Who or what inspired you to work in public service?
When I was in graduate school for Psychology, I was looking for a summer job and was fortunate enough to be selected for a summer internship with the Office of Research and Evaluation with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP at that time had a group of highly energetic, bright researchers who were doing fascinating work examining how variance in the physical environment of individual prisons (such as crowding and staffing levels) and the organizational and social climate in those prisons impacted a wide range of outcomes such as quality of life, real and perceived safety, stress and personal satisfaction for both inmates and staff. I found the work challenging, the collegiality superb and the milieu of correctional facilities one with endless possibilities as a researcher and so decided that this avenue into public service was where I want to start (and eventually spend) my career.
What is your favorite class that you ever taught or took and why?
My favorite class was undergraduate Medieval European history. I could not get enough of the intrigue of the royal successions and marriages, family ties across countries and empires, the seemingly endless wars, and how religion directly impacted the geo-political considerations of the time.
What advice can you give to folks beginning their career in public service?
It’s important to understand that “public service” and “the government” are not unidimensional entities – they represent a broad spectrum of organizations with very different missions, histories, cultures, and competencies. Clearly one has to take what opportunities are available but you will likely find public service most rewarding if you seek out those organizations and niches in those organizations that match your personal mission, goals, values, and skills. Also, understand that if you get disillusioned with your current role in the public sector, the options to move around to different organizations and seek a better fit are nearly limitless.
Was there a transformational experience in your life that related to public service?
I spent the first half of my career at the headquarters level of the federal prison system, then was presented with an unusual opportunity to make a major career change and move into the management of prisons at the institutional level. Being a prison warden, (despite film and television portrayals) was a positive and uplifting experience because I saw first-hand the impact that quality leadership and sound management can have on the lives of hundreds of staff and inmates. Seeing grown men with tears in their eyes when you hand them their high school diploma at a prison graduation ceremony, and realizing that they achieved this despite overwhelming personal challenges and the difficulties of the prison learning environment, allowed me to experience in a very tangible and personal way the impact that a career in public service can have on those we serve. I never experienced this reality at the headquarters level.
Do you have a favorite podcast, journal newspaper or other kind of media?
My favorite podcast is Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History”. I am a history buff but am also fascinated by the cliché of “history repeats”. You have to be committed timewise, but listen to “Death Throes of the Republic” about various crises in the Roman Empire that caused its political downfall in the first and second centuries BCE. As Mr. Carlin summarizes what is occurring in Rome at that time, “Money, ambition, political stalemate, and class warfare prove to be a toxic mix”. Sounds familiar.
What is the best piece of advice that you ever received?
I was told early in my career that if you don’t continue to learn and maintain your skills and stay informed of the developments in your field you will slowly settle into incompetence and obsolescence.