Welcome to the APPAM Leadership Blog Series! Each month you will hear from our Executive Director, President, President-Elect, or additional guests, providing APPAM membership a behind-the-scenes look at how APPAM operates and how you can be more involved. Our authors will introduce new initiatives, discuss current policy topics and share resources they value.
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By Michael Shires, APPAM Secretary
I can still remember my first APPAM Conference presentation in 1993 like it was yesterday.
It was in Washington DC at 8 am on a Friday and all six of the panel members were from the West Coast, so we were all bleary-eyed and tired from the long flight across the country and the early hour. Those of us leaving LA had left with the imprint in our minds of a city in flames as three major wildfires ravaged the city, seeing swirling firestorms where homes had been hours before as our planes banked east toward DC. On my panel was a former university system provost, two of the leading senior, national scholars on the issue of higher ed governance, the President and CEO of the leading national nonprofit focused on the issue, a senior economist from one of the world’s most renowned think tanks, and me—a graduate student beginning his third year of study at the RAND Graduate School.
What an amazing opportunity! We took an idea that was born over a lunchtime conversation one day at the RAND cafeteria and presented its preliminary findings in a lively room with 40 to 50 people in the audience. The detailed conversations that ensued (even in the 8 am session) not only helped us to improve, refocus, and deepen our work—it was published by RAND in 1997 as Breaking the Social Contract—but also launched a personal relationship with APPAM that has fed my career over the past 25 years.
On that single day, my rolodex of access to higher education scholars almost doubled. In the years I have returned and the sessions I have attended, whether as a presenter or audience member, that network of ideas and people has continued to grow and flourish. Each year sees new faces and, more importantly, new passions and ideas.
That to me has been the greatest value of APPAM. As a PhD in Public Policy Analysis, I saw the importance and value of connecting with other scholars whose careers and interests had intersected my own. It also helped me pedagogically to sit in panels on other policy areas to gain insights into methods, approaches, and innovations that could inform my own understanding of the work I was doing. In fact, it was an APPAM panel on economic development and worker income mobility in the early 2000s that fueled my current focus on preserving economic opportunity for the middle class.
Especially in the early years of my career as I transitioned to a state-focused think tank and started taking on issues of public finance, the APPAM annual conference gave me an instant place to connect with a diverse and creative group of scholars whose work paralleled and intersected with my own.
Perhaps most striking about the APPAM connection over other professional organizations was the broad range of seniority and experience that characterized those sessions, especially compared to other professional organizations. It wasn’t populated with only young scholars trying to get papers and books out for tenure, as some associations seem to be, and it wasn’t the exclusive domain of the old guard having the same old conversations, as some others can be. It was a collection of individuals who were pursuing the highest levels of analysis to try to influence real-world outcomes where the shared interest was more about the policy area and less about the methods and pure theory.
APPAM’s 40 for 40 Fellowship represents a unique opportunity for the association to encourage new scholars in their careers to actively engage the profession and the association.
I made a decision early on in my career to involve myself in APPAM—not just for the personal benefits above—but because I believe it is the natural place for us as a profession to define the professional direction and passions of our field. I was fortunate to find myself in institutions with the resources to make this investment. As we look at today’s lean budget landscapes this represents an amazing opportunity, the 40 for 40 Fellowship will let APPAM help connect many of our rising scholarly stars with the APPAM community, the profession, and the association.
We should all participate by both nominating outstanding candidates for the program and by helping to raise the resources for the initiative. This is a critical effort that will produce both long and short-term returns to the field and the contribution of our members to public policy in general. I strongly encourage you to join me in participating today. Nominations are open until August 15 and information can be found here on APPAM’s 40 for 40 Fellowship.