May 2016 Faculty Spotlight
May Faculty Spotlight with Practitioner, Ben Branham
Executive MPA students at the School of Public Affairs enjoy an expansive yet focused look at what it means to accelerate their career and elevate their impact via the professor-practitioner approach. In our first practitioner spotlight, Ben Branham describes how his career ties in with co-teaching in the Executive MPA program, discusses working with Dean Birdsell, and recalls memorable efforts by their students.
How did you get involved with the School’s Executive MPA program?
I’ve been interested in teaching and looking for the right opportunity to do so for some time.I’ve long been fan of Baruch and its Executive MPA Program, and became even more intrigued when Rob Walsh took over as Faculty Director. (I worked for him early in his tenure as Commissioner of the City’s Department of Small Business Services under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.)And when the chance arose to team up with Dean David Birdsell, who is an absolute master of the craft, I couldn’t think of a more compelling opportunity.
What about your career as a whole made the prospect of co-teaching Communications in Public Settings appealing?
As someone who’s always had a deep love and appreciation for academics and dialectic, but who has spent the entirety of my career to date as a practitioner, I firmly believe that any successful communications course must strike the right balance between theory and practice.Having worked in [New York] City government under multiple administrations and being in the thick of debates around several major economic development projects gave me great exposure to case studies that could help inform the practice side of that equation. And the prospect of doing so with David Birdsell, who understands the structure of sound arguments and political discourse as well as anyone, was a pretty easy sell.
What was it like to teach alongside Dean Birdsell?
The guy is a master as his craft, and is inspiring to watch.Being in the room with him not only further motivated me to bring my A-game but reinvigorated my own approach to constructing fundamentally-sound and persuasive arguments.He reminded me of the reason we seek advanced degrees in the first place – he’s a walking encyclopedia when it comes to public affairs, and that constant thirst for and application of knowledge is contagious.
The Executive MPA practice-practitioner approach in your class culminated in students preparing an op-ed and two memoranda. Can you recall any that were particularly engaging or compelling?
They were all compelling! I honestly was impressed with the caliber of the cohort as a whole, and everyone in the class made significant progress in enhancing their arguments with the respective assignments.
Not to pick favorites, but to cite three that I’ve continued to think about would be the compelling case made by Mary Morales on the potential impact of broader usage of IUDs to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the argument by Pat Williams on the critical need for Housing Works to better serve youth LGBT populations, and the strategy recommended by Kaitlin Tyler on how the Girl Scouts can reverse the decline in membership.