I am a proud son of the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia). I spent most of my early childhood growing up in East Falls Church neighborhood (EFC) of Arlington. My parents both worked for the federal government--My dad worked for the State Department and my mom put herself through night school learning database and information security management so she could eventually launch a very successful career at DARPA. My grandmother, a retired public-school teacher, lived nearby. As they say, it takes a village and I certainly exemplified this.

After my parents divorced, I spent half my time in EFC and half my time in the Potomac Avenue neighborhood of SE Washington, DC. While this was a hard adjustment, it ended up giving me a valuable perspective on race, class, and the privileges/burdens of being born in certain zip codes. This was especially true in the late 1990s and early 2000s (my high school and undergrad years). The DMV was changing as the internet revolution transformed the economy. But this growth was uneven, and I saw the rich-poor divide widen--especially as Potomac Avenue gentrified before my eyes. The failure of this rising tide to lift all boats, and losing good friends in the process, would eventually provide intense motivation for my research.   

Me and my Irish Setter, Molly. Circa 1985. 

Me and my Rottweiler, Jeffrey. Circa 2004.

I went to undergrad at Longwood University (then Longwood College). I chose Longwood because the campus environment and the Southside Virginia community were completely different than anything I experienced before. Like the transition to Potomac Avenue, it was difficult at first but in the end, it was rewarding to see and ultimately appreciate the lifestyles and perspectives of those who live very differently than me. However, I also saw poverty cycles reminiscent of Washington, DC. Prince Edward County Virginia was the last place in the South to desegregate--shutting down their school system for a decade. While the laws of Jim Crow were gone, the scars of structural racism still meant a lot of informal segregation in housing, economic and social spaces. This was further complicated by the region suffering from macro-economic decline as the furniture, manufacturing and paper industries slowly extinguished in Virginia. It was here that I began to appreciate how ingrained and universal structural inequity is. 

After I graduated from Longwood with a degree in psychology, I was recruited by a family friend to be a shift manager at a resort in St Croix, USVI that his company just bought. It was here that I first began to experiment with idea of working on community development. While we were a business first, we truly believed we were our brother's/sister's keepers. We sponsored numerous fundraisers for causes, provided a free meeting space for community organizing and guaranteed employment opportunities for disadvantaged candidates. After living on island for almost three years, I decided to make the jump from private to public servant.

On St. Croix, I realized even with the resources of a successful local business at my disposal, my ability to affect change on my own was limited. A lot was changing in 2006 and I felt I could no longer be on the sidelines in paradise. My subsequent journey took me from campaign volunteer to campaign staffer, to congressional aide, to policy professional. It is an understatement to call my experience here transformative. Registering new voters, mobilizing first-time activists, and delivering results on election day made me realize the power of being a part of something much greater. When the opportunity presented itself, I left for Capitol Hill to be directly involved in the policy process.

If there is one thing I could tell my then-self (or anyone who wants to get involved in public policy) is that nothing is every simple as it seems from the outside. Governing (and public policy in general) is a lot like repairing a car while it is driving, and without a clear diagnosis of what is wrong. I became a convert to consensus-building and the art of the possible. I came to realize that ideas meant little compared to the dynamics of implementation. I also started to wonder if there was another approach-- a rigorous, dispassionate scientific approach. And then almost on cue, I learned about the existence of policy sciences in an information session. I was convinced grad school and non-partisan policy research was where I belonged.

Me and my trusty laptop, Lance. Two weeks out from election day, 2008. 

Me at a conference discussing my first published paper. March, 2016.

Going back to grad school for public policy, I felt reborn. In grad school there wasn't a single class in public policy I didn't look forward to taking or whose course material I didn't consume like a ravenous monster--including the dreaded statistics and management courses. While most concepts of policy science were new to me, all were intuitive based on my experiences and observations. I ended up attending every conference and seminar I could find. After my masters, I returned to government to implement and analyze economic development programs. However, the siren's call of pure policy research continued to beckon me. I made it almost a year and a half before I decided to go back for my PhD. Each step of my journey, and especially as a doctoral-ing, has been a reminder of how much we still have to learn about ourselves and our surrounds. I almost feel guilty because this hasnt been the miserable, masochistic endurance exercise everyone said it would be--which I've chalked up to me having a solid, informed plan and executing it well. 

I'm excited to see where this journey continues to take me, and hopefully us. I can't help but think of the words of Frank Herbert, "The saga of Dune is far from over." So check back soon for the next chapter...