On October 10-13, 2018, downtown Atlanta will host more than 600 national and international deans, department chairs, MPA and MPP program directors and students attending the 2018 NASPAA Annual Conference. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) is a membership association of graduate programs in public affairs, administration and policy. This year’s conference is co-hosted by Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, the Georgia Institute of Technology and University of Georgia.
NASPAA executive director Laurel McFarland attended the Andrew Young School’s second regional NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition in February 2018. While on campus, she graciously stopped by the Dean’s Office to share her thoughts in a Q&A session on NASPAA and the simulation, the role schools of public affairs play in our changing world, why careers in public service are now more important than ever.
Q: How do you describe NASPAA to people who only know it accredits MPA degree programs?
“NASPAA works to advance the quality of public affairs, policy and administration education in all sorts of ways, from publishing the Journal of Public Affairs Education and through student activities like the simulations that are now flying into curriculums.
“We are the honor society for our industry’s top students: Pi Alpha Alpha (PAA), the National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration.
“In addition to the NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition, we hold our annual conference for deans and directors and those who have curriculum development responsibilities, which this year we’re bringing to Atlanta. That’s where people network and learn what’s on the cutting edge of degree programs, etc.
Q: Can you share some examples of NASPAA’s impact on policy and public affairs in higher ed?
“We don’t lobby, we advocate. We try and represent the hopes and dreams of the next generation of public affairs students.
“For example, a huge push in the last five years has been to support the globalization of public affairs education and bring those opportunities to individual schools. The Andrew Young School works at every level—local, state, federal and international. Your school is an exemplar of working at each level of government, along with nonprofits.
“At NASPAA, we have a very practical approach to support globalization: we connect schools with each other, share best practices and encourage exchanges.
“For example, Vice President Joe Biden spoke at our annual conference last year. We had agreed he would challenge our students and faculty and schools to something. The gauntlet he threw down was the plight of the middle class.
“Now we’re working with the Biden institute at the University of Delaware – A NASPAA institute – to do a follow-up seminar, to do something on the plight of the middle class. When you think about it, our schools should be at the forefront of thinking about economic and social inequality in our economy. We should do it, because business and law will not.
“We can bring this topic to the forefront through curriculum and encourage schools on thinking and changing. We can also bring in the global conversation about rising inequality.
(NOTE: The Biden Challenge conference was hosted by the University of Delaware on September 28.)
“In another example, we connect our schools globally with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal No. 16, which is about advancing capacity for governance globally and helping countries around the world have more enlightened governments: transparency, accountability, participatory processes, etc.
“We have a project to try to encourage schools to include the Sustainable Development Goals in their curriculum and think about how we’re teaching these goals. That’s how you advance government. It gives us global framework to talk about public affairs education.
“These are just a few of the kinds of things NASPAA is doing globally to advance quality in public service education.”
Q: You firmly believe young people should go into public affairs education.
“I do believe that, at a very basic level, the concept of the ‘public good’ matters more than ever. I think students for whom that is a challenge and who are excited by it should go into public service. And they should accept that it’s a challenge, and they should work for the public good. It matters now more than ever.
Q: We, of course, agree that public affairs students and alumni are important to the future of our country. Can you tell us where you see where their future may be, and why?
“One thing offsetting the harshness of today’s public service environment is that opportunities are changing rapidly and offering whole new landscapes, opportunities like artificial intelligence (AI). We have several faculty working in policy areas like autonomous decision-making, and how we protect the public and regulate it. How does the next level of public servant approach AI?
“Another future area is sustainability. I love the ethic of young people. For example, I have a college freshman at home. He is automatically greener. The potential to institutionalize sustainability in public service is something this generation can do.
“The folks who run towards disaster are on to something. There are new risks of increasing importance, and our schools can play a role. Just one example of these risks includes cybersecurity and protecting national and personal security. Making sure we are not sacrificing personal privacy and integrity when we go online to pay our bills. Government will have to play a larger role. Students going into public service can make big contribution.
“Globalization is a big risk and a big opportunity. America’s place in the world is changing. Students going into public service cannot take for granted the United States’ global preeminence as a leader in governance and the public and private sectors. This generation will help re-create–or not–America’s place in the world, and the world’s place in America.
“Migration is another area. There are more people on the move since World War II, whose numbers we have approached in the last few years. The students coming from our schools want to deal with it more forthrightly than the people currently in power want to, the people now making these decisions.
“There’s also cultural competence in issues like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, policing and policy in the nation with the world’s largest incarceration rate. Our schools are graduating a generation that should and will deal with these challenges more forthrightly.
“There is a determination and naturalness in this generation coming up now. They will have the confidence needed in addressing these things. They should go into public service and come to our schools and learn how to do these things. They will service some of these problems. This knowledge and dedication to government is needed, and the need will only get greater. Students must build resolve that they are walking into an environment where they can and will make a difference.
“This is why it’s worth fighting for our students and their education. This is the spark they will bring us.”
Q: We enjoyed being a regional host of the NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition in 2017 and 2018. Would you please describe the purpose of this flagship competition—and why it is important?
“We’ve held the student simulation competition for graduate students for four years. 2018 was the second year we partnered with the University of Virginia’s Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming (CLSG) at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. They have a center where they develop simulations for use in public policy education. Last year, we simulated food security, and this year it was the crisis management of a global pandemic.
“We started this competition to showcase our policy schools and students and chose simulations as the vehicle. Business schools and law schools have national and international opportunities for graduate students to come together and compete. The competitions allow them to do something intense that brings different schools together to compete against each other and get rivalry points.
“The challenge for us was that we wanted to capture this energy and showcase our students and schools, but in a way that reflected our values. So we designed the competition in a distinctly different way from the moot courts and business plan competitions. We designed ours to take on a public problem that would fall under the umbrella of sustainable development goals and be a truly global competition.
“A member of our board is one of the nation’s preeminent experts on simulations. Anand Desai, now a judge, introduced me to David Anderson, now a retired professor at SUNY Albany. They sat down with me to imagine how simulations could be adapted to a competition.
“One of the public service values we encourage is networking, cooperation and working across sectors—so the idea was to mix students from the same colleges into different teams. That’s what the real world is—working with people you don’t know, those who come from different training. Our competition models that reality. By its very design, it reflects the very different public service values of our schools.
“Sometimes you may start a project for a particular purpose and do it, but then you discover it has a higher purpose. We have found computer-based simulations are an incredibly powerful learning opportunity. I’ve had the privilege of observing four simulations now, on site, watching students interact and develop policy presentations. They learn more in a day of this intense environment than they might in weeks of a traditional classroom setting.
“Simulations empower students to make decisions and see the consequences of their actions. The content of the simulation mirrors MPP and MPA competencies. All skills are used in the course of the competition.
“Moving forward, we have a five-year agreement with the University of Virginia, who’s been an extremely generous partner. The original six-hour simulations used in competitions will be redeveloped to run a couple of hours for classroom use. We are just now releasing the food security simulation from last year.
“The simulation competition plays into another thing NASPAA is doing: working on enhancing the availability of cases and simulations in public problem-solving around the world.”
Q: We thank you for your time today, Laurel. In closing, curious minds want to know: is our school doing its fair share as a NASPAA member?
“I’ve known Greg Lewis for a decade. He is a symbol of your school through his intellectual generosity, which he shares with the wider public affairs community, for example, through the papers he has co-authored with students. His is a great example to share with our colleagues. Not everyone is as generous. This intellectual generosity is so important.
“Mary Beth Walker serves on our governing council. Greg does also, and on the policy committee, which deals with how schools of public affairs connect with larger public policy developments that pertain to graduate education. We’re actively working the pressure to get rid of graduate loans, to cap them. Greg is also on the front lines of defending and promoting the Presidential Management Fellowship.
“They and other Andrew Young School faculty are fine examples of active participants in the community of public affairs education, and I’m grateful for that.”