Diversity in public organizations, in universities, and in conversations is a necessary component of an academic department’s effectiveness. For me, this means not only race, but gender identity, economic background, educational attainment, service status, native language, physical ability, geographic origin, and philosophical outlook. Our classrooms and our research are more deeply relevant and impactful when we create spaces where these differences naturally mingle, collaborate, and learn together. The knowledge generated benefits not only our students, but the field, and the interdisciplinary relationships we nurture.
Our public organizations and governance systems cannot grapple with the crucial issues facing a more diverse globalized society unless they can effectively manage the messy systems they have built ad hoc over time. We can better conceptualize and contextualize public organizations through a research agenda to unpack and address systemic issues. My research emphasizes a return to a bridging approach between policy, organizations, and complex systems to facilitate more effective research and management.
We need public administrators who are interculturally literate and empowered to address endemic issues through empathy, introspection, and self-governance. On the team and organization level, this requires care to avoid reinforcing injustice or burdens. Developing a conceptualization of where public administrators have agency is critically important to helping other researchers and students have the imagination to break out of the iron cage.
My research agenda grapples with these essential issues in three distinct ways. First, advancing theory around the complexity of public organizations and the mechanisms that lead them to become burdensome. Second, building quantitative and qualitative datasets and data expectations that allow analysis across a broader range of organizations than has historically been possible. And third, engaging with the implementation of new technologies to determine how these processes may reinforce inequitable outcomes. Notably, I am interested in moving beyond values toward data. We can preach diversity, but we need to know how that is represented in organizational hiring data, discrimination claims, retention data, and specific policies and actions being taken to address these historic issues. Where systems have calcified and are perpetuated through habit and inertia, I hope my research can strengthen agency over the foundations of our field and its organizations.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I bring a unique perspective to this work. My process of coming out included engagement with supportive individuals and community networks. As a result, I grew to appreciate the unique strategies and support individuals require when coming to terms with themselves and the many things that make all of us unique. This experience is complemented by the critical role of public, nonprofit, and self-generated communities in sustaining people and leading to their success. It took me a long time to come to terms with myself, leading me to be much more careful to jump to conclusions and start with grace.
As an instructor, I aim to make my classroom a safe space, providing an ear or appropriate resources. It is crucial to validate that uncertainty and anxiety are normal and okay, encouraging students to communicate instead of isolating themselves. Ensuring isolation does not happen requires careful attention to include many communication styles and opportunities. Inclusive classrooms, both in-person and online, are more exciting and highlight numerous perspectives. Small groups, class-wide discussions, and opportunities for individuals to bring their highlights of readings into the room help create a collaborative, supportive environment. My courses include numerous opportunities for feedback, such as individual reflections after class and questions in assignments, to allow the flexibility needed for a unique group of people working together during a specific time to grapple with the material most effectively. Inclusivity not only improves the experience for students but enhances my research capacity.
I have taught at a minority-serving institution, UNC Greensboro. These classes include both in-service and pre-service students, from recent graduates to retirees, who have various skillsets and abilities, and half are persons of color. Their voices contributed to exceptionally relevant conversations and insightful work. In small groups organized by criteria they agreed upon, students addressed topics where diverse perspectives can result in divergent opinions, encouraging openness. This approach to course time helped students develop their relational skills. In MPA courses, the variety of students in a generalist program is a tremendous asset. Learning and leveraging what students bring to the conversation - especially those from nontraditional backgrounds or with diverse career interest-deepens the entire course’s experience. Our assumptions about the administrative state are often narrowly general but different. I leverage those diverse perspectives and experiences to be a more effective instructor, researcher, and colleague. In addition, the department’s approach to student admission emphasized building leadership in their region with interest in building a representative student body, something I would hope to bring to my position and academic department.
Teaching at NC State has highlighted the role of origin diversity. My students come from all 100 counties in North Carolina, and they have unique experiences living in different types of jurisdictions with different political perspectives. While this is not the ‘diversity’ they expect to grapple with, I carefully design courses to collaboratively explore how their unique views shape their questions, interests, and expectations.
Public administration has an extensive scholarly tradition reflecting the diversity of the administrative state that is not often reflected in canonical texts or MPA programs. To address this challenge, I incorporate a broad array of voices into the readings, examples, and guests, complimenting traditional public administration texts to create an experience that reflects the diversity of the field’s voices and influencers in racial, gendered, and institutional perspectives. The field has long been at the vanguard of addressing inequities in gender, race, socioeconomic status, and other similar challenges. I engage these topics by including writings and examples about the racist origins of the field and persistent inequities in day-to-day practice today. Together, my approach to teaching and research emphasizes the urgent need to untangle the organizations we inhabit and the perspectives we bring to the table to expose opportunities to improve our administrative system and society.