Diversity and engagement priorities for new GSPIA dean


The new dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs plans to bolster the schools’ initiatives for improving diversity, equity and inclusion and for providing new opportunities for community engagement.

Carissa Schively Slotterback, who most recently served as associate dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, has been at Pitt since Oct. 1.

The University Times spoke to Slotterback about her experiences at Pitt so far and the challenges of joining the Pitt community during a pandemic and a time of civil unrest. The conversation has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

How’s your experience been at Pitt since you started in October?

Well, it’s not ideal to start a new job in the middle of COVID. And it’s certainly not ideal to start a new job as a dean in a school where you’re unable to meet the faculty, staff or the students in person. But overall, I think it’s gone as smoothly as it can, considering the circumstances. And I’ve found the community within GSPIA to be welcoming. 

It’s been fun to get to know everyone and uncover some really interesting things that I hadn’t even known about the school before I started — interesting collaborations, partnerships, projects that are going on that I think are really exciting and add to the strength of the school that attracted me in the first place. 

It’s been great to get to know Pitt as well. I’ve been doing a lot to get to know colleagues across the University, the other deans, research centers and other kinds of administrators who are leading key efforts around engagement and diversity and inclusion and research and things like that. 

I have just been impressed with the trajectory that folks at Pitt are on and imagining that we can achieve. It’s a place that, I think, there’s a lot of openness to creativity and a drive to be innovative, which I really like. It’s inspired me as I think about how GSPIA can fit into that. 

When did you move to Pittsburgh, and how do you feel about the city so far?

At the end of August, from Minneapolis. Both cities have a lot in common. They’re both interesting urban cities with a lot of great amenities, like a great restaurant scene and great parks and outdoor spaces. They’re river cities on rivers, so they have sort of a similar feel, which has made it familiar. 

The weather’s better in Pittsburgh. I honestly have been loving the snow this winter. I’m a cross-country skier. I’d heard it doesn’t snow here, but this winter has been great. I’ve been out a number of times.

What initially drew you to Pitt?

I’d been at the University of Minnesota for 16 years as a faculty member and in some administrative roles. I was thinking through what the options were for something to do next and felt like I wanted to be: one, in a public university; two, in a big research university in an urban setting. 

The University of Pittsburgh was a place that I sensed was on the move in a positive direction and had strong leadership. So, I threw my hat in the ring.

I was intrigued by the work that was happening in the school. I also saw a lot of important efforts happening at the University-level that I thought could lift up work in the school and that we would be able to contribute to.

I’ve done a lot of work on public engagement — both teaching and research and connecting the University to communities and other partners at the University of Minnesota. So, I was especially looking for a place that meaningfully valued public engagement. And I see a lot of that here, just in the way staff is structured, the way resources are put toward public engagement and the way leadership talks about it and values it. 

Since you began, what have your priorities been, and what are some of your priorities for the rest of the semester?

I came in with four big priorities that I wanted to emphasize within the school. And the first one of those is pathways and support for prospective students.

I think GSPIA can do an even better job telling its story about what it is, what one experiences as a student at GSPIA, and especially, what it prepares students to do, focusing on the opportunities for impact that are available to students who come through our programs.

I think we need to do a lot more in terms of recruiting underrepresented students. And I think we need to do a lot more fundraising and resource development so that we can ensure that any student who wants to attend GSPIA has the resources to be able to do that.

A second priority is generating new partnerships and funding support and incentives for faculty research. We have a strong research profile within the school, but I also think we can do more, especially more in terms of collaboration with other units at Pitt, interdisciplinary research and pushing the research and findings that we’re creating within the school out to audiences. We know we don’t want to be doing research that just sits on the shelf. 

Another priority is to institutionalize diversity, equity and inclusion. Again, we’ve done some good work in the school. We have a diversity and inclusion plan. We have a committee, but there’s untapped opportunity to implement and institutionalize those efforts so that they are informative and influential in every decision that we’re making, so that they’re present in the curriculum, so that they’re informative to our recruitment and admission strategies, so that we’re making decisions about faculty hiring that are very much influenced by considerations of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

And then the last one is around engagement. We have an opportunity to be even more strategic in setting out an engagement strategy that looks at the engagement that we do locally and globally. We’re a school of international affairs and public affairs, and we should be providing opportunities for our students, our faculty, researchers, staff, to be able to be engaged at all of those scales.

We have a lot of great engagement work that’s happening, but there’s opportunity to build more strategy around that and put more resources into it, so that we can sustain it and do an even better job than we’re doing right now. 

In the next year, probably starting in the fall, we’ll be doing schoolwide strategic planning that will allow us to dig in and say, “Well, how do we implement those goals? Are they the right goals? What are actions that we should take? What are the priorities among them? And how should that drive how we spend our resources and spend our time and effort on them?”

As a school of public and international affairs, I think we’re an entry point for communities. In some cases, we’re an entry point on public policy issues for people from outside, and I think we can be an entity within the University of Pittsburgh that nurtures those connections to an even greater extent. We can maintain those relationships with policymakers, with decision-makers, with other stakeholders that relate not just to the work that we do at GSPIA, but also the broader work that happens at Pitt. 

Can you describe your overall vision for the future of GSPIA?

I believe that GSPIA can be a top-rank public and international affairs school that is highly research productive and especially does research of impact that is relevant, that translates to policy, that is meaningful to communities locally and across the world. 

I think we are well-positioned to continue to evolve the approach to teaching things such as public administration, international affairs and international development in ways that bring in the newest practices, that is truly, meaningfully attentive to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in ways that can distinguish us from our peers. 

We have work to do to be able to get to that, but I think we have absolutely the bones to be able to build from to get there. 

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.


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