Civic Leadership Series – Part 1 of 6

The Civic Leadership Minor offered through PSU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs is an interdisciplinary, immersive track that cultivates theoretical and practical understanding of the history and praxis of leadership. Its curriculum is also rich with Community Based Learning (CBL): hands-on experience that develops responsive and informed leadership skills. In its final integrative seminar, students reflect on what they’ve learned throughout the minor, develop a personal portfolio of their leadership work, and are provided the opportunity to pair-up in teams to interview two influential local leaders about their own civic journeys. This year, our interview work was guided by a helpful heuristic developed by Dr. Masami Nishishiba, Associate Director of the Center for Public Service (CPS) in the Hatfield School of Government, and her colleague Dan Vizzini, a Senior Fellow also at CPS.

Series 1 of 6 student blog post

The diagram (above) reflects their keen observations of civic engagement in action over the years. While it’s laid out in a planar fashion visually, conceptually the quadrants are meant to be multidimensional, telling the story of leaders at the most commonly-shared stages of their development and practice. Dr. Nishishiba explained to our class that, while every leader experiences their development differently, most of the leaders that they observed began their journeys as a reaction to a singular interest, with low-level skillsets in and a less-than-nuanced understanding of the interdependent issues that related to their cause. As they grew and developed as leaders, though, most that could have been plotted in sections A or D originally, were observed to acquire the skill sets and knowledge to traverse towards the other ends of the spectrum, not only in terms of interests and understanding, but also in cultivating the leadership skills that are required to organize across a diverse spectrum.

Equipped with this guiding instrument as a reference point, we set out on our interviews in the hopes that we might glean insight enough to contribute to this developing leadership model. We were both more than eager to sit down with our interviewees, but neither of us anticipated how much they have in common.

Charles McGee is a Liberian immigrant

Charles McGee is a Liberian immigrant in his early thirties, affable, boisterous, with socks as loud and endearing as his laugh and the kind of charisma that attracts attention immediately. His leadership story started early, with strong examples of civic engagement modeled by his family in Liberia before they fled the civil war in 1989, and again later, in the Northeast neighborhoods in which he was raised. Charles did not let immigrating to a new country deter his civic development, rather, he drew upon his experiences and accelerated it. At 19 he ran for the Portland school board and although he didn’t win he drew quite a bit from the experience. In speaking about his experience in running for office Charles stated “When I went through it I learned so much about myself, I learned that I was tough, I learned that I care what people think, I learned that I ultimately do believe in what I do, I learned that I love this community and over the last couple of years I’ve also learned that I can do and get things done without being elected…there are multiple ways to lead and to change the world.” It was those experiences that Charles drew on, in creating the Black Parent Initiative and through it Charles executes the work that matters most to him: educating, uplifting, supporting and enriching black families.

Sue Hildick

At a glance, you might not think that his work, (or even his life story), has much to do with Sue Hildick – but you’d be wrong. Sue is a fourth-generation education advocate and native Oregonian. While her presentation is more modest and her demeanor subdued, Sue immediately commands every bit as much attention with her thoughtful communication, gracious and inquisitive nature that shines through her attentive and welcoming stare. Sitting with Sue you get a sense that she is taking the experience in, without judgement, and truly listening – attributes that have served her well in her leadership journey. Like Charles, Sue wasted no time in her youth, quickly ascending the political ranks to be a legislative to former U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield, director of government relations at Oregon Health Sciences University, and CEO of the Oregon Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross – all before she was 40 years old. For the past thirteen years, Sue has served as the President of The Chalkboard Project. Calling upon her lessons in leadership and her connections as a Board Chair of the Women’s Foundation of Oregon, Sue has managed to build a thriving coalition of Oregon’s largest foundations to focus and streamline efforts to improve public education throughout the state. Sue summed up her main goal as “My vision is about how does the quality of life in this state get better? It only gets better, to me, if the education system is far better and that is why I do the work that I do and that’s what motivates me is a sense of place that is really, really deep.”

So, what do these two leaders have in common, besides their enthusiasm for education advocacy? While they may have different demeanors, both leaders have thrived in their journeys despite arbitrary obstacles like gender and race. Each has created their own nonprofits and have prioritized their work therein above the opportunity to run for public office, and each has received great accolades for their work. Charles has been recognized as one of the most influential African American leaders in Oregon, and with ten additional years of accomplishments under her belt, Sue has been recognized with distinction more often than not in the last several years, including titles of: New Leadership Oregon’s 2009 Woman Leader of the Year, Nonprofit CEO of the Year by the Portland Business Journal, twice as one of Oregon’s Fifty Great Leaders by Oregon Business Magazine, Oregon’s top 40 under 40 and most recently Sue was selected as a Presidio Institute Fellow in 2016. Given his drive and all that he’s accomplished thus far, we’re sure Charles will follow suit. Most importantly to our project, though, is that each of our interviewees named the same missing components from the model we asked them to engage with, namely: relationships.

Since both Sue and Charles were raised in families in which leadership was modeled, they each adapted leadership styles earlier-on in their trajectory than most leaders. As such, neither felt that they fit squarely into the most common starting points delineated on the Leadership Model that we used. What they related to us was the importance of the relationships that propelled them ever onward and upward. In Charles’ case, hard lessons learned about being a shining star early on and the type of fickle supporters that can be attracted to malleable new leadership talent has helped inform his process of choosing the relationships he relies on more judiciously. In Sue’s case, it was the opportunity to work with Mark O. Hatfield and to learn about relationship building from his unique, inclusive and equitable team-building style that helped shape her into the leader that she is today. In order for the leadership model to be complete, both Charles McGee and Sue Hildick agree that it should reflect the trajectory of leaders that build their legacy through the relationship they make, and the interdependence of all of the work that has yet to be done. In reference to these ideas Sue mentioned that “Now, the whole conversation is about equity and that’s about empathy and really listening and understanding many more perspectives that are frankly very hard to find in Oregon sometimes, and make sure the table is set right and we are learning that now, as a 52 year old leader I am deeply engaged and learning that now.”

CPS Blog written by Shane Jaqua & Adriane Ackerman

Edited by Peter Chaille,Ph.D., Masami Nishishiba, Ph.D., and Jennifer Martinez, Public Affairs and Policy Doctoral Student.

Civic Leadership Model

By: Masami Nishishiba, Ph.D. Associate Director, CPS

Dan Vizzini, Senior Fellow, CPS

During the last 14 years, CPS has been providing a leadership training program for the Japanese local government managers. The theme of this training program is “citizen-centered governance.” Using case studies, site visits, and interviews, the program provides opportunities for the participants to explore their role in local governance while making cross-cultural comparison between Oregon and their respective local jurisdiction in Japan.

One of the most frequent comments we hear from the Japanese participants ¾ typically midway through the program ¾ sounds like this: “It appears that there are many civic leaders in Oregon, which we don’t have in Japan. How can I help develop more civic leaders in my city?”

To facilitate the discussion in response to this question on developing civic leaders, we developed a heuristic tool that assists the participants to think about the typology and pathways of civic leaders. Here’s a brief explanation of this tool we call “Civic Leadership Model” (See figure).


In this model, we use two key dimensions to identify different typologies of civic leaders. The two dimensions are: (1) knowledge, skill and experience, represented on the vertical axes, and (2) focus of interest, represented on the horizontal axes.

Knowledge, skill and experience: While some people may have innate propensities to take the leadership role in their civic engagement, they are usually not fully equipped with the necessary knowledge, skill and experience when they first take the role/become the leaders. People acquire knowledge and develop skills to be civic leaders as they gain more experience being in the leadership role. If we were to plot the typical civic leader’s pathway, therefore, they typically start from the lower end of the vertical axes (ill-informed, unskilled, and inexperience), and move upward alongside the vertical axes towards the upper end of the axes (knowledgeable, skilled and experienced) as they mature as the civic leader.

Focus of interest: People engage in public affairs because of their interests. Some people’s interests can be focused around a single issue that matters to them at the personal level. They get motivated to make a difference in some focused issue and start taking actions. The left end of the horizontal axes represents those who are attached to a fixed position on a single issue based on individual interest. For example, a parent whose child is in the K-12 school system may become active in advocating for improving funding for a particular elementary school. In this case, the focus of the interest is specific and singular (i.e. K-12 public school funding), and the motivation to engage originates from the personal interest (i.e. provide better education to the person’s own child). With a very narrow focus on the interest, the approach taken by those represented on this end of the axes can be in competition with others who are focused on another specific issue. For example, when the funding is limited, those who are advocating to increase funding for K-12 public schools may end up competing for the financial resources with those who are advocating for other causes, such as public safety and human services.

Some people take interest in broader public good. The right end of the horizontal axes represents those who are more inclined to compromise in order to resolve multiple issues in a collaborative manner and advance a consensus solution so the larger public can get the benefit. For example, a person may decide to engage in the citizen budget committee to contribute to the deliberation of public service funding in general. As a member of the budget committee, this person needs to be mindful of funding needs for multiple public services (e.g. public school systems, public safety, human services), and take a comprehensive view in allocating funding so different public needs are met.

Typology of civic leaders

As the model in the figure shows, the two dimensions with vertical and horizontal axes create four quadrants which represent different types of civic leadership style, i.e. : (A) advocate, (B) leader, (C) participant/volunteer, and (D) reactionary.

Advocates are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced individuals who advocate for a singular focused issue or a set of aligned interests. Leaders are those who are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced individuals who take actions for the broader public good. Participants/volunteers are not so knowledgeable, skilled nor experienced. They take actions for broader public good or become willing and supportive followers, interested in the betterment of their community. Reactionaries are not so knowledgeable, skilled nor experienced. They generally react to events or policies that impact them personally or run counter to their personal values and political perspectives. Reactionaries may start out with limited knowledge, skills or experience, motivated by a passionate defense of their self interest as it relates to a singular focused issue.

In our Japanese local government managers training program, we ask the participants to use this model to analyze the civic leaders they meet in Portland, and also the civic leaders in Japan. We ask them to plot the civic leaders on the model, and explain why they categorize them as such. We also ask them to think about the pathways the leaders followed to get to where they are at today. This exercise usually stimulates active discussion among the participants, and sometimes provides some hints on how they can work with and help develop/cultivate the civic leaders back in Japan.

This year, we asked PSU undergraduate students who are in the Civic Leadership Minor program to apply this model to analyze the civic leaders they interviewed for the class assignment. Following this blog post: for the next six weeks, we will post the analysis conducted by the students.


Interview with Dr. Craig Shinn

In light of our 3rd Annual Celebrating Public Service Gala, Honoring Dr. Craig Shinn’s Lifetime Contributions to Conciliatory Governance, we spent a little time with him reflecting on his career as a practitioner and an academic. He spoke to us about the meaning of governance, his legacy, emerging issues, and advice for those who are new to public service. He gave us a peek at a book project he will be working on as he enters retirement. Below are some excerpts and summary from our interview.

What is Governance?

“Governance” is the topic of passion for Dr. Shinn. In the interview he emphasized the importance governance in our everyday life.

He defines governance as the rules of the game for creating agreements requiring different resolutions at every social scale to fit polity differences and set rules that allow us to arbitrate value differences and do politics well. He underscores once collaborative work is done, we turn to and depend on government to hold and carry out agreements over time. These institutional arrangements are what make components of the market economy such as property rights, contract law, and monetary policy work.

What are your major contributions while at PSU?

In an effervescent tone he described himself as an academic who sees himself in practice characterized as a hybrid between academic and practitioner. He notes that one of his contributions is meeting the learning needs of public service professionals at various levels.  His work with public service professionals is not limited to degree based activities. For example, he has also worked with mid-career professionals at the request of federal executives seeking additional competencies for their staff.

His contributions have been predicated by his thirty years of practice. As part of the 7th American Forest Congress, he helped create heroic agreements at a time when armed conflict and violence was present in the woods. All of his contributions emanate from applying strong theory and incorporating challenges practitioners face.

He is proud of the success of his students and becomes overjoyed when he sees students in practice, building on what they’ve learned in the academic program that reflect contributions from the Hatfield School.

Describe an emerging issue in the field.

When Dr. Shinn began his work, the focus was on getting practitioners to see beyond individual roles and expand their perspectives to an organizational and institutional level. Today, the work in public service requires a broad perspective. He says “We need to move between sectors, move across the landscape.” In his forthcoming book, co-authored with Dr. Ingle and Dr. Morgan, they argue it is no longer sufficient to focus on creating vital organizations. Instead we must create polity leaders and measure our success in terms of residual to the community and society as a whole.

Advice for students entering public service.

Dr. Shinn believes people who choose public service careers are doing special work in society. Unfortunately, however, they have become the targets of dislike, dismay, and distrust. The public service work is typically done in the shadows; but the seemingly marginal every day work matters in making a real difference. Those of us in public service need to work well technically and politically. We need to be open to the fact that technical work may be disputed, not because of facts, but because the variations in the meanings attached to the work.

We thank Dr. Shinn for his time at Portland State University and with the Center for Public Service and wish him well as he transitions to retirement.

If you are interested in attending the Dinner and Symposium, there is still time to register.

Interview and summary by Jennifer Martinez, Graduate Assistant at the Center for Public Service.

Edited by Dr. Masami Nishishiba

Who Votes for Mayor?

The 2016 Election is now behind us – but across the country, local government officials are gearing up for the 2017 election cycle.

That’s right – in most U.S. cities (though not in Oregon), key offices like Mayors and city commissioners are elected in odd-year contests. And thanks to a major grant that CPS and PSU’s Population Research Center received last year from the Knight Foundation, our recent research has provided unprecedented insight into the question of “Who Votes for Mayor?”

Our research team — co-led by me and PRC Director Jason Jurjevich, with help from Kevin Rancik, Carson Gorecki, and Stephanie Hawke —  analyzed over 23 million voting records. The most visible finding of our work – looking at 50 cities across the U.S., including Portland, is that the general answer is voter turnout is “shockingly low.”

Across the 50 cities, turnout of eligible citizens averaged just over 20%. Eligible citizen turnout in 10 of the largest cities was an abysmal 15%, and in cities such as Las Vegas, Fort Worth, and Dallas it was in the single digits.

Our research revealed that the single most important determinant of voter turnout is age, overshadowing other factors such as household income, education, and race/ethnicity. In many communities residents 65 and older were 15 times more likely to cast a ballot than their younger counterparts between the ages of 18 and 34. The study was able to clarify how wide the voter age gap actually is.  Across all 50 cities, the median age of voters who actually cast ballots was 57, nearly a generation older than the median age (42) of eligible voters.


Democracy is the core principle on which our constitution rests. Low voter turnout inevitably means that disproportionate influence will be exercised by a small segment of residents, affecting critical issues like schools, parks, housing, libraries, police, fire and transportation. This creates a strong motivation for local government candidates – not to mention elected officials – to pay more attention to courting relatively small shares of their communities – often to the detriment of paying attention to the much broader community.

Portland, incidentally, fared quite well in this research, with a 59.4% turnout, the highest of 50 cities studied. The biggest reason for this: the determinative mayor’s election in 2012 was one of the few held at the same time as the November Presidential election. But I also think that Oregon’s “vote at home” system may have also played a role.

There’s no large, 200+ page study associated with this work; rather, the project resulted in a highly interactive website by which citizens can zero into individual census tracts and compare a wide range of election-related metrics with such Census data as income, education, race/ethnicity, and employment rates.

For the full interactive website click here.

This post was written by Phil Keisling, Director of Center for Public Service and edited by CPS.

Advancing International Scholarship and Public Administration Practice

~By Eric Einspruch
Senior Fellow, Center for Public Service, Portland State University
Adjunct Professor, Division of Public Administration, Portland State University
Principal, ELE Consulting, LLC

The fourth International Conference on Government Performance Management and Leadership was held in Lanzhou, Gansu, China from October 9–11, 2015. The conference, held every other year since 2009, brings together scholars and practitioners from across the globe in the field of performance management and is sponsored in part by Portland State University’s Hatfield School of GoLanzhou 1vernment. The conference convenes participants to discuss contemporary topics in public administration, with the purpose of proposing creative solutions for administrative systems reform and the improvement of government performance. This year’s conference theme was Rule of Law and Government Performance, particularly as it relates to increasing government trust and legitimacy.


A wide variety of topics were covered during the conference, including topics related to governance, administration, management, civic participation, leadership, evaluation, and innovation. Presentations by PSU participants provided both academic and applied perspectives.

  • Ron Tammen addressed conference attendees during the opening ceremony, and later spoke about political performance and the strength of nations.
  • Lanzhou2Doug Morgan spoke about the current state of performance-based management, governance, and leadership and discussed implications for the future.
  • Gary Larsen provided insights into wicked problems, rule of law, and public value-based leadership.
  • Phil Keisling spoke about voter turnout when government delivers ballots to citizens rather than requiring citizens to go to polling places.
  • I provided insights into building evaluation capacity to enhance performance.

Post-conference, the PSU group further experienced Chinese culture by visiting Qinghai Lake and Ta’er Si (Kumbum Monastery), both in Qinghai Province. The province is large, sparsely populated, and located on the Tibetan plateau. Qinghai Lake, a salt lake, is the largest lake in the country and lies at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Ta’er Si was built in the year 1560, on the site of the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in China, with dozens of halls in which monks live and practice.

I appreciated three aspects of our trip in particular. First, I had not been in China for many Horseyears, and so I was very interested to see first-hand the country’s considerable development since my last trip. For example, we experienced very comfortable travel on a high speed train and enjoyed its modern stations. Second, as a student at the Confucius Institute at PSU, I was pleased with the opportunity to practice my language skills in China. Third, and most relevant to CPS’ vision and mission, it was gratifying to see the contributions that PSU is making to advance international scholarship in the field of public administration through its role as a conference organizer and sponsor and through the presentations made by members of the PSU delegation. In his talk, Doug Morgan called for education that prepares leaders with leadership approaches that cultivate judgment, rather than simply training systems managers. This is a call to action needed around the world, and the conference provided participants with opportunities to learn new ideas and to think about ways to fulfill this call.

Lanzhou Group Pic 2 (LAKE)

Where’s the innovation? A review of CPS’ first Oregon Innovation Award

CPS will announce the winner of the second annual Oregon Innovation Award at the CPS Reception and Award Ceremony on April 2, 2016. In celebration of public service, and in honor of the great work completed by the recipients of the first annual award, we have compiled selected report excerpts and participant quotes from the project in this blog post. Links to final reports and participating organizations are provided so you can explore further!

(The following excerpts are from Transforming the Decision-Making Table through Co-Produced Public Sector Innovation by 2015 Hatfield Resident Fellow, Erin Pidot)

A public sector innovation, as defined by the Center for Public Service, is a new or significantly improved policy, process, product, service or method of delivery for the organization using it, and provides a way of resolving a public problem or responding to user or citizen demands. The innovation both outperforms previous practices and improves public outcomes.

About the Oregon Innovation Award  

The Oregon Innovation Award recognizes and honors the active pursuit of public service breakthrough innovation through collaborative partnerships between one or more public service organization(s) and the Hatfield School of Government’s Center for Public Service.

The award is designed to enable forward-thinking governmental and nonprofit organizations to further identify, co-produce, and scale-up breakthrough innovations in their organizations and communities. The awardee receives 1,000 hours of consultation and facilitation by CPS faculty and a HaInnovation Award Fellow Quotetfield Resident Fellow. The OI Award represents an exciting opportunity for CPS to further its vision of “Making an enduring difference in advancing public legitimacy and trust in our public service institutions.”

Compelling Story: transforming the decision-making table through co-produced innovation

The Portland Metropolitan region is one of the fastest growing in population and diversity, but the demographics of elected officials and others who directly influence policymaking generally remain the same—predominantly white, middle-aged and older, with four or more years of higher education.[i] This disparity is reflected across the state and country. Whites, who compose seventy-seven per cent of Oregon’s population, occupy ninety-three per cent of elected offices; and the state performs relatively well—ranking ninth on the New Organizing Institute’s National Representation Index.[ii]

Government cannot effectively address communities’ needs and priorities unless those at the decision-making table reflect the diversity of the population, but the obstacles to realizing a reflective democracy are complex. Public processes are often long and impenetrable. Traditional decision-making spaces and formats may not be welcoming or accessible. And Oregon’s long history of institutionalized racial discrimination and exclusion has left a legacy of distrust.

Instead of trying to address this challenge together, local governments typically operate in silos—each with a diversity, equity and inclusion team and strategic plan; independently reaching out to historically underrepresented communities in jurisdictions that often overlap. While this engagement is critically important, uncoordinated efforts place a large burden on these communities and the community-based organizations that serve them. Add to that the fact that engagement efforts too often take community input without leaving anything behind, except the question—why bother?

In co-production with the Center for Public Service at Portland State University, 1000 Friends of Oregon and a host of other regional partners, Metro is taking this wicked challenge on with the support of the Oregon Innovation Award.

Winning proposal 

In 2015—the inaugural year of the award—the following four public service institutions submitted six proposals: Metro, Multicultural Integrated Kidney Education Program, Clackamas County, and the City of Portland. Metro was granted the award for its proposal to partner with 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Center for Public Service to design “a best practices model for engaging underrepresented communities in transportation and land use decision-making and building collaborative relationships that generate trust and offer value to community partners.” The three key components of the proposed model included a mechanism for assessing the level, type, frequency, and duration of engagement sought by CBOs; a method for identifying the best indicators for measuring progress in engaging communities of concern; and a leadership development curriculum for use by CBOs to prepare leaders to effectively engage in the regional decision-making process.

Over the course of about seven months, Metro worked with CPS, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and a host of other community and jurisdictional partners to scope the project, design the breakthrough innovation, develop champions for the work, and create a plan for implementation and long-term success. Over sixty individuals participated in some way. During the process, the content and language used to describe the innovation changed based on input from community members and other stakeholders.

The innovation that resulted includes a vision, set of guiding principles, five key strategy areas, and recommendations and action steps to advance inclusive public engagement and decision-making. The innovation specifically seeks to engage historically underrepresented communities—including people of color, English language learners, and people with low-income—in decision-making at all levels, from engagement to elected office. The central theme of this work is culture shift. How can Metro break-down barriers between public agencies and the communities they serve to inspire a public service culture that listens deeply to community voices?

Actions inspired at Metro by the innovation work

One benefit of the Oregon Innovation Award was its short timeline—Metro was expected to complete the project in partnership with 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Center for Public Service within eight months. This motivated Metro and its partners to act quickly. Here are a few important actions that are already complete or underway.

  • First joint meeting of community organizers and Metro senior staff
  • Hands-on learning: Evaluate your engagement and partnership efforts
  • Biannual Regional Engagement Forum
  • Pipeline from public engagement to public service
  • RTP Regional Leadership Forums

Value-add of the Oregon Innovation Award

The Oregon Innovation Award offers a public or nonprofit organization 1,000 hours of consultation and facilitation by CPS faculty and a Hatfield Resident Fellow. But the actual benefits of the award far exceed the stated benefits. This is a list of significant benefits—in addition to the 1,000 hours—that Metro received over the course of the award process.

  • Perspective and expertise of CPS faculty
  • Reputation of the Center for Public Service and Portland State University: CPS staff and faculty have strong ties with leaders in public service across the state, including at Metro, and these connections helped build momentum and buy-in for the innovation work.
  • Third party innovation facilitation: The Hatfield Resident Fellow—with the support of CPS staff and faculty—provided impartial, third party facilitation that helped create the space for co-production and innovation to occur.
  • Sense of urgency and focus on a specific challenge: The award gave Metro staff members license to focus time and energy on the public service challenge, and to be innovative in coming up with a response.
  • New opportunities for collaboration: Metro staff from across departments, as well as community and jurisdictional partners from across the region, came together in innovation working groups to discuss the shared challenge and identify solutions.
  • New enthusiasm for and commitment to the work: Staff members were eager to get involved and are prepared to carry the work forward after the Hatfield Fellow leaves.

[i] This is reflected in the demographics of elected officials, voters, and participants in many public engagement efforts. For example, you can find panel member demographics of Opt In, the Portland-Vancouver area online participation tool, here:

[ii] How Does Your State Rank in the National Representation Index? (2016). Retrieved January 4, 2016, from

CPS is looking forward to broadening its impact with the selection of the second Oregon Innovation Reward recipient in April.

Innovation Award finalists

Please join us by registering here or meet us at the door on April 2nd, 5-7 pm! Credit welcome for entry and wine wall; cash-only no-host bar.

The Student Connection at CPS

by Sara Kuehlhorn Friedman

Students and the Center for Public Service go hand-in-hand.

CPS strives to connect theory to practice, promote public good, and search for solutions, and the organization is uniquely situated to reach these goals through drawing on the skills, experience, and interests of students in academic programs at Portland State University (PSU). CPS provides clients with a breadth of talent not easily found in the consulting world, while providing students learning opportunities and experience not found when limited to a classroom.

Massage sign

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks via

When Professor Masami Nishishiba agreed to complete a study for the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy (OBMT) that focused on “Examining Reasons for License Non-Compliance among Asian-Pacific Islander Community Members” in the state of Oregon, she knew that assistance would be necessary. Most significantly, Nishishiba, who speaks Japanese and English, would need research assistants who could communicate with the Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Lao speakers who were the focus of the study. Connecting with the university’s student body was the perfect solution.

Nishishiba recruited four graduate students from the Hatfield School of Government and the School of Social Work: Anh P Nguyen, Lu Pang, Sirisak (Paulo) Laochankham, and Thitisak (Tony) Duadsuntia. The students’ language backgrounds matched Nishishba’s needs, but each student’s specific interest in and dedication to public service and social policy also made the research team what it needed to be. At the end of the project, we asked these students to share what they learned, and the results provide worthwhile insight into the value of working with students on CPS projects.


Photo credit: Bamboo.nutra via

As can be expected, experiencing the research process and working as part of a team were benefits that all four students found valuable. The OBMT study involved qualitative research, which few students typically have the opportunity to experience beyond classroom discussion. Furthermore, the students learned to navigate the IRB process together; they also developed the survey, analyzed data, generated outcomes, and stated recommendations with Nishishiba’s guidance.

In addition to gaining a more developed sense of the research process and working as a team member in the research context, the students each expressed more direct—and more personal—effects that participating in the project had on them, including a fuller understanding of the value and importance of research more generally, a better understanding of equity and equality in the policy world, and a stronger awareness of strategies employed by individual immigrant groups in the Portland area.

Pang Quote

In describing her realization of the meaning and value of research, Nguyen states “I have learnt that research involves restraint.” Explaining further, Nguyen describes her new awareness of the importance of questioning assumptions and hypotheses. She knows now that there is no question too small because while working on a project, one really cannot tell where the process will lead. In the end, the students were surprised by the outcomes of the study, so learning to ‘stand back’ and allow the data to speak for itself was significant.

Students highlighted a second significant gain from working on the OBMT project, which is a deeper understanding of the challenges of equity and equality. Pang states “there is no such thing as small issues through the lens of social justice and equity.” This study revealed a number of challenges to licensing which are endemic to speakers of other languages in the Portland area, and students had the opportunity to ask the question: “In a just society, is equality enough?”

The benefit of facing tough questions about society in the context of a research project like the OBMT while continuing to consider similar questions in the classroom provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore topics significant to public service on a deeper level. Nguyen now believes that equal treatment erases our differences and promotes privilege, and that it does not really help everybody in society achieve success and their goals in life. With a more defined understanding of her values relating to equality, and with experience to support her point of view, Nguyen will enter the professional world with a level of confidence she wouldn’t have had without this research experience.

hand shake

Photo credit: nist6ss via

Finally, all of the students emphasized that working with the South East Asian population in the Portland area was a unique and valuable experience on multiple levels. Laochankham pointed out that the team strategy required that they build personal relationships with interviewees. The team did this first by approaching the participants through their customers, but the research team found that the population was happy to share their experiences with massage licensing in Oregon.

As a result of their outreach, Duadsuntia said, students working on this project learned that different members of the South East Asian population employ different strategies to live in and adapt to the U.S. culture when migrating to the country. Furthermore, the team worked together so closely that they learned more about one another’s cultures as well.

The OBMT project exemplifies the ways in which students assist in achieving project goals otherwise very challenging without their unique backgrounds and skills. This example of connecting projects to students and students to projects is not unique at CPS. Indeed, most projects that come through the Center are completed with the assistance of students, which makes CPS an integral player in the education and training of future public servants.