Dr. Kearns receives prestigious NASPAA teaching excellence award

October 5, 2021

Dr. Kevin Kearns has received the Leslie A. Whittington Excellence in Teaching Award from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). This highly prestigious national award recognizes a faculty member in a NASPAA member school for excellence in teaching public policy, public affairs, or public administration over an extended time period, demonstrating outstanding contributions and sustained excellence through course content, course preparation, quality of advising impact, teaching innovation, mentoring, and receipt of teaching awards.  

Dr. Kearns joined the GSPIA faculty in 1987 as an associate professor and quickly distinguished himself as a highly productive researcher in public management, strategic planning, and leadership; an impactful and deeply engaged teacher in our Master of Public Administration program; and truly engaged scholar with deep connections and exceptional service commitments to the public, nonprofit, and foundation communities. 

He is known for his expertise in strategic planning, nonprofit management, and leadership. Dr. Kearns has presented more than 100 executive seminars, nationally and internationally, promoting ethical leadership. Along with a Fulbright Fellowship to teach nonprofit management in Czech Republic, he has lectured in Taiwan, Indonesia, Macedonia, and Brazil. 

He was nominated for the award by GSPIA Dean Carissa Slotterback in recognition of his many contributions to designing and teaching in GSPIA's curriculum in nonprofit organizations and management, his numerous GSPIA teaching awards and the Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Teaching, and his leadership of the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership and Hesselbein Leadership Forum. 

“As we have seen public affairs and administration education evolve over the years, Dr. Kearns is one of those faculty members who has led the charge for change in our institution and in our field. He consistently brings an enthusiasm for new approaches and willingness to try new things, gain new insights, and continue learn and grow,” Slotterback said. 

During his tenure at GSPIA, he has established the Nonprofit Clinic, a capstone course which serves as a pro bono regional consulting and technical assistance organization. Under the direction of Dr. Kearns, students have completed approximately over 10010 consulting projects on strategic planning, governance and leadership, financial management, social entrepreneurship, and other topics. It is conservatively estimated that the Nonprofit Clinic has contributed work valued at more than $1 million in consulting to area nonprofits.  

He also established the Leadership Portfolio Program, a leadership development program for GSPIA’s most motivated young leaders who serve as members of nonprofit boards of directors and engage in other leadership development and community engagement activities.  He was also integral to the early innovation in online teaching and distance learning at GSPIA and holds a deep commitment to community engagement.  

Of his impact, former students laud Kearns as a scholar and practitioner with an individualized and inclusive approach to teaching and hail his mentorship in the classroom and as they continue in their careers. 

World Affairs Council President and CEO Betty Cruz (MPA, ‘11) says, “Kevin makes it easy to understand the complexities of leadership because he models this in how he engages with everyone he meets — no matter their lived experience. His disarming, gentle, wise nature fosters trust and understanding, even when addressing difficult topics during challenging times.” 

Dr. Kearns will be recognized at the NASPAA Annual Conference virtual plenary meeting on October 29.

In reflecting on this award, Dr. Kearns noted “As I begin my final year of full-time teaching, I am reflecting on what an extraordinary privilege it has been to spend nearly every working day of my life among aspiring and accomplished professionals who are striving to make this world a better place through public service and have chosen GSPIA as a means toward that noble goal. I have learned far more from them than they have from me. I am enormously grateful to generations of students, to my colleagues in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the University of Pittsburgh, and to many generous mentors and role models through the years who demonstrated to me that teaching is at the heart of what we do as scholars.”