Meet a Social Scientist: Dr. Gary VanLandingham from the Department of Public Administration

Why did you decide to become an academic?

Teaching has always been on my to-do list.  A long time ago, I was in a workshop that required participants to state our career goals in as few words as possible, and I came up with “Learn, make it better, pass it on” – meaning that I wanted to learn as much as possible about social policy research, use that knowledge to strengthen government’s ability to provide effective services, and train others to continue that work.  After getting my master’s degree in public administration, I spent many years as a policy analyst in local and state government to ‘make it better’, ending up as Director of the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability.  During that time, I wanted to continue to update my knowledge and skills and picked up my doctorate.  I then worked in Washington DC with the Pew Charitable Trusts to launch the Results First Initiative, a nationwide evidence-based policymaking project that has worked in over 30 states and counties to help them shift funding to programs that generate strong returns on the investment of public funds.  Five years ago, I was given the opportunity to move to the next phase – ‘pass it on’ – and joined the faculty of the Askew School.   In effect, I’ve always been a ‘pracademic’, with one foot in the academy and the other in public governance, and my current role with the Askew School enables me to continue to learn about public policy, do research that improves governance, and help prepare students to carry forward this work.    

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?

Working with great students! 

What are you working on or teaching right now that has your excited professionally?  Several things are happening in both the Askew School and my research that are really exciting.  First, the School recently established a fully online option for our highly rated Master of Public Administration program (we are rated 1st in FL, 5th in the southeast, and 16th nationally among public universities), significantly expanding our ability to train both traditional students and mid-career professionals across Florida and the southeast.  As a result, our enrollment has tripled, enabling us to expand our course offerings and career tracks.  Second, we’ve been able to bring three outstanding new faculty members into the Askew School for the 2021 -22 academic year, which will further enhance our programs.  Third, we are expanding engaged learning opportunities for our students that incorporate real-world projects into our classes.  For example, for the past year our students have been working with the City of Tallahassee and Leon County to help these governments strengthen the Community Human Services Partnership, which awards $4 million in annual grant funds to local nonprofit organizations that provide critical human services to residents.  Over the next year, three of our classes will continue this work and help the City and County develop better systems to track the outcomes being achieved with these funds.  Finally, I am part of a team with Penn State colleagues that has been selected by Pew to take over the Results First project, enabling us to both expand its work and incorporate it within our academic programs.  This will both create important research opportunities and enable us to give new public sector professionals better tools and skills to meet the growing challenges facing the world.   

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