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A Closer Look at SPA

Learn more about SPA accomplishments

At the School of Public Affairs at American University, we approach the 2021-22 academic year with hope. Yes, there are challenges: we must frequently test students, faculty, and staff to track Covid-19 on our campus, a reminder that the pandemic is not yet behind us. Many of our well-regarded and thought-provoking events remain virtual, and sometimes, we must be creative about staying together while being apart.

But the arrival of vaccines means that we are back on campus for classes, and we are thankful. The familiar sight of students walking the corridors of Kerwin Hall (albeit masked) is one we sorely missed. The energy and vitality that is back in our classrooms makes us hopeful for brighter days ahead.

This sense of optimism was shared by our recent graduates as they looked forward to this year. Watch this video to get a sense of the lessons they learned through challenging times that will serve them well in the future.

That resilience is also what drives our faculty and staff forward. In this “new normal” SPA stays true to our “old” values. We continue to build a culture of excellence that transforms the student experience through personalized teaching and experiential learning; empowers those who seek knowledge to conduct and produce research; and facilitates engagement and collaboration between the academic and policy-planning spheres. We are also dedicated to protecting democratic institutions; fostering civil discourse in the political sphere; and training the next generation of public servants and leaders.

This mission motivates our students, faculty, and staff to some incredible accomplishments. We are thrilled to share some highlights with you:

Strengthening our Commitment to Diversity: SPA continues to evolve to a more diverse institution. The Public Affairs Diversity Alliance, of which SPA is a founding member, is now in its fourth year, and sustains a diverse pipeline of candidates for faculty positions in criminal justice, policy, and public administration. In 2020-21, we welcomed Michael R. Fischer, Jr., and Melissa Noel as postdoctoral fellows. In addition, SPA is creating a certificate program on disability advocacy for fellows of the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD). Finally, we named Associate Professor Kareem Jordan our inaugural Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and he spearheaded the creation of SPA’s first Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Growing our Centers of Research: SPA is home to 12 research centers and institutes, specializing on policy matters as varied as the environment, urban development, Congress and the Presidency, foreign and domestic extremism, justice-related initiatives, and data science. We’re also growing the sponsored research of these centers through our Washington Institute for Public Affairs Research, which received 20.5% more grants in 2020-21 than the previous academic year, resulting in an almost 50% increase in total awards. To learn more about our centers and institutes, and to follow them on social media to stay up to date on their work, join us on SPA’s social media hub.

Leading in Our Fields: SPA is proud to serve as host to five academic journals: the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (editor, Erdal Tekin), Political Analysis (editor, Jeff Gill), the Journal of Behavioral Public Administration (editor, Kenneth Meier), Nonprofit Management & Leadership Journal (editor, Lewis Faulk), and the Drug Court Review.

In addition, we are proud to partner on several well-received podcasts that are reaching growing audiences: JPAM’s “A Closer Look” (hosted by SPA’s Seth Gershenson and Erdal Tekin), “Mission is Possible” (hosted in partnership with Guidehouse), “Mind the Teacher” (also hosted by Seth Gershenson), and “Politics and the Humanities” (hosted by SPA’s Thomas Merrill).

Addressing the Tough Questions: The range and quality of our leading scholars of criminal justice, terrorism, national security, political violence, political participation, bipartisanship, as well as public administration and policy, distinguish us from other institutions.

The breadth and depth of their expertise allows us to address the most critical challenges of our time—and to take action to change things for the better. Likewise, our commitment to translating research for public engagement ensures us a place in the national conversation, where our esteemed faculty appear in the highest tiers of media outlets. In the next year our faculty will continue to ask tough questions and seek answers to pressing issues. Current faculty areas of focus include:

  • Understanding the role of social media in promoting or foreclosing political violence
  • Studying how pollution impairs juvenile cognitive development
  • Decreasing racial health disparities
  • Addressing the opioid epidemic
  • Examining how long-term care facilities can improve management to protect residents
  • Designing a criminal justice system that promotes justice
  • Addressing social and institutional structures that facilitate bias and systemic racism

Of course, this is just a sample of our work. We invite you to search our site and take a closer look at what is new at SPA.


Vicky Wilkins
Dean, American University, School of Public Affairs

SPA By the Numbers


in external funding during the last academic year, up from $6.6M from the year before

7,500 plus

SPA media mentions increased by more than 50% in a two-year span