Skip to main content

Happy 2022! Looking Back with Dean Granato January 4, 2022

As the New Year kicks off, I want to wish everyone a prosperous 2022 and take a few moments to reflect on some of our recent accomplishments that begins our year on a high note.

First off, funding for a new Hobby School building was one of the biggest highlights of the year and it is no exaggeration to say one of the most important since the creation of the school. It has been some years in the making and thanks to the leadership of state Rep. Garnet Coleman, we are in the process now of developing plans for a building that will serve as a hub for public policy education and service in the region. It will be people-friendly, support a collaborative culture – we will be working with experts on creating that kind of structure – and incorporate spaces and technology to enhance our productivity and contributions far into the future.

COVID-19 didn’t slow us down in 2021.

Among other things, we received a significant gift from former Congressman Gene Green to establish the Honorable Gene Green Endowment for the Leland Fellows who intern in Washington, D.C. We also launched the CONNECT program in partnership with the University of Texas RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs to place UH graduate students in nonprofits where they work on evaluation and data projects. The inaugural cohort of Harris Fellows, made possible by the Cougar Initiative to Engage and the Hobby School, completed their 2021 internships at the county level. The first-ever Social Economy and Enterprise Academy placed public policy and economics interns in nonprofit organizations to work on social enterprise ideas, quantitative research or venture plans. 

On the research front, our teams produced numerous reports informing lawmakers, and community and business leaders, including groups such as the Texas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Harris County Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Austin City Council. The reports were amplified on social media and in media outlets including KERA News, Houston Chronicle, Austin American Statesman, Texas Standard, Climate News, Houston Public Media, and others.   Pablo Pinto, Gail Buttorff and their teams worked with the Austin Chamber of Commerce to study what impacts the COVID-19 pandemic had on Central Texas businesses, and how the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program helped many from shuttering, though not all.

Our elections and demographics team kicked off the five-year research project with the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. The first report, Texas Trends 2021, studied the effects of new legislation including Texas Senate Bill 8, the new abortion law, transgender youth and sports participation, and criminal justice reform bills. Senior Director Renée Cross analyzed the 2020 census results, Texas population growth, redistricting and how these issues affect our politics and policy on broadcast and print media outlets. Senior Research Fellows, Richard Murray and Mark Jones also contributed to the Hobby Schools media presence.

It was both reinvigorating and daunting for faculty returning to the classroom, but everybody muscled through the difficulties to make the transition as smooth as possible. Additionally, we are conducting searches to fill five new faculty positions that will help us meet our growing teaching and research demands. That’s a large number of special people to find, but a good problem to have. This spring I am teaching my first face-to-face class since March 2020. I am looking forward to getting back to the classroom.

The Hobby School welcomed several new faces to our team. Jessica Gottlieb who studies political economy of development in places like sub-Saharan Africa, as well as political polarization in the U.S., will be working on research in Africa this spring. We welcomed Norm Johnson from the UH Bauer College of Business as a joint faculty member. He will add his expertise in psychometric analysis, data mining and predictive analytics to our portfolio of quantitative academic specialties. We’ve added associated faculty from the College of Technology, College of Education, and the Law Center, to increase our influence in these areas. Ethicist and political historian Andrew Jewett, the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Center on Ethics and Leadership’s Visiting Scholar-in-Residence is teaching a course in environmental justice this spring. Maria Paula Perez de Argüelles joined the research team from Texas A&M University as a research associate. Her interest in the use of quantitative and qualitative methods centers on bridging the gap between theory and practice.

This year, we will open up new opportunities for students at the No. 3 ranked university in Taiwan, the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. The new international agreement, directed by the indefatigable Professor Sunny Wong and former Hobby School colleague Ching-Hsing Wang, creates what we hope to be the first of many international collaborative education opportunities.

We welcome our first group of undergraduate public policy students this spring, along with a growing number of MPP graduate and certificate students. We are fortunate to attract some of the best and brightest that UH has to offer.

The Civic Houston Internship Program (CHIP) gathered for a 25th Anniversary to celebrate the public service laboratory founded by Richard Murray and Christopher Wlezien. More than 1,500 students have participated in the program, serving as interns in local government, political and nonprofit offices to learn the value of public service and policy. Many CHIP alumni are now elected officials, civic leaders and public service professionals.

Of course, with the good news starts the work. Two recently awarded grants from the National Science Foundation will address current policy issues – one for “Artificial-Intelligence-based Decision Support for Equitable and Resilient Food Distribution during Pandemics and Extreme Weather Events,” with the Houston Food Bank (Elizabeth Anderson-Fletcher, senior personnel) and another, “Data Science for Energy Transition,” (Pablo Pinto, Co-PI, Sunny Wong, senior personnel) totaling $2.5 million. The work will increase our viability and reach into critical areas of research. We are very excited to launch these initiatives in the months to come.

Our team produced several episodes of the Hobby Hour, the hour-long interactive webinar featuring the icons and ideas guiding the public policy of the day. Health care, congressional civility, the census and redistricting, and women in leadership lined up the fall shows. There’s more to come in the form of state leaders and other important figures with valuable public policy experiences. 
Our ongoing Certified Public Management Program did not miss a beat during the pandemic. Classes were offered virtually during the height of the social distancing period, transitioning to a combination of virtual and face-to-face with social distancing. I commend instructors Arquella Hargrove, Alex Obregon and Mustafa Tameez as well as Chelsea O’Hara and Diana Benitez who kept the program running at a time when managers were in great need of leadership training and support.

In fact, I want to thank every member of the Hobby School team and its supporters including President Renu Khator, Provost Paula Short, our advisory board members, alumni and students whose backing and belief in our mission keep us moving forward. We are primed to take on 2022 outfitted with all of our successes, and the hope and promise of great opportunities to come.

Jim Granato

Dean, Hobby School of Public Affairs