The Ford School has proudly supported the PPIA fellowship since its inception in 1981. To celebrate the program's 40th anniversary, we bring together a panel of distinguished leaders, each of whom attended the University of Michigan Junior Summer Institute and went on to forge careers of tremendous impact and service.
Michael Barr: Welcome, everybody. I'm Michael Barr, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. It is a great pleasure to welcome all of you to this special celebration of the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute. We're here today to celebrate the 40th year of the PPIA fellowship at the Ford School. We've proudly supported the PPIA Fellowship, formerly known as the Sloan or Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, since 1981. The Ford School is one of just a handful of policy schools to host this seven-week educational initiative for undergraduate students every summer since its inception 40 years ago. A special welcome to our current PPIA students who are joining us here today. I'm really excited that they are here in the Ford School virtually, and having a chance to celebrate these programs. I also wanna celebrate PPIA students who are here with us, not only from the Ford School, but also from Berkeley, from Carnegie , from Princeton, from the University of Maryland, and the University of Minnesota. We're thrilled to have you all here today and hope you will connect with your fellow alumni at a networking session we are hosting just after the panel discussion.
MB: To all of the former Ford School PPIA Fellows, we welcome you back virtually. While we may not see you regularly, we certainly consider you a really important part of the Ford School family. I'm thrilled to get the chance today to celebrate the legacy of our PPIA alumni and all they have achieved. Before I introduce our panelists, I wanna say that the Ford School remains dedicated in the future to hosting and supporting the PPIA Junior Summer Institute for many years to come. We hope to ensure that the program continues for at least another 40 years. The active involvement of our PPIA Alumni is essential to this goal, and your participation today means a great deal to me. Thanks also to all of you who have donated to the PPIA program over the years. The PPIA program has a long history of institutional support that made its beginnings possible. Though, as the years have gone by, we've increasingly relied on individual donations to fund the Junior Summer Institute. A gift of any size truly makes a difference, and we could not do this without your help. And now let me introduce our wonderful panel of PPIA alumni here for our conversation today.
MB: Farouk Ophaso is a 2006 MPP graduate of the Ford School. He is the Chief of Staff in the office of the Under Secretary of Defense, the Comptroller of DOD. Mr. Ophaso has over 15 years of experience in the federal budget and appropriations processes, serving in a variety of roles in the US Congress, the White House Office of Management Budget, and the US Air Force. Dr. Kenita Williams is a 2007 MPP graduate of the Ford School. Kenita is the Chief of Staff for the Southern Education Foundation. In her role, Kenita works to strengthen existing programs, supports the work of the President and CEO, and leads key strategic initiatives for impact. And lastly, Dr. David C. Wilson is the dean of our sister school, the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Wilson is a political psychologist, specializing in the use of survey-based instruments to study political behavior and policy preferences. His scholarship focuses on the psychology of political opinion about policies, contentious social issues, and political figures.
MB: Before we begin, a couple of quick notes about format. We'll have some time at the end of today for some audience questions. We've received some in advance, but you can also submit questions in a live chat on YouTube or you can tweet your questions to #policytalks. With that, let me just say I'm really excited to be joined by our wonderful panelists, and I'm really looking forward to the conversation. So if you could bring them all up on screen, we'll get started.
MB: Farouk, David, Kenita, another warm welcome to the panel today. Thank you so much for participating with all of us. It's just delightful to have you here. And I know everybody's super busy in this time, so I'm extra thankful. The PPIA program is really near and dear to my heart, and I've loved getting to know the students who have come through the program. I'm wondering if each of you could say a little bit about, if you can recall back to this time, what caused you to apply to the program in the first place? And maybe we'll start with David, and then Farouk and Kenita.
David C. Wilson: Yeah, thank you and congratulations on 40 years. And Michael, thanks for your leadership. And to all of your staff, thank you. And all the students, congratulations on getting into the world of public policy. It's an important time to study the issues that we study, and public policy is a way for you to commit yourself to the public good. And, ironically, this is how I got interested in what I thought was just the study of government. So I was a government major in my undergraduate years, and I was very much interested in, in how the government makes decisions and if there are public problems, how it solves those problems. And I never thought about public policy, I just thought about what I saw on television, which was leaders. So leaders decide. And I ignored the mechanisms by which they used to decide and all of the inputs that go into that decision-making process, and all of the science behind those mechanisms, as well.
DW: So I was exposed to this idea of a Woodrow Wilson program in the early 1990's, and when I applied and got into it, I was just drawn into this community of folks that cared about solving public issues and wanted to use the tools of public policy. I love data. I love talking about the issues, thinking about solutions, and then proposing one and doing that kind of back and forth to see which one we'd select, and then going all in on trying to make it successful. So that's how I got exposed to the program and why I got interested. Thanks for the question.
MB: Thanks, David. Farouk?
Farouk Ophaso: Yeah, I just wanna also reiterate all of the congratulations and also thank you for having us here and hosting us today. I just wanna say that I have a very similar recollection. I completed the program in 2002, [chuckle] 19 years ago, so it's a little bit hard to remember it all, but I also did have an interest in government and in history. And a lot of folks told me, "Well, that means you should just go to law school," but I knew that there was another... There had to be another way. There had to be another way to serve the public and to work on really interesting topics. So I was really drawn to policy issues more than really anything else. I sort of had a high-level understanding of policy issues, and that's what really piqued my interest in public policy in general. So when I first heard about the program, I applied not thinking very much of it. I didn't know really a lot of detail. This was 2002. I don't think there was even a website for PPIA. So, anyhow, when I was accepted and joined the program, it was quite an experience we can get into, but, anyway, that was really how I was drawn to the program.
MB: Thanks, Farouk.
Dr. Kenita Williams: And I will echo both David and Farouk. Thank you and congratulatory wishes on this momentous event. I'm really grateful to be participating. I have much less intentionality than my colleagues around how it happened for me. It was really serendipity. I was a junior at Yale, and I just happened to be out in the courtyard talking to a friend who was a year ahead of me. And she's asking me what I was doing this summer and I was like, "I don't know. I'm looking at programs here and there." And she was like, "Well, I know you're a poli sci major like me. I had this great program that I just participated in." She actually had participated at Cal. And I said, "Oh, I should look into it," but I knew I didn't wanna go to Cal because I'm from the Bay, so I didn't wanna be home. I knew I didn't wanna go to Princeton because I went to Yale. So I was like, "Oh, Michigan is an option? Let's see what it's about." And it really was probably one of the most formative and, quite frankly, transformational experiences that I've had in terms of my career, but it was very much luck. I was very fortunate to be in the courtyard that night.
MB: That's great, Kenita. So many things in life are that way, right? It's like being in that moment. Maybe we'll pick up where you left off and we'll go in the other order. Kenita, can you say a little bit about what about the program led to this big impact? Were there particular experiences that you had that helped launch you on the next phase?
DW: Yeah, so like I said, it was really transformational, really kind of... It might even sound a bit trite or cliche, but I really feel like it changed my life, at least my career trajectory. Because it is, in fact, the sole reason that I knew I was gonna apply to University of Michigan for my MPP, and that, in fact, changed everything. And it exposed me to new career paths that I wasn't really aware of. It equipped me with some skills and competencies for a number of different roles. It, actually, I think in a lot of ways, makes me much better at my job, and that I have a systemic view of looking at the equities of issue that we're focused on. And I'll just plug PPIA in a lot of ways because I also... Before recently being promoted as a director of leadership development and ran fellowship programs. And I didn't know this at the time. I just knew I was having a good time, I was learning, and I was gonna be paid to do so. [chuckle] But in a lot of ways, PPIA is quite exemplary, really a paragon in terms of fellowship programs and really marrying those types of experiences, networking, hearing from thought leaders, practical application, building that and fostering that peer network or community of practice that is effort-oriented. And so I actually borrow a lot as I think about how to make our own fellowship programs better.
MB: That's wonderful to hear. As I said, I kind of have a love affair with this program. I just think it's so cool. And great to hear that it connected with you in that way. Farouk, how about you?
FO: Yeah, I would say in two ways. The first thing I would mention is that I think it gave me... The program really gave me some confidence, especially in my quantitative ability. I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, and I avoided math classes. I actually didn't need to take any to graduate as a history major, so I avoided economics, statistics, anything that had to do with math. I was intimidated, but I knew that going through PPIA would force me to really rely on those skills. And so I think that confidence was really what was really important to me, and that's really led me down this career path of the last 15 years working on the federal budget and appropriations in general. And it's not...
MB: Yeah, it sounds like you really flipped from... If you were a math-phob, you went... You chose the wrong field 'cause you're like all in on that.
FO: Oh, yeah, I love Excel now. Yeah, it's like my favorite Microsoft program. But, yeah, it really did completely... I avoided that, and now it's my career and I love it. It's been fantastic. The second thing I wanna say too, is that as a young person, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was 20. It was a space that allowed me to explore my interest, so... Yeah, I was interested in domestic issues, I was also interested in international issues, and at PPIA, through little seminars, we got exposure to all of it. We talked about poverty in the US, we talked about human rights issues, we talked about everything. And it gave me a chance to really figure out what it was that I was interested in. So I would say that those are the two reasons that the program has changed the trajectory of my career.
MB: Thanks, Farouk, that's pretty powerful. David?
DW: Yeah, I'll start with something Kenita kinda slid in there, had a good time. Yeah, I had a great time. I came up to Michigan, and a little short story is I had broken my foot. So I had surgery and I had a pin and I was on crutches. And so I spent the first half of the summer on crutches, and it was a huge campus, so you're trying to get around and you do these things. So you learn the shortcuts, you get on the shuttles and the buses, and invariably they'd pass a bar on one of the streets or something so we'd get out and just... Lunch time, we just take a little side track. But the West Quad, we stayed in, we had great parties. And it was a great time, we got to know people in other programs in the summer time. So the most memorable thing about my summer there was all the communities that were in the West Quad and other places on campus that you got to know and you got to experience. And I went to undergrad to Western Kentucky University, this small, regional recruiting school that really wasn't connected or I wasn't an academic star. I just had an interest and a passion for wanting to do something different. And being around other people that had the same interest but really cared about their academics is what really changed my trajectory.
DW: And I was writing down, trying to think about the people who were in the program with me. Some of them... Not all of them are in public work now. Some are... One is an award-winning director. Christine Swanson is out there directing movies and being awarded for it. We have a couple of people in the State Department who I have seen that are doing public work, and I have a judge friend who was in the program. And then all of the people that I met that were just Michigan students that were just around, created a whole new network for me and helped me think about what I wanted to do next. So the community piece and the having a good time was my first exposure to, "Oh, you could do both of 'em?" I thought there's just the fun people and the smart people. I did know there were smart, fun people or fun, smart people. So I enjoyed my time there in Michigan, and I think Michigan was a special place to be exposed to all of this. Berkeley's good, Princeton was good, the other places, they're good, but Michigan really did change my experience in what I wanted to do in life.
FO: Can I also just say that the program really helped me prepare for the humidity in DC, so... [chuckle] As a kid from California, my first experience walking out of the Detroit Airport and that blast of humidity, I'll never forget. [chuckle] So that was another way.
MB: The summer heat. David, it sounds like... Have you kept up, David, with your... It sounds like you've kept up a little bit with some of the alumni from your PPIA group.
DW: A good core of them. Some of them, you lose touch with, and then they come back, you're like, "Thank God for social media." Because that's how we find each other. And the Woodrow Wilson used to send out the directory a couple of years ago, or maybe a decade ago, and I try to find people to stay in touch. So maybe about a third of the group, we still stay in touch and have a small LinkedIn group and the likes.
MB: Nice. Kenita and Farouk, are you also connected with some of your peers from that time?
DW: Just a few, and as David said, it's social media. People just randomly find you. But I also am not a big social media person, so I bet if I were more active, I could find more people. But a few of them, we stayed connected.
FO: Same, yeah. And I think what's been interesting about the group is where everybody has gone and what everybody's done with... How they've interpreted their PPIA experience and see what they've turned that into. So there's a lot of folks still in public service, not very many in my group in the federal government. But a lot in public service, people have gone into the private sector, into academia, so it's been great to see that.
MB: That does suggest that there are lots of different paths people take afterwards, and even just the three of you have had a very different career paths since your time at PPIA. I wonder if you could... It's hard for students, if you kinda put your head back where it was, thinking as you were a rising senior to think forward what the possibilities are. I wonder if you guys could each just take a little bit of time and say how you navigated those first moves to get to where you are today. 'Cause you're all extremely accomplished in your careers but those first steps are hard ones to take. So I wonder, maybe Farouk, you could lead us off and then we'll change up. How you kinda get started on the path?
FO: Sure. I think it might be hard to hear this, but I think... You almost wanna take the first opportunity, or at least whatever that opportunity is, upfront. Maybe not the first one, but it's hard to be picky when you're new and you're out there. And let's say you have a really strong... Let's say you wanna be a foreign service officer. You wanna join the State Department, you wanna represent the country abroad. Well, that job is extremely difficult to get. And so you can certainly try, go for it, but there are a lot of careers that are tangential to that. There are some that you can do similar work, or at least it's a gateway into that career. So I would say first, broaden your expectations, widen them a little bit, find opportunities that are tangential, that are similar. So I think that would be the one thing and really think about what it is that you wanna do. But also aim high, but also make sure that there's other ways to achieve that goal. I also wanna emphasize the importance of networking too in that area that you wanna go into.
FO: A lot of the jobs that I've had, I've gotten through networking. Many people are also, for example, interested in working for Congress, in working on the Hill, and I've had three different jobs on the Hill, and each one I've had I've gotten through networking. And that's just the nature of Congress, and so the importance of broadening the way you're thinking about what you wanna get into but also your network, I would say are really important to start.
MB: Farouk could you just walk folks through the first two or three jobs that you had coming out of that... From starting after that PPIA experience so people get a sense of the trajectory.
FO: Sure. After PPIA, I actually... After I graduated with my Bachelor's Degree, I decided to work for a couple of years because I wasn't ready for graduate school. I wanted to do some... Wanted to work, I wanted to explore the possibility of going to law school. So I worked at a law firm, and the law firm was a public interest firm. So the lawyers there worked on social security disability issues, they worked with homeless veterans, worked on immigration issues, for example. I thought that would be a great way to figure out, was I interested in the policy? Was I interested in legal stuff? And I learned that I wanted to do more of the policy work. In fact, I was really interested in social security issues from that job so I thought, okay, well, it's Policy school that I really wanna go to. And so that's how I ended up at the Ford School. So that was my very first job after my undergrad degree, and then I completed my Master's degree at Michigan, and then I was a PMF, a Presidential Management Fellow. And my very first job was with the Air Force, I was a cost analyst. Diving into my fears by an incredibly quantitative job. My job really was to figure out how much the Air Force's satellite programs would cost. So many people...
MB: A lot.
FO: A lot, billion... [laughter] So, for example the GPS program, everybody uses GPS in their car and everything. That was one of the programs that I worked on early on, where my job was to as a... Fresh out of graduate school, GS9, to look at that satellite program, the GS3, GPS3 and figure out how much it's gonna cost. So that way the Air Force could defend their request to the senior leadership of the Air Force, to the Department of Defence and therefore, and then eventually to Congress. So that was... And then from there, really my career just sort of evolved and I thought about, a lot about the kinds of experiences I wanted. And it took a lot of patience and a lot of follow-up, but eventually sort of ticking off little boxes I thought I would need to sort of end up where I am now. So getting Hill experience, working in the Executive Branch, working at the White House and so on.
MB: That's great, Farouk. Thanks really helpful and that GPS investment turned out to be pretty critical for the human society. Kenita, do you wanna go next and say a little bit about maybe those first steps you took and some advice for current PPIA students?
DW: Sure, so I'm a very spiritual person and I feel like my steps are ordered [chuckle] in a lot of ways. And that things have just happened for me in a way that I have not necessarily designed them myself. But right after college, I did Teach for America, and TFA has this huge network and really put me on the path to be in the space of what I say is really working on helping make sure that we are not continuing to perpetuate systems practices, policies that advantage some while keeping other situated further from opportunity. So that has been kind of my path, and I've done a lot of things along that line. And so after TFA, I actually I taught for three years in Atlanta, Georgia, and then I came to Michigan to do by MPP. And actually had some doors open right away. I actually took a law school class while I was there, and the professor actually connected me to someone in Senator Obama's office. So I worked in Senator Obama's office for a while, and then actually came back to Michigan to do a fellowship with the Council of Michigan Foundations and they actually found me in the Ford School career book.
DW: So really a lot of the opportunity directly related to being at the Ford school, and that has really been my path. I've stayed at this nexus of philanthropy, policy, equity, that kind of... Either directly in there, or tangentially connected, and so worked... TFA, Master's, the Hill, back to Michigan, came and did some work actually doing public policy work for philanthropy for about five years. Where I was actually building the capacity of grant makers and funders to be able to engage in Public Policy, because it's still by and large, unchartered territory, and largely misunderstood because of nonprofit statuses that are at risk. And so I did that for a while, and then went back to a school district and then came to SCF about almost five years ago. I've done a number of things in that way. And it's interesting, I think, contrary to popular belief, you actually don't need to know who you wanna be when you grow up, when you graduate from college.
MB: And, you can.
DW: I think some of us probably still are figuring that out actually, and I also believe you don't necessarily know who you are until you know who you're not, so you just have to try things. Granted, I'm very much in the reality that bills need to be paid, so you probably do need a job, but you can actually try different things. And so my advice would be to do that. And also, my friends would say, I'm a serial joiner, fellowshiper. I'm in a number of Civic Organizations. I've done a number of different fellowships 'cause they just expose you to different opportunities and to different networks. Then mentorship, I don't think we can... Like underscore the importance of just having good old fashion mentors. They're just critical, they have been still critical for me, and then just good old fashion informational interviews, talk to people who are in the jobs that you feel like you wanna go into. And just really leverage those opportunities, and you'll be surprised what opens up for you.
MB: That's great. Kenita, maybe I can just ask you to elaborate a little bit more on the mentorship point, because I do think that's so critical. But there's a lot of tacit knowledge in how to have a mentor. How to be a mentor, yes, also, but how to get a mentor... Could you just say a little bit about how you think about that?
DW: Well, it's interesting because it is... Being on this side of the work, I understand just the importance of social and cultural capital. And then how many kids don't come to schools with those type of things. So they don't have access to the people who are doing those type of jobs, and don't know those soft skills or the social steps that you need to take to get those things. And I was one of those, I just... Like I said, I've been very fortunate to kind of luck into things and have people for whatever reason, think I'm smart, and then wanna get to know me...
MB: For whatever reason.
DW: And so I had people who actually wanted to sow into me. And so my first actual mentor was someone that actually reached out to me. And then from there, I was like, "Oh, I get this," and really be thoughtful about it. But I think a lot of the programs that I've been in also too, they have mentorship as part of the fellowships that we're doing. So I can't say that I had any science or art behind doing it, but just was very fortunate and people wanting to sow into me. But now, I am very intentional about helping young folks. I guess I'm still... I'm 40, so I'm relatively... Depending on what field you're in, I'm still young. But really be thoughtful about how do you do that, and how do you navigate those relationships. And how you nurture them and understand that it is a partnership, it should be symbiotic. You may not be giving as much, but you need to be respectful and nurture the time or the person that's investing into you.
MB: Thanks, Kenita. David, do you wanna go next, and a little bit about those first steps you took and advice for the current PPIA students?
DW: This is fascinating, this is the threads that run through all of this. When I left the Public Policy Program, it was 1993, and the one thing that it gave me that helped me throughout was confidence. That you're going in there, you get in the trenches a little bit on the academic stuff, and you get the support through the social and community. But when you come out of there, you know, you have some sense of knowing that you can do this stuff. And it wasn't just the academics, it was, this stuff is something you can do as a job, as an interest, and it doesn't have to be work. It could be something that align with what you do well or what you're passionate about in some ways.
DW: And so when I came back from the summer, I was very focused because I had been exposed to this whole new world, and it gave me some direction. It motivated me to think about things in a different way, and so I decided to go to graduate school. I actually... I should be honest with you, I took a job... I came back and I took a job working for the Martin Luther King Federal Holiday Commission. And people don't know this, but the King holiday was a national holiday before it was a federal holiday, and there was actually a commission that helped to get the federal holiday established. And I was one of the five people on that commission as a legislative aid.
DW: And so that was great, it was wonderful. I got to work in Atlanta and I had an office in DC and traveling. So it was kind of like being a lobbyist but not being a lobbyist. And it was fascinating, but I had so much fun. I spent all my money... It was Atlanta, it was DC, you can spend all your money, and you're like, "Okay." And I thought I was smarter than my bosses were. So I said... That's too much confidence, but I said, "I wanna go to graduate school and study this stuff and get better at it." And it led me to Michigan State University and right down the road from it all. And once I got to Michigan State, I got exposed to more stuff, data and different ways of looking at the data. And different ways of being in the room and having a different kind of conversation because you could speak data language, and stats talk. And I learned that math and stats were not the same thing, that statistics is really a general way to think about finding patterns in information.
DW: And the statistics is just a formal way of expressing it and quantifying it. But if you like looking for patterns and being strategic about how to alter or adjust those patterns, boom, then doing research and analysis is there. And it just led me into academia. I worked for SPSS, my real first job out of grad school was for SPSS, training people to use the product. Once again, I thought I was smarter than they were, it wasn't true, but that's how you convince yourself to do new stuff. I got hired by Gallup and I worked for 10 years at the Gallup Organization in Washington DC. I don't know if I mentioned this, but I was in the military, so I joined the Army Reserve like in high school. You know the commercials about paying for college, you know that's another story. But they don't really pay for college, they just give you some side money.
DW: And Iraqi freedom kicked off in 2003, and I was working in DC and hadn't gotten out of the military yet. So I was deployed for a year in Iraq and other parts of the area. And came back, and just didn't have a passion for the kind of work I was doing, that led me to go into academia, and I've loved it ever since. The freedom to think about issues, the freedom to help strategize about how to help young people and people who are mid-career think about what they wanna do next and how to have impact. And to sell the story of public policy and the social sciences to anybody who'll listen. Because it's something that actually sparked my curiosity and changed my life. So academia is another route you can take to do your professional work, but also help other people think about what we should be doing next.
DW: And that's what I've... The last nine years I've been in administrative roles, doing Dean's work, and now I'm here at Berkeley working with the Goldman School.
MB: Thanks, David. Just fantastic and really interesting career path and I think all three of you have had, again, such different routes, I think it helps. It's a little freeing I think, for students to know that you don't have to follow a straight line and know, as Kenita said, "When you're born, you know what you're gonna do when you get later in your career." I wonder if we could reflect a little bit on your different kinds of views of leadership in the next segment. We've been trying to build out... We are building out the leadership side of what we teach our students. We and Berkeley's the same way, have long been known for our strong quantitative training and that's a really important foundation to be a leader.
MB: Obviously, we have too often leaders who don't know anything, say things and that's not really that helpful. So definitely having a strong analytic foundation is really critical, but there are lots of other skills that students need to have to be successful in leadership over their careers and we're building those into our leadership activities here. I wonder if you could each reflect a little bit on your sense of what leadership skills you've acquired? How you've acquired them? What you think is important in leadership? And Kenita, maybe I'll start with you and then go around.
DW: So it's interesting, I actually just defended my dissertation last week, so that is how I'm officially...
DW: Thank you. But my field is Entrepreneurial Leadership in Education and I'm looking at racial equity. And so I've actually studied and looked at leadership quite a bit over the last few years and really came across a quote that leadership is one of, probably one of the most studied phenomenon, but most misunderstood phenomenon that we have. Because I think there are just tons of misconceptions around leadership and what it is and I had that. And really what I thought was a leader was akin to really just being a boss and it was about extrinsic motivation, sticks and carrots, compliance, you do what I say and that's not leadership at all. [chuckle] Leadership is much more about social influence and motivating people to work toward a common goal. And you do that by speaking to their intrinsic values and making them feel that you actually care about them and that you inspire them. And also being a model of a leader, rolling up your sleeve and actually exhibiting what it is that you want from those that you lead.
DW: And if you're a true leader people are themselves better off and better leaders, as a result of having been led by you. And so these are things that really go into how I try to approach my leadership, particularly in my new role in my organization. And just really being thoughtful about actually listening. A listening leader is key, listening to understand. Actually realizing that I don't have all the answers and knowing that and that actually you have good people on your team for a reason. So they should have some of the answers, if not all the answers for you. And so those types of things are really coming into play into how I shape and hone my own leadership. And leaders continue to learn and learn how to be better leaders and evolve. And so that is what I would offer.
MB: Thanks Kenita, that's great. Great advice. David, you and I are now sharing the same kind of job. It's a different kind of leadership job, certainly than I've had before. Academic leadership is a different kind of leadership, but I wonder if you could reflect a little bit on your experiences, both at Delaware and now at the Goldman School in leadership and maybe also on your service in the Army, which probably influenced your thinking about leadership as well.
DW: Yeah, and you find bad leaders really quickly in the Army, of course. Anyway, it's another story. I agree with a lot with what Kenita said in terms of skill sets, listening, listening with intention, making sure that other people feel valued and are part of the team. You talk a lot about diversity, equity and inclusion, but inclusion you have to be really active and intentional about it, making sure that their voices are included in every conversation. You hear people talk about community in our campus, but there's always people excluded around these boundaries of academics and disciplines and the like and you have to be more inclusive in order to really grow and do things. But the one thing I would say is that the most important investment you can make in leadership is knowing thyself, knowing something about you, what are your skills. Use the tools that are out there to help identify your strengths and your traits that really make you who you are and use a team.
DW: Mentors are good but assessment tools are as well, to help understand what do you do well? What resonates with people that you have? What do you bring to the table that you can invest in? And by really focusing on you, if you can lead yourself in that direction of studying you, having a vision for you and having a mission statement for you, then you can maybe convince some other people they should follow you. And so the leadership piece is... It's true, there is no one definition and you've got to constantly be prepared for change and that means understanding others, being able to listen and being able to know whether or not you're a good responder to change and not everybody is. So investing in yourself before you try to go out there and ask people to do other things for you on your behalf.
MB: Thanks, David, that's great advice. We do this... We say the same thing at the Ford School, "You gotta learn how to lead yourself, learn how to lead others and then you can talk about leading organizations, once you've got a good foundation." And people lead from lots of different places in the organization. You don't have to be by any means running a place to be leading it.
DW: I'll tell you one of the most... Just really quickly, one of the most powerful things... So I went to with Iraq in the Fall of 2003, and we had a general that sat down a small group of us. We had... I was part of the team that actually recruited and built the New Iraqi Army in the Fall of 2003, and he came in the room and he said, "I know I'm the person with the highest rank, but there's no monopoly on good ideas." And so you can imagine, for the first time us hearing that and saying, "You actually wanna hear what we have to say?" [laughter] And in that way, he... That person gained a lot of respect in a very difficult time period and in a very difficult task that we all have an ability to just give voice. So you don't have to be in a role. And you... And the person that is in the role has to communicate that out, so it's very good.
MB: Yeah. I totally agree. Farouk, what are your thoughts on leadership?
FO: So I haven't studied leadership, so [laughter] Kenita, you'll have to check me if I say something crazy. But I think what I can say here is basically just really based on my experience working for some pretty fabulous leaders in the federal government and some of the skills that they possess, maybe... I don't know if that's helpful. But I think some of the best leaders that I've worked for have been incredibly humble people, people who are... I wanna say likable, but I know that sometimes that term is coded, and so just people who are well respected. And that comes through a lot of different ways, whether it's their experience, whether it's something they did like sit a group of people down and listen to them for the first time, and that sort of thing. I think in the government, somebody who's really focused on teamwork, that they're recognizing that they are a part of a team, a much larger team, and lots of different concentric circles of teams, and being able to work properly in that way, somebody who's an amazing negotiator. Somebody who can, in every way, not just... Not like these people have... Not like you have to be a great negotiator on a treaty, but also negotiating what room we're gonna have a meeting in? Who's gonna be in the room? And that sort of thing. So I think... I feel like in the government, those are sort of some of the skills that have made really great leaders.
MB: Thanks Farouk. We're getting a lot of audience questions in, so I'm gonna start weaving those into our conversation. One question from the audience is, "In the course of your careers, how have you resolved conflicts in professional settings? Have you ever needed to do something that does not align with your personal beliefs or values?" And maybe, Farouk, if you could, start us out on that question.
FO: Sure. Yes, there's definitely... It's... Conflict is not easy in the workplace at all. A lot of people come to work in different places, they've... Their home life is different, their... How they sort of have grown up. So people come to the workplace from various backgrounds, and so... First off, then I will say in the federal government conflict management has... There are certain offices and sort of official ways to address conflict, so obviously those tools exist. But I would say having a good understanding that in the event of a conflict, having an understanding of where folks are coming from is incredibly important, and not just where they're coming from, from the professional standpoint, but also even personally. And so I think that's sort of one way to better work with conflict is to understand people in general.
FO: I think a lot of conflict comes from poor communication as well, whether that's a staffer communicating upward or a boss communicating downward. So I think looking at how you're communicating with people, even whether it's tone, whether it's in-person or on an email. So I think that's another area, when there is conflict, to figure out, was the communication clear and consistent? Is that what's leading to conflict. And in my experience, a lot of the time it's about poor communication. So those are just some things off the top of my head that I can say on in terms of conflict management.
MB: Thanks Farouk. Kenita, how about you? Either a personal conflict question or sort of internal conflict where you might have to do something you personally don't agree with, what are you... What's your experience been?
DW: Yeah, so I've been again very fortunate where I haven't had any roles that have really pushed me or asked me to do anything that didn't align with my beliefs and values, because, like I said, I know I have a path in what I'm working on, and my jobs typically aligned with that. That said, that does not mean that conflict does not arise in the workplace. I think it's a natural thing. I think one of the things that came to me later after this leadership, when we were talking about leadership earlier, is really the importance of emotional intelligence and really taking time to hone EQ. I think hard skills, talent, get you in the door and help you do a good job in your job, but whether you are successful and thrive in a particular culture, I think it's largely tied to how you are and how you show up as a person. And that's not to say some places are just not toxic and you need to get out, that does happen.
DW: But also being able to self-regulate and understand where you are and how you show up, and forecast... Like really tangible concrete strategies that you have for managing you and managing relationships and others are very important when it comes to conflict resolution. I think also, I think Farouk was saying, just communication. We talked about listening earlier, are you actually listening? And not just listening, but hearing what the other person is saying to you? Are we... I think often times we don't always separate issues from personalities. You have to be able do that and [ ] ____.
MB: Kenita, I think we're having a little audio problem, so I'm gonna come back to you, and we'll pick up with David and hopefully, the audio will get resolved.
DW: Yeah. In terms of resolving conflict, probably the first three or four years, what did I do? All the wrong things, because I was focused on resolving the conflict in that moment and not thinking about the problems that led to the conflict in the first place. And many times, you have to think about, as a leader, whether you're the right person to be trying to solve problems that just come up. Maybe you should delegate some of that to someone else, and that's a skill you have to take into consideration. In academia, everybody's important, everybody's brilliant. And then there are these rules that exist, where people have rights and privileges. And so, you're balancing all of that. So sometimes time will fix things and sometimes you have to do a strong intervention, on the more serious, serious things.
DW: But conflicts are just everywhere, just waiting to happen, and the key thing is to try and eliminate those areas at the beginning, by communicating what the values are or what the standards are. When I start a committee or something, I always... The first meeting, I say, "Okay, so how are we gonna operate? What are our rules for this committee? How are we gonna interact with one another? Do you want to encourage disagreement, or should we shy away from it?" As long as we're clear on the rules, that should be our guiding post, and when something happens outside of that, then we can say, "Hey, we agreed on this, and if we can't do that, then it might not be useful to proceed." The other thing I wanted to say is, going against your values, and this is... I'm a behaviorist, so I study people and stuff like that, it's really tricky.
DW: As soon as you study and they start changing and then you have to figure out what to do next. So yeah, you're always having to make decisions, because as a leader, many times, your loyalty is not to your own values, your loyalty is to the organization, the institution, the rules that you've agreed to, the policies, your mandate, your higher authority, whatever it is, and you're constantly weighing that going against your values. And that happens. And the best thing... And anybody who thinks they can get through work or life without that kind of cross pressure, I got a bridge in the desert, that's cheap. But the bottom line is, find ways to prepare yourself for when you gotta make those tough choices, and when you do something you know that's bordering on crossing the line in your mind, be prepared just for whatever consequences of doing it or not doing it are, and learn to live with them.
DW: That's the best advice you can offer, is that if you... In academia, you get scholar advocates and you wanna push the needle and push the button, and unfortunately, we have a tier system where not everybody is protected. And even if you are protected, you're not protected from the person that could just show up at your door randomly and tell you how they feel about your work. So you do have to always be thoughtful about your actions and set in place some protections, but also some ways to give and take a little bit. Whatever you decide to do that goes against your values, find some way to balance that out with something else, and that may help you get through it.
MB: Thanks, David. As I said, we have lots of questions, so I might just ask one of you to do each of the next ones. I'm gonna turn to... David, why don't I turn to you next, 'cause this is a question that you and I deal with in our day jobs, and I'm sure, Farouk and Kenita do too. But very specifically, how do we encourage a new and diverse generation to go into public policy, given the current political climate? So maybe, David, you could take that on.
DW: Yeah. One, I collect data on what they see as their interest areas, and then try align programs and give instruments for the programs to get them bigger. If it's tools you need to solve problems, we can identify tools, but we also need to have curriculum that exposes people to the problems. Because in many ways, sometimes the problems that you look at, are just in your own community, but the real problem in the world is completely different. And so you need to have the tools to understand the big problems, so the community, local one doesn't exist. And so I think exposing people with tools and curriculum in the classroom and outside the classroom, applied learning stuff is the best route.
MB: Thanks, David. Farouk, maybe I'll ask you to take on this one. There are lots of different formulations of this, but there are a lot of questions about what advice you would give to your younger self. What do you wish you could tell yourself, back when you were a PPIA student?
FO: Oh, gosh. This one's really hard. [laughter] I don't know. Well, I think...
MB: You want to... Punt to Kenita, and I'll get you a different one? [laughter]
FO: If anybody else has an... No. It's hard to really think back and partly because I really enjoyed the path I've been on, and obviously, I've made mistakes, and there's definitely a lot of things I wish I had known, back in 2002. Just none of it's coming to my mind right now. [chuckle]
MB: No worry.
FO: Kenita or David, if you have anything, feel free to chime in.
DW: It is a tough question. One of the things that I would have said, are just some of the things that we talked about earlier, really taking advantage of mentors, trying new and different things. One of the things that... Since I do emerging kind of leader fellows with graduate and undergraduates thing... Student communications. I would have told myself to really work on understanding the importance of communications, both written, oral communications and taking opportunities, really seizing and seeking out opportunities to do public speaking, to write because those things are so critical right now. So, that is the one thing that I would have told myself, I think fortunately, the Ford School really shapes you into a great writer, and I know Michael didn't pay me to say that, [chuckle] but it really does. And so, I feel like I've been in programs to do that, but I could have done so much more on my own and I'm a really... I think a really good writer now, but I could have been so much better, so much sooner if I had really taken time to do that.
MB: Yeah, that's a good point. We do invest a lot in the writing program for our PPIA students and also, again, for our masters students and our undergrads too, it makes a big difference. And probably there are other schools who don't quite spend as much investment in that as we do, and I'm really glad we do. I do think it has... Pays many, many dividends for many years, if you can have that basic skill of really succinct and sharp writing you can use it in lots of different areas. Actually, there's an audience question that probably David and I both need the answer to. We're doing some thinking, as are the other deans about what the future of PPIA should look like. It's evolved over the years, it's changed over the last 40 years and so, maybe we'll put Farouk and Kenita on the spot for me and David. If you all were thinking about the program and what you would hope to see for the future, what are the things you think that we might wanna change or emphasize or focus on that we wouldn't have 20 years ago?
FO: Well, one thing, I don't know what the program is like now, it's been 19 years...
FO: I'm sure it's evolved in very different... From what it was back in 2002. I think one thing I can say is a little bit of an emphasis on... I don't know how to correctly put this in terms, but maybe sort of some of the softer skills maybe, or... So, for example, a focus on negotiations and learning how to negotiate, sort of just working in an office and learning about organizational structure, leadership development and skills and that kind of thing. I know there's been a lot of... Back in 2002, we didn't really do any of that stuff at all. It was mostly course work, policy-focused, quantitatively-focused course work. I think that's one area that I would explore if it's not already being explored.
MB: That's great. Kenita.
DW: So, yeah, so I would... Like Farouk, I don't know what... I don't know about what the program is actually doing now, but I could see if I were to see this in 40 years and I would come back, 80-year-old Kenita on a panel, I would hope to see more access to other schools, like why is it not at HBCUs at this point or it might be, I don't know if it's not, but I would love to see that. I would love to see more leveraging of the alumni network, like the network is powerful, just even just who I'm on the panel with today I'm like, "Wow," what are we actually doing to leverage that, to make the...
DW: Program stronger, to help elevate the students while they're there, just really leveraging that alumni network. Yeah, and just more touting of the program, just general awareness about it, like this is a fantastic program that people just kind of like me, lucked into. Those types of things.
MB: Yeah, I think those are great points. We would love to leverage the alumni network more and engage alumni, and as we're gonna do after this call, we're gonna have a time for all of you and the other students and alumni to network together. Those of you who are listening on YouTube, you can look for instructions in the chat, and those of you who registered in advance, you can also see in the email you got for the call, it should give you instructions about how to log in for the networking session for PPIA. I think it will be wonderful to get more PPIA alumni involved in mentoring current students and each other. I mean the peer network is, I think, pretty phenomenal. We are almost at time. Let me give each of you a brief moment for a last word and to start out, David, any final thoughts for the group?
DW: My thoughts are just, congratulations, you're already on the right path. This is what the world needs people committed to being in the trenches of doing the public's work, and really thinking about something higher than yourself, there's no greater reward than to help society by giving back.
MB: Thank you, David. Kenita.
DW: So, you would have thought I would have been prepared to say, a final thought but I'm just not at all. I would just echo, David. Congratulations on 40 years looking forward and knowing that we will hit 40 more. I think the work is critically important. I think a lot of the issues that we see... We don't need bad actor's malintent, they are by and large, a result of deliberate policy and choices that were made, and so we need to be attacking them at the policy level, and you all are through PPIA charting that path for people to be thinking along those lines, and I just appreciate the work.
MB: Thank you, Kenita. Farouk.
FO: Just two quick things, I just want to extend an offer to folks who are listening, if you are ever interested in the federal budget or appropriations process or national security, please reach out, I'm happy to connect on LinkedIn or if you wanna get my information through somebody at the Ford School I'm happy to share it. And then, the second point I want to make is, Dean Barr, please keep funding this program. I know you're all really supportive of it, if you can be even more supportive of it, great. So, that's all I got, thanks.
MB: Thanks, Farouk. As I said, I love the program, I'm 100% committed to continuing it and really excited about it, and I hope you don't mind, I'll say shamelessly, as I did at the outset, that part of how we do this is through individual donations, it's hard to run the program, we don't have the funding for it. I have to scramble every year to raise the money. So, anything anybody can do to help is... In any size is always appreciated. And let me just close, as you all did with a congratulations to our current students, PPIA students from around the country and to our alumni PPIA graduates, just lovely to have you all here and thank you for helping us to mark this special moment, the 40th year, the 40th anniversary of the program... I'm really proud of it. I know, David proud of their program with Goldman and the handful of schools that have been involved since the start. So, I'm just really delighted to have you all here and let me thank Farouk and Kenita and David for joining us to mark this occasion. So, thank you everybody, and please do join for the networking session right afterwards. Again, you can look in your registration email, or in the YouTube chat for instructions about how to join for that. Thanks very much.