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Meet Our Fellows: David Gragan ('19)

1. Who or what inspired you to work in public service?

I am the son of a career Marine, growing up on military bases across the United States and overseas. My father and mother and the parents of all my friends were in one of the highest forms of public service, as either the military member or the incredibly patient, understanding spouse. Living in a military environment, especially through high school on base at Quantico, had a huge influence on me. My own public service career also began in the Marine Corps. When I transitioned to civilian life, I found a natural fit in state government, and have loved it ever since.

2. What is something you are excited about right now?

I grew up wanting to be an astronaut and am pretty certain I put together every plastic model Revell ever made that had to do with our early space programs; Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. I went to the Air Force Academy to pursue that dream, and I continue to love spaceflight even though I didn’t reach that brass ring. As our spaceflight program is now crafted to take advantage of the core strengths of government and commercial cooperation and innovation, I am thrilled by what we are seeing in new technologies and new frontiers.

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

The class I found most fascinating as a biology major at the Air Force Academy was psychobiology. The classes I’ve most loved teaching have always been about leadership and innovation, and specifically how empowered we are to initiate change when change is in order. As a mentor, I try to convey that teamwork, timing, courage, and fortitude are things that emerging leaders need to embrace and use to their advantage in creating positive and institutional change.

4. What inspires you during these challenging times?

I am constantly inspired by the sacrifices individuals and families are making as we adjust to new and unfamiliar formats of work and school and life in general. Although we hear all the complaints because they are often newsworthy, I truly believe idle complaints are few. It seems to me that we all recognize that everyone is doing the best that we can under complicated circumstances with far more unknowns than certainties. It is really pretty impressive, and truly inspiring.

5. What advice can you give to folks beginning careers in public service?

Listen actively, volunteer frequently, find people whose careers or leadership style you admire and emulate them, seek caring mentors, always put service before self. Work hard.

6. What is your favorite midnight snack?

Wow, I can’t remember when I was last hungry in the middle of the night. Well, actually your question brings back fond memories of many overnight shifts on board Navy ships where our fantastic messmen fed us pretty well. I guess from that experience I’d say it would be a grilled cheese sandwich.

7. Do you have any pets at home?

I have a pretty banged up Chihuahua named Tango who keeps me company. I never thought I would think of a 3 pound animal as a real dog, but I’ve come to realize he has all the qualities that we love in our pets; he’s loyal, he’s affectionate, he guards the house (barking like a police K9 at the slightest hint of a kid approaching the door to sell cookies), and he doesn’t complain about anything.

8. If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see?

I would love to have sat with our founding fathers as the United States Constitution was drafted over several months, and as the Bill of Rights was created and added to the constitution shortly thereafter. The discussions, the debates, the arguments, and finally the compromises and the emergence of the final document and its first ten amendments would have been a spectacular exercise in government to witness.

9. Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kind of media?

Like all of us, I suspect, I receive numerous emails and podcasts each day that aggregate relevant news and events pertaining to my work. Those are always welcome, and I learn things from them that support me doing my job better. But maybe because I receive so many work-type publications, the one email I most look forward to each day is one from Atlas Obscura, which exposes me to interesting corners of our world that I would otherwise never be aware of.

10. What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

When I first came to work in a civilian setting, I landed in a pretty senior position as the director of Indiana state purchasing. One of my colleagues in the Indiana Department of Administration, who had been acting in my job prior to me being hired, had scheduled meetings in my first week with my ten largest customers. These were the cabinet level officials who led the departments of transportation, corrections, personnel, the state police, and the like. On my first day at this new job, he said to me “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve set up 30-minute courtesy calls with your ten biggest customers.” Although I didn’t mind, I also had no idea what I would say or do in these meetings. Jay McQueen, my new friend and mentor, said to me “Just show up on time, listen, and let them know you are here to help them.” This wise advice has served me well throughout my years as a procurement executive in two states, a federal agency, and the government of the District of Columbia. Particularly in the control functions of government (contracting, finance, HR, and others), listening and learning the goals of those we serve gives us tremendous insight and allows us to better serve others as they serve citizens.

									 David Gragan
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