By: John Shirey
Who or what inspired you to work in public service?
It has been my good fortune to have several people in my life whose words and deeds caused me to think about a career in public service. Even though I was a young boy at the time, the immortal words spoken by John F. Kennedy at his inauguration, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” stirred me to think more seriously about my future career. As an undergraduate engineering student at Purdue, two professors, Dr. Alan Pritsker and Dr. David Caputo, inspired me to think about how the technical knowledge I was learning could be applied to public sector challenges. Dr. Ted Thomas at USC’s School of Public Administration got me an interview for a job in a nearby city manager’s office which led to my start in city management. Another key person was my father, John M. Shirey, who as a small business person, set an example for me by always giving back to his community in numerous ways.
What is something you are excited about right now?
After a dark four years, I am excited about the leadership of President Joe Biden. He is bringing knowledgeable, professional people to government again and striving every day to do the right thing for the country.
What is your favorite class you have ever taught or took and why?
Instead of naming a favorite class, I want to name a favorite teacher—Dr. Ross Clayton, one of my professors at USC while earning my graduate degree in public administration. It was a great honor for me to be given the Ross Clayton Lifetime Achievement Award by the local ASPA Chapter almost 50 years after taking a class with Dr. Clayton.
What inspires you during these challenging times?
It inspires me that so many technical solutions are coming forth to address climate change. They give me hope that it is possible to slow or reverse rising temperatures and damage to the environment. Of course, we still lack the political will and personal short-term sacrifice to put them in practice immediately.
What advice can you give to folks beginning careers in public service?
First of all, know that you have made an excellent career choice and that you will never regret the choice to help others live better lives. Second, have the courage to try new things and to apply new solutions to old and new problems, even in the face of opposition or stifling adherence to the status quo. Third, never underestimate how far hard work and dedication will take you in your career.
Do you have any pets at home?
We have a golden retriever who sets the example for humankind by always offering unconditional love.
If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see?
I would have liked to witness Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Adolph Hitler.
Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kind of media?
I enjoy listening to NPR and appreciate the high standards it sets for truth and quality in news reporting.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
When struggling to decide between offers from schools for graduate work, David Caputo, my political science teacher at Purdue at the time, told me, “Don’t ever make a decision that will affect the rest of your life based on money.” I have always followed that advice and commend it to any young person making career and life decisions. (I chose to attend USC which offered me no financial assistance! That decision shaped the rest of my career.)