Dean Slotterback discusses experience, vision for GSPIA’s future

May 11, 2021

As she wraps up her first academic year, the newly appointed dean for the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, Carissa Schively Slotterback, continues to prioritize the schools’ initiatives for improving student access, enhancing research, institutionalizing diversity, equity and inclusion, and for providing new opportunities for engagement.

She spoke recently about her experiences at GSPIA thus far, including the opportunities, challenges, and future goals that have emerged in this past year.

Q: What have been some of the high points of your first six months?

A: It has been so wonderful to get to know the GSPIA community. Across staff and faculty, and students and alumni, there is a strong commitment and identity in this school. It has been great to discover fantastic partnerships with organizations like the UN Development Programme, FBI, PA Department of Environmental Protection, and more that offer students direct opportunities to gain professional experience. As I have been getting to know our alumni through virtual conversations and social media, I am so inspired by the amazing work that our graduates are doing in Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, and around the world. We’re fortunate to have such highly engaged and committed alums. I am also excited about the energy for and emerging progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the school. Later this spring, we’ll roll out a new GSPIA inclusive curriculum plan that will help us target new learning opportunities and build the capacity of GSPIA students, staff, and faculty to do work that advances social justice and anti-racism.

Q: What are the policy issues locally, nationally, and globally that will continue to shape public and international affairs?

A: Without a doubt, COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath will draw significant focus in the coming months and years. The pandemic has widened existing disparities, that will require new and extraordinary effort to address. The pandemic has also undermined the global interconnectedness, collaboration, and familiarity that are crucial to addressing complex global challenges such as human rights, migration, terrorism, and climate change. Even beyond the pandemic impacts, climate change is absolutely central to policy discussions here in Pittsburgh, at the federal level in the US, and across the globe. At GSPIA, I’m excited to build our capacity to engage on the issue of climate change and its impacts locally on communities and environmental justice, as well as more broadly on the global economy, human security, and conflict. In addition, the deepening political divide in the US, Europe, and elsewhere around the world is creating new challenges for progress on policy and building crossnational collaboration. The current situation adds new imperative for teaching and practicing policy and public administration with full attentiveness to politics.

Q: What have been your favorite places/experiences in Pittsburgh?

A: As an urban planner, I love exploring cities. It has been wonderful to get to know the city, its history, neighborhoods, and restaurants. I’m a big fan of Pitt’s urban campus and can’t wait to get to know Oakland when we can return to campus. Some early favorite destinations include Millie’s for ice cream (great vegan options), KLVN Coffee, Madeleine’s for the best macarons and a lovely outdoor space, White Whale Bookstore, and the Italian, Polish, and Mexican markets in the Strip District. I’m also fortunate to live near Frick Park and frequent the hills for power walks and I even did some cross-country skiing there this winter.

Q: What drew you to Pitt?

A: I was excited to join a school with both local connections and a global presence. Both in GSPIA and at Pitt, I see a clear commitment to being a global university and at the same time supporting meaningful engagement with the communities and issues nearby. In the interview, the innovative and creative orientation of Pitt’s leadership was clear, as was the strong public service orientation of the GSPIA students, staff, and faculty I connected with. Each of these characteristics is important to me as I seek inspiration and collaborators in the work ahead.

Q: We congratulated over 160 graduates earlier this month— what is your advice to them as they enter professional positions in public service?

A: My biggest piece of piece of advice is quite simple – it's just to know who are in this important work of public service. A career in service to the public good can be incredibly rewarding and motivating, it can also be draining as challenges can loom large and complex. Take the time to reflect on why you do this work and why it matters. Being a changemaker requires persistence, a long view, continuous learning, and lots of collaboration. Be sure to care for yourself as you are caring for others.