By: Rachael Andrews
Dr. Ben Brunjes (MPA ’12, PhD ’16) was awarded the Stanley W. Shelton Graduate Fellowship during his time at UGA. Now, he gives back to School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) students as a donor and alumnus.
“Giving back is my way to make sure that the School and the Department continue to be as impactful for students now as they were for me.”
Brunjes earned his Master of Public Administration (MPA) at SPIA in 2012. He credits that program for much of his success. “The MPA at the University of Georgia is a world class degree and one of the best programs for public administration in the country,” he says.
While pursuing his MPA, Brunjes spent time in one of Dr. Larry O’Toole’s classes, where he realized that many of the concepts in class were immediately applicable for his career in national preparedness policy.
“I had been a researcher for most of my career,” Brunjes explains. “I realized I could stay at UGA and get my PhD not only to continue my research, but to train students and shape the way future public servants see the world.” Brunjes completed his PhD in SPIA’s Department of Public Administration and Policy in 2016, and was quickly recruited into a highly competitive position as an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. His areas of specialty include the intersection of public management and leadership, as well as budgeting, finance and government contracting.
“Growing up, my father was a professor, but I still get surprised by all the things the students don’t see,” Brunjes reflects. “There’s so much behind-the-scenes service that faculty do that students may not realize.” Beyond his research and teaching, Brunjes spends his time supporting state and local policymakers, writing letters of recommendation for students, advising students both personally and professionally, and serving on professional committees for public administration scholarship.
That dedication to academia, service, and his students began at SPIA.
“UGA was formative for me in terms of both my career and the way I look at the world,” Brunjes says. “My life changed immeasurably while I was in Athens: I had 2 children, received a world-class graduate education, and made some of the most important professional connections of my life.”
As a recipient of the Stanley W. Shelton Graduate Fellowship, Brunjes knows that donating to universities is critical for students’ success.
“I want to make sure that it’s possible for other students who are going through what I was going through, to have the support they need,” Brunjes explains. “Around the country, I see graduate education become more underfunded, especially in the social sciences. It’s so rewarding to help students get their education and eventually, their dream jobs.”
Brunjes also wants to make sure there’s a pipeline for new public administration and policy faculty as older faculty retire.
“I want to help make sure that they are replaced by advocates for students, who can give students as much support as they gave me,” he points out.
Brunjes says the public administration and policy program at SPIA provided him with an unmatched academic rigor, as well as a strong emphasis on equity and fairness in government. For current students, his advice is to go out and make governments, nonprofits, and social entrepreneurial organizations work better for people.
Brunjes is currently working on research about the response to COVID-19 in government contracting and procurement, especially trying to get the right equipment and supplies to frontline and healthcare workers.
“I study contracting and network management — some of the most important things the government does in times of emergency,” he explains. “Government is a facilitator more than anything, moving supplies from one place to the next.”
Brunjes is also preparing to teach an online class about executive ethics, a highly emotional and personal topic. While challenging in a remote setting, Brunjes is excited for the opportunity, saying, “UGA prepared me well to take big, complicated ideas and communicate them in different, meaningful ways.”
Private funding makes it possible to recruit PhD students like Ben, and you can be a part of providing that opportunity through the PADP Doctoral Fellowship Fund.