1. What attracted you to the field?
I am a development economist by training, which means almost all my research is about public policy – policies to improve living standards in developing countries by investing in people (namely, their nutrition, health and education) and allowing them to participate more effectively in the process of economic development.
2. Among your institution’s achievements over the last couple of years, what makes you most proud?
I was instrumental in founding the School of Public Policy at UC Riverside some five years ago. Over these five years, our School has grown tremendously – with a faculty of 20, an undergraduate program (offering the only public policy major in the entire UC system) with over 200 students, and a Master’s in Public Policy program with about 50 students. Given its age, the School has had an unduly large influence on the policy discourse – on sustainable development, immigration, poverty – in inland Southern California, a disadvantaged region within the state. We are proud of the students we have graduated, as many of them have gone on to significant careers in public and community service.
3. When you visualize the future of public policy, what do you see?
I see public policy become increasingly informed by data and evidence. The availability of “big data” will allow us to “fine-tune” policy through a better understanding of which policies work better under what circumstances and in what contexts. In many ways, this will enable policies to more effectively reach underserved communities and disadvantaged people.
4. Explain what makes your institution an attractive place to work from a values perspective. Why would our graduate students and professional members want to join your team, given the opportunity?
UC Riverside is one of the most diverse public universities in the nation. More than two-thirds of our undergraduate and Master’s students in our School are from under-represented (and often disadvantaged) backgrounds. Our mission is to train these students in evidence- and normative-based policy-making so they can become effective and empathetic policy leaders who can help improve the lives of people in under-served communities. Our curriculum treats California – and inland Southern California – as a “living laboratory” to understand how regional and local government policies, combined with strong community and civic participation and a focus on social justice, can improve the quality of life in poor communities throughout the nation and the world.
5. In what ways does your institution help to advance the dialogue on diversity in the field?
As noted above, UC Riverside and our School of Public Policy is all about diversity. We have a very diverse student body in both our undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, our curricular program emphasizes how the diversity of disciplines and policy approaches can help improve policy outcomes. We also focus, in our curriculum, on the heterogeneity of policy impact – namely, how a policy can have very different effects on different socioeconomic, demographic and ethnic subgroups.
6. What advice would you give to students in pursuing their “dream jobs”?
My advice to students would be to not overly worry about finding a “dream job.” Just follow your passion, and put forth your best in your current job, and it will lead you organically, over time, to your “dream job.” For all you know, you may find out, over time, that the job you are doing now is actually your “dream job” (except you didn’t realize it at first)!
7. Share with us a time that you rose to a challenge in your career in order to get where you’re at now.
For the longest time ever, I had been your typical professor who had never ventured beyond research, teaching and occasional consulting. But when I was asked by our university leadership some ten years ago to head a faculty task-force on the ways in which our campus could offer a program in public policy studies, it was a new challenge for me. But I decided to take it up despite some initial reservations. Our task-force suggested creating a new School of Public Policy on our campus, which I was then tasked with getting off the ground. It took years to actually get the School approved (given the vast UC bureaucracy), and when it was finally launched five years ago, I was asked to lead it. This is how I landed up as Founding Dean of UC Riverside’s School of Public Policy! If someone had told me a dozen years ago that I would be the dean of a policy school, I would have never believed that person!
8. Do you believe work-life balance is achievable as a leader in public policy? If so, please share some tips and tricks for our current and aspiring leaders, and let us know what you do to relax while you’re at it.
You can always achieve a work-life balance if you want to; it is entirely up to you. When I’m off work, I try my best not to think of work. Conversely, when I’m at work, I don’t check my social media feed! If I need a break from my computer or from meetings during the workday, I take a short walk in our university’s botanical garden! That’s much more relaxing than checking my FaceBook posts!
9. Is there someone you admire who you’ve never met but would love to meet, or something you’ve never done but would love to do? If so, we’d love to hear about this bucket list item!
There are lots of people I admire whom I would like to meet and lots of things I would love to do. But I try not to think too much about such bucket lists. I have realized that most of the things that happen in life and in one’s career often happen organically – without too much advance planning, so I try not to live by a “bucket list”!!