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October 23, 2008

GSPIA turns 50: “We are our alumni,” dean says

“The sun never sets on the ‘GSPIA Empire,’” boasted Dean John T.S. Keeler about the reach of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ alumni. “It isn’t as deeply enmeshed as the British Empire, but it is as vast. We have alums in more than 100 countries. My main theme is: We are our alumni. That’s what we should be marketing. They’re the exemplars for our students and they’re a truly remarkable group.”

When Keeler came to Pitt last year as GSPIA’s 12th dean (including interim deans), he was surprised to learn that there was no written history of the school, which was founded in 1958 in the heat of the post-Sputnik furor that thrust international relations into the public sphere.

He did a little investigating on his own, starting with an alumni directory compiled for the school’s 25th anniversary, and “a little Googling” to see where those alumni had ended up. The product of his search, later expanded to include more recent alumni, is a list of more than 300 leadership positions GSPIA alums have held in the federal government, international organizations and governments, U.S. state and local governments, corporations, non-profits and in domestic and international academia.

“I’ll give you a small sample: GSPIA has produced a prime minister of Mali, 15 ambassadors, a U.S. congressman, several members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a mayor of Pittsburgh, several of the most respected directors of government operations, which means chief lobbyists of major corporations,” Keeler said.

The school also has produced 26 municipal managers in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area alone, he said. “The current president of the International City-County Management Association, ICMA, which is the No. 1 organization for local government officials in the world, is one of our alums and he’s the third of our alums to be president.”

GSPIA alumni also serve as city managers in Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, Texas, California, Ohio and Florida.

“That answers the question: ‘So what kind of job can I get with a GSPIA degree?’” Keeler said.

The school is honoring one of its most famous graduates, the late Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr. (’64), the first African-American four-star general in the U.S. Army, by naming a classroom after him and launching a lecture series in his memory.

“I knew this was a very good place before I came here,” Keeler said. “I knew that GSPIA had a history of accomplished students. But what I’ve been extraordinarily impressed by is the breadth and depth of the truly distinguished alumni. As I did more research on this, I found myself more and more incredulous that previous deans had not heralded this.”

Keeler said that the school’s founders, Dean Donald C. Stone and Chancellor Edward Litchfield, would be very happy with the way GSPIA has turned out.

“Litchfield had an audacious vision,” Keeler recounted. “He came from Cornell, where he was dean of their graduate school of management and public administration. There used to be a good number of such schools that combined what we now would say is an MBA program and an MPA (master of public administration) program. When he moved here he looked around and said, ‘Where is it? I want one.’”

That thought was influenced by Litchfield’s belief, following the model of Ivy League universities, “that it didn’t hurt to have people in the corridors of power, from city government to Washington,” Keeler said.

“I think they envisioned a time that wherever they went, whether it was Tokyo or Seoul or New York City or Washington, that they would be able to have lunch with alums who were in significant positions. I inherit that luxury today.”

Keeler said Stone, who served as dean from 1958 to 1969 following a public service career that included developing the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, also would have been proud of one of GSPIA’s new initiatives, the opening of the University of Pittsburgh Washington Center. The center is a five-office suite shared by Pitt’s School of Law, Division of Student Affairs and Office of Federal Governmental Relations in the heart of the U.S. government district. Almost half of GSPIA graduates take their first job in the D.C. area, he noted.

“When I was hired, I knew that GSPIA students would benefit enormously if the school had a foothold in Washington,” Keeler said. “We have about 1,500 alums in D.C. We’re also using our presence there to line up teaching-based adjunct professors who are active current managers who can teach for us via video conferencing technology.”

Daniel J. Fiorino, a senior manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will teach a course from the D.C. office in the spring.

“It’s not just that students get the immediacy of the course, but we see this as a supplement to the Career Services office,” Keeler said. “These will be people who have contacts, so if a student performs well in the class it might open doors to internships and job opportunities.”

GSPIA also intends to continue expanding its global reach, the dean said. As recently as the 1970s, some two-thirds of GSPIA’s students earned degrees in domestic-oriented programs in public administration and urban and regional planning that were designed to prepare them for careers at the local, regional or national level. Today, GSPIA is the eighth-largest school of its kind in the United States and about three out of four students enroll in one of GSPIA’s two internationally oriented degrees: the Master of Public and International Affairs and the Master of International Development. As a result of that shift, GSPIA has focused more resources internationally, Keeler pointed out.

That international focus includes a new double-degree program, established by Keeler’s predecessor, Dean Carolyn Ban, with the University of Geneva in Switzerland that will allow students to earn a GSPIA degree and a Geneva MBA with specialization in international organizations.

GSPIA faculty members also have helped establish a joint venture with the Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies at Kobe University in Japan. Students from Kobe University can earn double degrees. GSPIA plans to recruit U.S. students with at least intermediate Japanese language skills for study or internships in Japan.

Similar programs in China and India are in the planning stages.

In South Korea, the president of the Korean Association of Public Administration is a GSPIA alumnus, the sixth alum to hold that position. GSPIA alumni also hold the positions in Korea of vice minister of education and human resources and assistant minister of foreign affairs for policy planning.

To help cement GSPIA’s Korean connection, last week Keeler was in Seoul to bestow the inaugural International Public Service Award on six GSPIA alumni for “leadership in the development of the public administration profession within the Republic of Korea.”

GSPIA’s current student population is about 20 percent international, down some from 10 years ago, Keeler said. “That’s a reasonably good number, but I think we can bring that up a little,” he said. The aftereffects of Sept. 11, 2001, have made it more difficult for these students to get approval to study in the United States.

At the school’s founding, GSPIA’s mission statement described the objective of “engaging in professional education of men and women who will deal with the crucial issues behind tomorrow’s headlines.”

Fifty years and 7,000 alumni later, that mission essentially is the same, Keeler said.

“Our mission is to enhance the resources and refine the curriculum of the school so as to produce another generation of leaders trained to cope, at every level of government, with the challenges of tomorrow,” he said. “GSPIAns of the next half-century may deal with different issues than those of decades past, but we can assure you that they will tackle problems with the same level of expertise, integrity and commitment to building a better world.”

For information on GSPIA’s 50th-year celebration, go to:

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 5

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