Fueled by Purpose

To kick off the new school year, I am delighted to welcome Dean Vicky Wilkins to JPO’s blog. Not only is Vicky a dear friend of my mine, she is the dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University, which houses JPO, and she has been an incredible partner to and administrator for this center. We share a commitment to providing opportunities for purpose-driven students to connect their learning to their passions. I’m proud of the students who have come to work for us at JPO and excited to see where their futures take them. I am also incredibly proud of leading an office filled with passionate professionals fueled by purpose.

– Director Kim Ball, Justice Programs Office

As the new academic year begins, the School of Public Affairs (SPA) at American University (AU) is celebrating the fact that our students are fueled by purpose. (The fuel of choice for this generation appears to be coffee: See this year’s school t-shirt design below.)dean vw

What is her, his, or their purpose?

Well, that varies, but we embrace the understanding that our students have come to SPA and Washington, DC, to create change, address issues, and offer solutions. They have a purpose to fulfill. Yes, these students understand that there are courses to complete, grades to earn, and degrees to be awarded. But these are milestones along the way – not their final destination.

Just as important to their college experience are the internships they will hold, the networks they will build, and the service they will provide. It’s difficult sometimes for SPA students’ transcripts or resumes to truly reflect their impact and all they’ve done on and off campus. Add to this that AU students were just named the most politically engaged students in the country by Princeton Review and you get an energetic learning environment.

It is a great privilege to teach these students, but they also challenge us as professors and administrators. How do we make sure we are providing them enough engaging opportunities to support them along their journey?

When students are asked what issues they are passionate about, the answers range from women’s empowerment to gentrification. Our students consistently express a desire to create change and offer solutions in the area of justice. Students are concerned about juvenile justice, drug laws, right to counsel, violent crime, and prison reform, to name a few. An important way that SPA can help a student fulfill their purpose is to provide opportunities for engagement and research beyond the classroom through our research centers.

One of our centers helping students and faculty to connect with criminal justice policy, research, and practice is the Justice Programs Office (JPO). Through research, collaboration, and engagement, JPO informs the operation of justice systems far beyond the walls of the academic “ivory tower.” At JPO you can watch policy solutions move from the whiteboard to the courtroom or other justice venues. This is indeed an office of change.

JPO provides numerous opportunities for our students to become part of this critical work. Students are directly involved in projects to address policy, program, resource, and operational issues related to the administration of justice. Students can apply what they are learning in the classroom to positions in the workplace provided by the center.

I am proud of all that JPO does to help SPA achieve our purpose of addressing the most challenging policy questions through innovation, high-impact research, partnerships, student engagement, and inclusion. I am grateful to have research centers, such as JPO, to assist us in providing our purpose-driven students with the opportunities to connect their passion and learning.

Vicky M. Wilkins is the Dean of the School of Public Affairs and Professor of Public Administration and Policy at American University. 


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