Trachtenberg School director focuses on preparing students for careers in first year

Media Credit: Eric Lee | Staff Photographer

Mary Tschirhart, the director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, said she will leverage her connections with nonprofit leaders in D.C. to bring new programming to the school.

Updated: May 11, 2020 at 5:39 p.m.

The director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration said she was reminded of why she belonged at GW when she saw seniors helping community members during their capstone presentations at the end of the fall semester.

Mary Tschirhart said she emphasized her commitment in the past year to preparing students to face the ongoing challenges they will encounter as public servants, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she has worked to reinforce connections between community leaders in the District and members of the Trachtenberg School during her first year as director and has utilized her experience in nonprofit management to encourage members of the school to move toward “making a positive difference.”

When officials announced last year that Tschirhart would become director of the Trachtenberg School, she said at the time that she wanted to use GW’s location to “connect community members to life beyond the classroom,” which she said she has done by taking advantage of her previous relationships with nonprofit leaders across the District.

Tschirhart said she utilized the existing connections that faculty and alumni of the Trachtenberg School have to create new networking opportunities for students, including a series of new events for the fall semester on topics that are of “special interest” to leaders of nonprofit organizations.

“The connections that have been forged through the years really are very strong, and part of my job is to help maintain those while creating new ones,” she said.

Tschirhart, who has worked at Ohio State, Indiana, North Carolina State and Syracuse universities teaching nonprofit management and governance, took over the position of director from Kathryn Newcomer, who has since returned to a full-time teaching position in the school after taking a sabbatical during the fall semester. She said her experience in nonprofit work has prepared her for the accountability required for her position as director of the school.

“I really see the importance of nonprofits being accountable to a range of stakeholders, and the mindset is that you’re not really an owner of a nonprofit, you’re a trusted steward, and I think that’s true in this setting as well,” she said.

Tschirhart said she is “proud” of how faculty, staff, students and alumni have stepped up to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

“They’re working to create a better future while dealing with weird pressures facing them today,” she said.

She said the Trachtenberg School will have more of a need in the upcoming academic year for external financial resources due to the pandemic, and it will be a “tough year” financially for the University.

Officials said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday they expect GW to lose between $100 million and $300 million in revenue depending on University operations in the fall.

Tschirhart said many of the school’s donors have recently renewed and increased their financial commitment to the school, which will be particularly necessary in the coming years due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on GW’s finances.

She added that Trachtenberg School officials added a new scholarship this academic year called the Trachtenberg Scholarship for Equity and Public Service, and a fellowship for students with careers in homeland security, emergency management or national defense. She said these additions allow officials to ensure qualified students can “take advantage” of the Trachtenberg School’s offerings regardless of their financial resources.

Tschirhart said based on her experience in nonprofit management and governance, trust is “interwoven” with good management and governance structures, which she has encountered during her time as director of the school.

Since beginning as director of the school last year, she said she has learned through her experiences that her job is not a “one person show” but rather a community effort.

“Every place has people who are dedicated to making a positive difference, no matter their role, and that’s been true at every place I’ve been at, and I’ve seen my job as encouraging them in moving on that path,” she said. “While external resources are extremely important, and it’s nice to have a lot of them, what’s really, really important is the inner drive of the individual that gets the job done.”

The school is attracting “excellent” students, and the incoming class is projected to be as large and accomplished as current students in the Trachtenberg School, she said.

Tschirhart said based on feedback that officials have received from this year’s graduates, students in the Class of 2020 will be in “rewarding careers” relating to public policy.

“We haven’t heard of cancellation of jobs, internships, so that’s been great,” she said.

This story has been updated to clarify the following:
This post has been updated to clarify two quotes from Tschihart.

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