Prescott College Affiliation : Alumnus
Program : B.A. Literature & Theatre
Graduation Year : 1975
M.A. International Management, Thunderbird School of Global Management
Ph.D. Public Administration, Tennessee State University
I transferred to Prescott College in January of 1974 from Vanderbilt University. I spent my first two semesters on the original campus which is now Embry Riddle. I was one of the students who returned and I spent my last semester (in the basement of the Hassayampa) as a student at the Prescott Center for Alternative Education. I have a Masters. in International Management With Distinction from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and a Ph.D. in Public Administration from Tennessee State University. I was inducted into Pi Alpha Alpha (public administration’s honor society) in 2007.
After leaving Prescott I had a brief stint in the private sector, including forming a start-up solar energy business in 1978 inspired by a course called “Earth Ethics” taught by Harris Sussman (Hal Lenke) and Harriott Hodges. Following a desire to work in government, I began my public service career in 1981 by serving six years as a research analyst for the Tennessee State Senate. In this position I conducted legislative research and policy analysis and developed legislative proposals. Additionally, I served as lead staff member of a special House-Senate joint committee studying the development needs of the Tennessee General Assembly. During this period, I also served on the Steering Committee of the Research and Committee Staff Section of the National Conference of State Legislatures and on the Steering Committee of the 1986 Southern Legislative Conference on Children and Youth which resulted in the creation of a standing legislative committee to address the needs of Tennessee’s children.
After receiving my Masters from Thunderbird in 1988, between 1989 and 1993 I worked for Florida International University’s School of Public Affairs and Services on USAID funded democracy building projects. My first assignment was a two-year posting as an organizational development advisor to the United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD) in San José, Costa Rica. The following three years were spent managing legislative development projects in ten Latin American and Caribbean countries. I also taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the school’s Department of Public Administration.
I returned home to Tennessee in 1994 and was appointed the Assistant to the Tennessee Secretary of State for Public Policy. My responsibilities included advising on policy issues as well as serving as the Secretary’s staff person and/or designee to various state level boards and commissions such as the State Funding Board and the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. I also led the formation of the Tennessee Ethics Commission. In 2008, I was appointed Executive Assistant to the Secretary. Serving as the Secretary’s chief deputy, I assisted in managing the department, which had a $64 million dollar budget, 9 divisions, and 443 positions.
Currently, I am the Director of CoverTN with the Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration’s Benefits Division. CoverTN is a statutorily created limited benefit health insurance plan that offers affordable health insurance to small business owners, the self-employed, Tennesseans between jobs, and individuals who otherwise couldn't afford coverage. CoverTN currently has an annual budget of $20 million and an enrollment of 21,000.
Since returning to Tennessee, in addition to my work in state government, I have had the opportunity to work internationally as a consultant with past assignments in El Salvador, Sierra Leone, Ukraine, and Paraguay. Over the years I have also enjoyed doing some writing and my work has appeared in the NCSL magazine State Governments, the International Political Science Association’s Working Papers on Comparative Legislative Studies, and the Congressional Quarterly Press’ Encyclopedia of Parliaments.
A Prescott education teaches the importance to give back and I have endeavored to do so by engaging in professional and community service. My activities include serving on the American Society for Public Administration president’s “kitchen cabinet” between 2007-2009, serving as a founding board member of the Nashville based non-profit organization Conexión Americas between 2002-2003, and recently as a volunteer recruiter for Prescott College.
You have been nominated as a Desert Star because of your significant contributions to your field and community. What inspires you to do this work?
Many people believe government workers are uncaring bureaucrats whose only goals are self-preservation, making government larger, and raising taxes (if you’re on the right) or destroying the environment, protecting special interests, and waging war (if you’re on the left). To the contrary, I have found that working in government is a very self-fulfilling way of helping people. My career in public service has allowed me to have a hand in developing and passing legislation that:
- supports mass transit and other non-highway modes of transportation,
- helps low income people pay their utility bills,
- promotes energy conservation and renewable energy, and
- created a superfund for cleaning up hazardous environmental sites in our state.
It has also permitted me to assist in developing and implementing policies and programs that, for example, help low-income people buy their first home and provide open access to an electronic library that levels the educational playing field between the rich and poor communities in Tennessee.
My international work has allowed me to help strengthen organizations and institutions that promote democracy and justice in over a dozen countries. I’ve been able to:
- train legislative staff in areas such as executive branch oversight, developing national budgets,
and how to organize legislatures to be more effective,
- coordinate the installation of computer systems and other infrastructure upgrades, and
- provide training to newly elected legislators in countries emerging from civil wars.
Career opportunities in public service like those above have served as a vehicle to implement the values and ideals that are largely grounded in my educational experience at Prescott College.
How did your Prescott College education contribute to your accomplishments?
A few years ago I was visiting Prescott and had breakfast with Professor Emeritus Sam Henrie. I joked that Prescott College had taught me how to read, write and think. Much to my surprise, he used that as an introductory quote in his wonderful history of the College! Although I said it in an offhand manner, upon reflection I think it does capture the value of a Prescott College education. I believe strongly in the important role small, liberal arts colleges play in society. They are important not only for the specific academic skill set learned but also because, more broadly, they give one the ability to understand others’ work, feelings and thoughts (read), communicate effectively (write), and to reason critically by learning how to analyze and form one’s own viewpoint (think). Prescott College does this better than most schools through its focus on encouraging self-direction, offering experiential learning, and its interdisciplinary approach. These are the skills that make one capable of thriving throughout a career in any field of endeavor.
What is your advice to students who are interested in following a similar path?
To be a successful public servant I believe one should keep your idealism intact. Don’t be cynical. One should develop a solid work ethic and always remember who pays your salary (the taxpayers). As Max Weber observed, "politics is the art of compromise." Ideologues tend to undermine democratic governance. Most important is understanding that one can be creative in any type of work—even if you wear a suit to work every day!
"My international work has allowed me to help strengthen organizations and institutions that promote democracy and justice in over a dozen countries."
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