After having established a successful career working in government and academia, David Blanding has returned to the place where he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science — Brown University — bringing with him a wealth of practical, research and teaching experience. In July of 2023, he assumed the role of director of Watson's Master of Public Affairs program.
Returning to Brown
Prior to joining Watson, Blanding worked for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan agency that conducts research on federal policies and programs for Congress where he served as director of Leadership and Executive Development Programs in their Learning Center where he advised teams on conducting performance audits of federal programs and agencies. Blanding previously taught political science, public policy and law at American University, McDaniel College and Brown University. He has also published research on U.S. voting, economic development and social welfare policies. Earlier in his career, he advocated for racial justice at the American Civil Liberties Union.
When asked why he returned to Brown, Blanding responded, "I'm really driven by Watson's mission to create a more just and peaceful world. It's an ambitious goal but it's what we need right now." He continued, "I see the MPA program playing a critical role in achieving that mission because we train the people who ideally will become leaders in the field of public affairs and be in those roles creating the more just and peaceful world that we're all seeking."
Taking on a leadership role
Blanding said he is excited to take on a leadership role in the MPA program, "As someone who studies public policy and politics and is trained as a political scientist, it's an opportunity for me to contribute to shaping the next generation of policy leaders, which I think is really important because there's no doubt that we are awash in problems — both social and political — in the world right now."
Blanding noted that he has been deeply involved with the MPA curriculum since his arrival at Watson in the fall of 2022. "I am also an associate professor of practice at Watson and in that capacity last year I started teaching several MPA courses, including one that I developed called Principles and Practices of Stakeholder Engagement, one I inherited from another faculty member, Race and Public Policy, and third the course that accompanies the Policy in Action Project that all of our MPA students have to complete," said Blanding.
"After that first year," he continued, "Watson's leadership approached me about assuming the role of faculty director of the MPA program, at what I think is a propitious time given Watson's growth. Having people like Susan Moffitt who's now director of academic programs and Anya Bassett who's performing in a similar capacity on the undergraduate side will help Watson mature and develop over the next few years."
Training students to make a difference
Blanding said Watson's MPA graduates are trained to make a difference in the world. "We teach how to change the world, and how to change public policy in particular," he said. "We equip students with the skills they need to do that."
"We deal with human beings — human behavior,” said Blanding, “which is inherently unpredictable. Blanding said that unpredictability means a specific set of skills is needed in the field. "You have to be adept at things like communication, project management and emotional intelligence," he said. "Our courses are designed to foster the development of those skills — the technical and non-technical skills, and what I like to call 'the social skills of leadership.' These skills will help our students become the leaders that we need."