Skip to main content

Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

Fellow Spotlight: G.L.A. "Gigi" Harris

Fellow Spotlight: G.L.A. "Gigi" Harris

An accomplished scholar and consummate "pracademic," Dr. G.L.A. Harris came to the Thunderbird School of Global Management following a successful 17-year career at Portland State University (PSU). She is renowned for her research on the US military and forces within the international community and twice served as a Fulbright distinguished Chair; first as Research Chair in North American Integration to Carleton University in Canada and more recently as NATO Chair in Security Studies. It was Harris’ seminal research on student veterans that not only resulted in the passing of both state (Oregon) and federal (G.I. Bill) legislations and the establishment of the first Veterans Resource Center (VRC) in the US but her work became the impetus and prototype for today’s movement for VRCs and like entities on university and college campuses around the country and military installations abroad.

Who inspired you to enter into public service?

Admittedly, entering public service was not a deliberate choice on my part. I was then in my final but only second year of high school as a newly arrived immigrant to New York only the previous year and without having any knowledge whatsoever about the educational system in the United States. During my only two years of high school in the US, my Mom and stepfather never entertained me furthering my education by going to college. It was never a topic of discussion. Yet, as I recall, it was my Mom who actually suggested going into the military. What I did know at the time though was that my naïve but independent streak would lead me to forging a path of my own to - someway and somehow - collect enough information on how to secure financing for a college education. It was only then, following a conversation with one of my stepfather’s brothers, who himself had made a career of the US military, that I learned that pursuing a college education was indeed possible by pursuing this route. It seemed like the best idea available. So, I took the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (AFVAB) test and enlisted in the US Air Force.

Little did I know then that what initially served as the necessary conduit for college later became instrumental in my making a career of the institution. And, so much so, that not only was my Ph.D. dissertation about the military, aptly titled, “The Impact of Monetary Strategies on Organizational Commitment in the Military," that even years later as a pracademic in the US Air Force Reserve and a civilian academic, the US military and subsequently the militaries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries and its partner nations became the subject of my research and upon which both my national and international reputations are built.

The irony though and what was interesting at the time was that earlier in my civilian career as I simultaneously built a thriving consulting business before entering the civilian academy with some public sector organizations in tow as some of my clients, I had never ever considered myself as being in public service. And, even following my discharge from active duty with brief stints with such nonprofit organizations as the Private Industry Council (P.I.C.) and the Urban League, in my mind, public service was never a deliberate choice. So, in many respects, I will say that it was public service that chose me.

What is your favorite class you have ever taught or took and why?

My favorite course that I have ever taught is Administrative Theory and Behavior. I love discussing with students, at both the graduate and Ph.D. levels, about the nuances and what makes the public sector unique, having also spent a career in the private sector, specifically in food manufacturing, and later on serving some of those very organizations as clients in my consulting business.

What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing public policy or public administration as a career?

Considering how my adult life began in the US, I have been pretty successful about the choices that I have made throughout my various careers in the US military and as a civilian. Yet, unlike those who are American born, I did not have the benefit of adult stewardship in making deliberate career decisions. I simply knew that I wanted to go to college. This is not to say that my parents, especially my Mom, did not play a critical role in those decisions. In fact, as aforementioned, had it not been for my Mom, I would probably not have considered the military as a vocation, much less as a path for college that moved me to inquire about the benefits of enlisting in the institution. Still, today, information abounds via multiple media giving a young adult a plethora of choices in making decisions about where to go and how to go about pursuing those things. That said, before deciding on a career, I recommend posing the following questions to one’s self:

  • What is it that moves me most about public service?
  • What aligns most closely with your value system?
  • From what career in public service would I derive most meaning?
  • Which track in public service am I interested in pursuing – as a scholar or practitioner?
  • Am I interested in pursuing such paths only through given public sector institutions (government (international, federal, state, county, municipal), non-profit (international, national and local)?

Then locate someone whom you respect, perhaps initially a teacher or a guidance counselor in high school, then college, who can provide you with sage advice to help shepherd you in the right direction for a career given your interests. If you view this person as a mentor, all the better, as no doubt, this person will have your best interest at heart. Seek additional support through various professional organizations that support your career interests and aspirations. In doing so, you will not only expand your professional, and even personal network, but you will come to the attention of others who may be willing to give you your first professional opportunity as an entre into the field.

Moreover, with social media and other types of information via the internet at our fingertips, there is no shortage of sources to secure information about careers in public policy and public administration. Many organizations, including the American Society for Public Administration, the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA), the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and the like, serve as reservoirs of knowledge about the various disciplines that comprise public service. Further, through the academy, unlike before, many institutions are now establishing undergraduate programs in public service as a gateway to securing graduate degrees and Ph.Ds. in these fields. The opportunities today are therefore endless.

What area(s) of public policy interests you and why?

My areas of public policy are wide-ranging. So, I am unable to limit this varying interest that tends to surround such areas as the military, including the international military, particularly
regarding the recruitment, retention, and promotion patterns of certain segments of the military; employment law; human resource management (nationally and globally); labor law; and the health and healthcare disparities of given demographics. What binds these various fields is my interest not just in the military but in human resource management in general. And, especially since coming to the Thunderbird School of Global Management, though my research in the military had already evolved to the international community, my overwhelmingly international student body has moved me to embrace and explore a global perspective and its implications.

What is your favorite cuisine?

This is really difficult to answer as I am an internationalist when it comes to food. I love sampling them all. But, if push comes to shove, as a Jamaican immigrant, or JAmerican (Naturalized Citizen), first and foremost, comes a variety of my own birth country’s cuisine, be it, curried goat, oxtail, Escovitch fish, jerked pork (Not chicken. This is to appeal to the American palette), rundown, Jamaican patty, and many more.

What is your favorite hobby or activity that you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love to dance (Reggae, Rap, American Soul, Jazz). But I must mention a second love, that is international travel, when I get the opportunity to do so.

Who in your life has been an influential mentor or inspiration for you?

My Mom has been my consummate inspiration. As a former teacher and twice divorcee, she first came to the US as an illegal immigrant, deliberately overstaying her US VISA and working as a domestic in the hopes of creating an economic path for her two children and with every intent of returning to Jamaica to eventually bring them to the US. I am proud to say that my Mom was successful in later becoming a citizen herself and successfully pursued a career as an executive with AT&T, initially starting out as a telephone operator before coming to the attention of powers be within the organization.

I dedicated my first sole authored book, Living Legends and Full Agency: Implications of Repealing the Combat Exclusion Policy to my Mom. The Dedication reads “For all that I am and ever will be, I owe to my Mother.” The book won ASPA’s 2017 (Section on Personnel Administration and Labor Relations (SPALR) Outstanding Book of the Year Award. Perhaps in a spiritual way, my Mom had a hand in making this happen.

What was your dream job as a child?

As a youngster, one evolves in what eventually one wants to become. For me, at first, I wanted to become a physician. However, this was more the family’s expectation. Then, my interest evolved to flying as my sister and I would spend our holidays in the US. Then, I eventually settled on either an anthropologist or archaeologist. At the time, I did not know the difference between the fields. And though in reality, I never pursued either field, in a sense, as a researcher, I do function in both roles as through collection, I unearth, synthesize and make sense of new information.

									 Photo 2 as Headshot October 2021 2
Back to NAPA News Article