San Antonio native, Kelly Toepperwein graduated from UTSA with a dual degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology in ’08 and obtained her M.P.A. and Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Administration and Leadership in ‘15. Upon graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Kelly set her eyes on becoming a psychologist with a focus on criminal behavior, and began her professional career working as a Case Manager for individuals with disabilities and mental and behavioral disorders. After working in the field and making a difference for many families, she began exploring alternative paths where she could broaden her skillset and create change on a larger scale. After meeting with a UTSA career counselor, she began pursuing a Master in Public Administration in order to work in nonprofit administration. Her M.P.A. has allowed her to combine her passion for helping others with a strong background knowledge in nonprofit practices to drive change in the community. Today, Kelly works at Morgan’s Wonderland as the Director of Community & Donor Relations. She has found her passion implementing fundraising strategies to include Annual Giving, special events and corporate partnerships. You can read more about Kelly’s journey in the Q&A below:
Tell us a little bit about your background – where did you grow up and what did you want with your life?
Growing up, I wanted to be a psychologist focused on criminal behavior. I have always seen the best in people and a desire to help people overcome obstacles and improve their quality of life. I pursued a dual degree in Psychology & Criminal Justice from UTSA. Upon graduation in 2008, I started working for an organization that specialized in mental health and intellectual disabilities.
What was your role working for this organization? Did you enjoy it?
I started off as a Case Manager for individuals with disabilities and later transitioned to the mental health side and served children and adolescents with mental and behavioral disorders, many of which were involved in the criminal justice system. I loved the kind of work I was doing and it was extremely rewarding, but emotionally draining. I had a hard time separating my emotions from the families and started to see the limitations in the way the “system” worked.
Why did you pursue a Master of Public Administration at UTSA?
In my first job, I realized that I was making an impact on individual families, but I wanted to do so much more. I sought the advice of a career counselor at UTSA to research and explore other opportunities and career paths. Soon after, we came to the conclusion that I should pursue nonprofit administration and my M.P.A.
How did the M.P.A. prepare you for your current position as Director of Community & Donor Relations at Morgan’s Wonderland?
While pursuing my M.P.A., I was working with a local nonprofit and was able to directly apply what I was learning to the organization I was serving. I was fortunate to work with a boss who really empowered me and gave me the opportunity to utilize and implement concepts and frameworks being discussed in class to advance the organization. My exit research paper was on collaboration in the nonprofit sector and how these partnerships shape outcomes and overall impact. One of the biggest findings was that organizations serving vulnerable populations (like special needs) are more inclined to work together to provide services and opportunities and increase overall quality of life. I’m fortunate to be part of an organization that is the central hub for the special needs community and collaboration with other local nonprofit organizations.
What are some of your career achievements?
I’m honored to have the opportunity to have worked for two of the best and most well-respected nonprofit organizations in the community — The DoSeum and now Morgan’s Wonderland. I tell people that I came from one magical place to another. Fundraising is not an easy job, but when you represent an organization that is truly making an impact in our community (and beyond) it’s highly rewarding. I’m proud to be able to connect individual donors or companies with initiatives that excite them and to be part of increasing access and opportunities that are provided for individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Any advice for students seeking to pursue a degree from the College of Public Policy?
Network and develop relationships with your classmates and professors. You never know who you will end up working with in the future.