor Larry Zielinski who teaches 90% of the health care MBA courses. The depth and breadth of knowledge that he brings to the subject area is amazing. I’ve learned so much about health care administration and management from him. Jaimie Falzarano is director of the LeaderCORE program, a leadership certification program for MBA students. The amount of compassion and straight passion and knowledge that she has brought to us — she’s really helped us with our development and growth throughout the program. She has been a real light.
How has the increased awareness of public health — as a profession and in the general public — due to the pandemic affected what you’re doing right now?
For me as a public health professional, it warms my heart that at least people know what public health is and how important it is to our society. Amid all of the misinformation and all of the fear and paranoia that is being parroted by the current administration, I still think our public health professionals are trying to cut through the noise and lay it out for the public to say this is serious and everyone needs to take it as seriously as possibly.
I also want to mention Dr. Sarahmona Przybyla, who I had in my very first semester in grad school and now I have a course with her again. She has taught me so much in public health and sexual health, including learning how to appreciate and be a devoted public health practitioner.
Why is public health a valuable addition to your knowledge and skills?
Public health has taught me not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Unlike law or medicine, where you’re so down deep in the weeds and minutiae, public health requires you to take the 30,000-foot view. The whole point is to improve the overall health and well-being of the population. Law is so detail-oriented, and to marry it with something so widespread and widescale has been extremely useful.