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Spotlight: School of Public Affairs at American University, Washington, DC

June 30, 2015 04:24 PM

Knowledge>>Action>>Impact

In 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had begun implementing New Deal programs and AUsought to increase “practical contacts between the collegiate and educational world and the operations of government.” Roosevelt believed that the intersection of academia and public service would result in better informed decision-making, not only for Depression-era America, but for future generations to come. From his vision, the School of Public Affairs (SPA) at American University was born. Since its inception, SPA has sought to cultivate a culture of impact:

  • to empower those who seek knowledge
  • to conduct and apply research
  • to build a bridge between academic thought and policy planning
  • and to inspire change at every level

Eight decades later, SPA has more than 1,600 current students and more than 20,000 alumni. The goal of impacting the world through research and the pursuit of knowledge is still at the heart of the school – SPA is ranked 5th worldwide, 3rd in the U.S. and 1st in Washington, D.C., for institutional impact in the field of public administration. 

SPA’s faculty and students tackle complex issues with thoughtful research that educates, informs and promotes change across a broad field of study. Nearly all (93%) alumni are working in their preferred job or attending the graduate school of their choice six months after graduation. The majority of alumni work in the nonprofit, government and private sector. A small sampling includes:

Nonprofit

  • American Heart Association
  • Brookings Institution
  • Inter-American Development Bank
  • Oxfam America Inc.
  • The World Bank
  • United Nations Foundation

Government

  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Congressional Budget Office
  • Internal Revenue Service
  • U.S. Census Bureau
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Department of Commerce
  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • U.S. Department of Labor
  • U.S. Department of State
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office
  • U.S. House of Representatives
  • U.S. Senate

Private Sector

  • Deloitte
  • Bloomberg L.P.
  • Booz Allen Hamilton

Faculty in Action

At the cornerstone of SPA’s success is its esteemed faculty, who work tirelessly to educate future leaders and present day decision makers through lessons and meaningful academic research. Among the many faculty members doing important public affairs work at the School are the following:

Marcotte

Dave Marcotte
Incoming Director, Washington Institute for Public Affairs Research and Professor, Department of Public Administration and Policy

SPA is pleased to welcome Dave Marcotte as the new director of the Washington Institute for Public Affairs Research and Professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy. Marcotte, a nationally respected policy scholar, joins the growing policy faculty at SPA. Since 2009, Marcotte has served on the faculty of the Department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Additionally, he has served as a research fellow at Bonn, Germany’s Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), an independent economic research institute focused on global labor markets. Marcotte’s recent research has focused on the effect of mental illness and treatment on labor market and health outcomes, and the impact of post-secondary education on employment and earnings.

Barbara Romzek
Dean, American University’s School of Public Affairs

Romzek


Barbara Romzek’s research focuses on accountability with an emphasis on government reform, contracting and network services delivery. Romzek was the recipient of the 2014 John Gaus Award from the American Political Science Association for a lifetime of exemplary scholarship in public administration and political science. She is also a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

A 1987 article she co-authored with Melvin Dubnick, "Accountability in the Public Sector: Lessons from the Challenger Tragedy," was the recipient of the 1988 Frederick Mosher Award from the American Society for Public Administration, and was cited by the American Society for Public Administration as one of the 75 most influential articles in the history of the journal Public Administration Review.

Vicky Wilkins
Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor, Department of Public Administration and PolicyWilkins

Vicky Wilkins’ primary research interests include representative bureaucracy; bureaucratic discretion; gender and race issues; deservingness; political institutions and human resource management. Wilkins' research in the field of minorities, women and policy outcomes has made a substantial impact in the field of public administration. Her recent study, “Belief in a Just World and Attitudes Toward Affirmative Action,” examined the correlation between viewpoints regarding deservingness and support of preferential hiring programs for minorities and women.

Her work is a frequent resource for policy makers interested in the area. An article she co-authored with University of Texas scholar Young-joo Lee, “More Similarities or More Differences? Comparing Public and Nonprofit Managers’ Job Motivations,” ranked as one of the 75 most influential articles in the history of the prestigious Public Administration Review.

Alison Jacknowitz
Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Public Administration and Policy

Jacknowitz
Alison Jacknowitz specializes in conducting research on poverty, income and food assistance programs, health outcomes, the elderly, children and families. Jacknowitz recently completed a study funded by Feeding America, with other AU faculty and students, including Professors Anna Amirkhanyan and Jane Palmer, which examined how individuals use the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (formally known as the Food Stamp Program) in conjunction with charitable food assistance in order to secure adequate amounts of food for their households.

The findings of the report suggest that opportunities exist to better educate and guide food pantry recipients toward additional resources, helping to provide greater hunger-relief to those experiencing food insecurity. Jacknowitz is a Technical Advisory Board member of Feeding America.

Erdal Tekin
Professor, Department of Public Administration and PolicyTekin

Erdal Tekin is an economist with primary research interests in the fields of health economics and demographic economics. He has written and published numerous articles studying the impact of childcare subsidy and other major welfare programs on parental and child outcomes. Professor Tekin is a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) and also serves as an editor for the Journal of Population Economics and an associate editor for the IZA Journal of Labor Policy. Tekin, with SPA co-author Seth Gershenson, recently completed a study examining the impact of community traumatic events on student achievement.

The study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), analyzed the 2002 “Beltway Sniper” attacks using a natural experiment, and identified harmful effects on student achievement in the Virginia public school system. The paper hypothesized that reductions in student achievement may be driven by reduced time in the classroom caused by teacher and student absences, school closures, increased stress and other disruptions of classroom routines.
 

Laura Langbein
Professor, Department of Public Administration and Policy

Langbein


Laura Langbein has conducted research in the fields of: theories of bureaucratic discretion, productivity, principal-agent models, social capital, and cooperation in the workplace; theories of influence of interest groups in Congress and the bureaucracy; empirical applications in various policy areas, including the environment, education, defense, housing, criminal justice (death penalty and police), and corruption.

Langbein, along with Professor Seth Gershenson, recently released a study titled, “The Effect of Primary School Size on Academic Achievement," which was published in a special issue of the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. The study found no significant, universal causal relationship between fluctuations in the size of primary schools and academic performance.

Seth Gershenson
Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration and PolicyGershenson

Professor Gershenson focuses his research on educational issues, teacher behavior and how the “income gap” affects a child’s educational experience. Recently, Gershenson co-wrote a study with Assistant Professor Michael Gottfried at UC Santa Barbara titled, “Student absences: How they hurt and what works?”  The study found school absences harm a child’s educational achievement and the ability of those children to “catch up” after missed instructional time.

In spring 2015, Gershenson also hosted the Using Time Diary Data in Education Research conference. The conference, funded by American Educational Research Association, brought together 25 PhD researchers from across the nation and from other countries to discuss how the study of time usage can be applied to academic research.
 

Derek Hyra
Director, Metropolitan Policy Center and Associate Professor, Department of Public Administration and Policy

Hyra


SPA’s Metropolitan Policy Center was launched in 2014 to examine the ever-changing metropolitan and urban landscapes and how those landscapes are affected by social, economic and political processes. Under Hyra’s leadership, the center seeks to understand the various relationships that impact affordable housing, economic development, racial and ethnic diversity, social service provision, and urban and regional governance. Hyra served as co-editor for the forthcoming book, “Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington, DC,” which examines the unique city that is the nation’s capital and how it has developed into a 21st century urban powerhouse. 

Bradley Hardy
Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration and PolicyHardy

Bradley Hardy’s research interests lie within labor economics, with an emphasis on economic instability, intergenerational mobility, poverty policy and socioeconomic outcomes. His research examines trends and sources of income volatility and intergenerational mobility within the United States, with a focus on socio-economically disadvantaged families. He also conducts research on the role of anti-poverty transfer programs such as SNAP and the Earned Income Tax Credit for improving economic well-being among low income individuals and families. One of his studies, “Childhood Income Volatility and Adult Outcomes,” found that income volatility during childhood had a modest negative association with educational attainment – the largest negative association is found in young adults from moderate-income families.

In January 2015, Hardy received the National Economic Association (NEA) President’s Award in recognition of his exemplary service toward the organization. Hardy serves as a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (JPAM).

Taryn Morrissey
Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration and Policy

Morrissey


Taryn Morrissey's work centers on examining and improving public policies for vulnerable children. A recent study Morrissey co-wrote with Professor Alison Jacknowitz and PhD candidate Katie Vinopal, was published in the journal Pediatrics. The study found that high prices for fresh fruits and vegetables, as opposed to frozen and canned goods, are associated with higher body mass index in children from low-and middle-income households. Some of Morrissey’s other ongoing research examines the impacts of neighborhood poverty and family instability and children's development.

From January 2013 to August 2014, Dr. Morrissey served as a Senior Advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at the Department of Health and Human Services. She worked primarily on the President's Early Learning Initiative, including Early Head Start and childcare.

Recent PhD Placements

The graduates from DPAP’s PhD Program, directed by Professor Anna Amirkhanyan, continue to model SPA’s academic excellence at their post-AU placements. A sampling of recent placements includes:

  • Susannah Bruns Ali, ‘14,Assistant Professor, Florida International University
  • Amanda M. Girth, ‘10, Assistant Professor, the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University
  • Michael S. Hayes, ‘14, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration, Rutgers University-Camden
  • Jiaqi Liang, ‘14, Assistant Professor of Public Administration, New Mexico State University
  • John Marvel, 12’, Assistant Professor of Politics and Government in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University 
  • Sarah L. Pettijohn, ‘14, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Jaclyn Piatak, ‘13, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • William G. Resh, ‘11, Assistant Professor, Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California
  • Pablo Sanabria, ‘12, Assistant Professor, Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Columbia
  • Amanda Stewart, ‘15, Assistant Professor, the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University

SPA Research Centers

The Washington Institute for Public Affairs Research

The Washington Institute for Public Affairs Research serves as a bridge between the academic and policy worlds, advancing scholarly research that addresses pressing issues and concerns. The Institute helps AU researchers to organize and support research projects and promotes collaborative work, effectively putting the lessons of academic research into practice.

Center for Environmental Policy

The purpose of the Center for Environmental Policy (CEP) at American University is to evaluate and improve the capacity for environmental governance in the United States. The concept of environmental governance refers to the ways in which institutions and groups in American society interact to anticipate, manage and resolve issues related to the state of the natural environment.

Metropolitan Policy Center

The Metropolitan Policy Center (MPC) was created in the fall of 2014. MPC serves as the metropolitan and urban research hub on AU's campus. MPC's mission is to create knowledge and propose solutions to our 21st century metropolitan and urban challenges. The insights gained through the Center are disseminated to policy makers, think tanks, foundations, nonprofit, community groups and academic and mainstream media outlets.

Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies

Established in 1979, the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies (CCPS) has a history of leading scholarly research and practical training. CCPS capitalizes on its Washington, D.C., location by bringing together public policy practitioners and academics to share their research, knowledge and experiences in a series of advanced institutes, conferences and workshops on applied politics.

Women & Politics Institute

The mission of the Women & Politics Institute is to close the gender gap in political leadership. WPI provides young women with academic and practical training that encourages them to become involved in the political process and facilitate research that enhances our understanding of the challenges women face in the political arena.

Justice Programs Office

The Justice Programs Office (JPO) was established in 1989 to carry out the SPA's mission to apply the tools of scholarship and professionalism to the design, management and evaluation of public programs. Since its establishment, the JPO has been providing technical assistance, research, training, policy development and program evaluation services to government agencies and organizations throughout the U.S. and internationally to promote the application of relevant research findings and professional standards to the operation of justice system and related agencies. Projects address policy, program, resource and operational issues relating to the administration of justice, coordination of public programs and the delivery of justice system and associated public health, social and related services.

Political Theory Institute

The mission of the Political Theory Institute (PTI) is to encourage the serious study of the great questions of political theory and to bring the insights of political theorists to bear on current issues and events. The School of Public Affairs has a long tradition of vigorous political debate. Behind every serious political controversy, however, lies a disagreement about political principles, justice, the good life or fundamental assumptions about human nature. A thoughtful and morally serious engagement with the controversies of the day, therefore, requires serious reflection on the underlying questions of political theory. PTI fosters and promulgates serious reflection on these underlying questions.

SPA Degrees

Master’s in Public Administration

Prepare for leadership responsibilities and executive roles in public agencies, national and international nonprofit organizations and private firms. This degree equips you with the skills and techniques required to implement policies and projects, manage complex public programs and navigate organizational, human resource and budgetary challenges.

Master’s in Public Policy

Analyze the issues – social, political, economic, legal and security – that influence and shape public policy. This degree prepares you to work as an analyst, researcher or advisor to develop, assess and evaluate alternative approaches to current and emerging issues and challenges.

Key Executive MPA

American University's Key Executive Leadership Master of Public Administration (MPA) provides a unique experience to enthusiastic and experienced leaders employed predominantly by the federal government, though a significant number of state, local, nonprofit and private leaders also graduate from the program.

Master’s of Public Administration and Policy (online)

The online Master of Public Administration and Policy (MPAP) provides students with analytical, contextual, ethical and substantive skills and knowledge to effectively advise public policy and lead public programs in government, the non-profit and the private section in the United States and abroad.

MS in Organizational Development

The AU MSOD classroom is a dynamic, challenging space where students learn from scholar-practitioner instructors, each other and through reflection on their cohort's experiences and their own use of self. The MSOD program is built on a rigorous academic curriculum enriched by experiential learning. In recent years, the MSOD curriculum has been expanded to include international fieldwork experience for each cohort, along with active and engaging online learning outside of the classroom for each course. To accommodate working professionals and out-of-town students, most courses meet on AU's campus for two three-day weekends a month apart.

MS in Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy

This degree focuses on matters of national security from the perspectives of criminology and criminal justice. The program encourages thought beyond tactical approaches to develop strategic, policy-based solutions that federal, state and local governments can use to combat terrorism and other current and future security threats.

Join the Conversation

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