by Kirk P. Watson University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs
Kirk P. Watson is dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. He is a former state senator and mayor of Austin.
“Right now, arguably more than ever, our communities need these trailblazers who are unafraid of tough challenges.”
Some people are driven by a desire to do good for communities of all kinds. Public policy — as an education and a career — helps quench this need to serve.
Right now, arguably more than ever, our communities need these trailblazers who are unafraid of tough challenges. We are emerging from the global pandemic, still recovering from the winter power crisis and battling racial injustice. We are hungry for a new generation of leaders in government agencies, nonprofits, foundations and private companies who can navigate the social and technical challenges around these issues to make our society stronger and more equitable.
To cultivate these future leaders, the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston will launch two new undergraduate degree programs in January 2022, complementing our graduate degree offerings in public policy.
As an educator and former policymaker, I know students have many choices about what to study. There are different paths to meet their personal and professional needs, generate knowledge and help their communities and the world.
Among these options in our increasingly complex world, the study of public policy is unique and vital. It helps communities address the challenges we face now and will face in coming years.
Many of the big questions have public policy answers. Those include traditional political questions around issues like health care and education, of course. But they also include new private-sector dilemmas, like aligning organizations and brands with a fast-changing political landscape.
“More and more of the big questions have public policy answers.”
As the largest research university in Texas to offer bachelor’s degrees in public policy, the University of Houston aspires to help meet this need. The Hobby School team designed the program toempower students with the tools and skills they will need to understand and shape policy. Key to these are the principles, laws, regulatory measures and priorities of governmental bodies.
Inside the classroom, the coursework will be rooted in areas of greatest need for policy makers: ethics, communications, leadership and writing. It will blend social sciences, history, and both qualitative and quantitative analysis to develop critical thinking and help Hobby School students challenge conventional wisdom.
Outside the classroom, our students will work in internships and fellowships — everywhere from local, national and international agencies to community-based organizations in the public and private sectors. We will build on UH’s existing partnerships, giving outside employers the perspective and presence needed to tackle our community’s challenges — and equipping our students with the experience and exposure needed to find bold solutions.
Our students’ classroom and laboratory will be Houston itself: the fourth largest city in the nation, the energy capital of the world and one of the most diverse places on Earth.
Our location has helped the Hobby School draw world-class faculty with decades of experience teaching students, conducting research, shaping policy and leading major agencies and organizations.
As a former mayor of Austin and a state senator, I’ve marveled for decades at Houston’s unparalleled contributions to Texas’ economy and culture. The past year as the Hobby School’s dean has given me an even deeper understanding of the opportunities Houston offers; I want our students to leverage them. Public policy decisions made here drive the quality of life and affect millions of people every day.
For our programs, we will recruit top high school graduates who have demonstrated leadership in their communities, as well as transfer and community college students and those who have overcome obstacles in life to make it to college. Their perspectives will be vital to developing sound, equitable and compassionate public policy.
Hobby School students will become city managers, mayors, senators and governors; business executives and corporate leaders; and policy analysts, research associates, government affairs managers and public relations specialists. They will infuse organizations and agencies with leadership and perspective. They will drive Texas forward.
This is not a path for the faint of heart. But it is a path that will help Texas overcome its challenges at a crucial moment in history. And it’s one that Hobby School students will be uniquely prepared to forge.