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A Laboratory of Civic Issues and Involvement

The collaboration between Maxwell and its hometown goes both ways.

Beyond the 20 or so alumni who populate our articles about Syracuse, New York, are dozens more who serve in government, nonprofits, media, education, justice, health care, and other facets of life in Syracuse. They are Maxwell’s greatest contribution to the civic well-being of the Salt City.

But certainly not the only contribution. Many from Maxwell play similar roles. Community Geographer Jonnell Allen Robinson is one high-profile example. Faculty members Robert Bifulco and Ross Rubenstein work as analysts on Say Yes To Education in Syracuse, evaluating family choices in the community as they relate to the program. Political scientist Grant Reeher hosts a public affairs radio program and, with PA faculty member Tina Nabatchi, helps run CNYSpeaks, a public forum series. Maxwell’s South Asia Center conducts cultural education — for example, a program on the Asian elephants at Syracuse’s Burnet Park Zoo. Faculty members serve on local boards, councils, et cetera; sociologist Andrew London, for example, recently chaired AIDS Community Resources, directly drawing on his HIV/AIDS research. They give guest talks for schools, clubs, and neighborhood centers.

Undergraduates in Public Affairs perform community service as part of their education (pictured). Also in Public Affairs, Community Link allows students to perform research projects for local agencies (64 this past year) and Community Benchmarks provides evaluative services for community projects. Local agencies are often the beneficiaries of MPA capstone projects, in which students provide analysis and recommendations for extraordinary challenges. And, by definition, students pursuing an MPA as Snow Fellows serve in the nonprofit sector.

The reciprocal benefit comes when Maxwell draws upon Syracuse leaders in the classroom. Already mentioned (page 15) is a course taught by Vito Sciscioli and Minch Lewis. Others are taught by Paul Driscoll, a commissioner of city housing; former county executive Nicholas Pirro; and Renee Captor ’80 BA (PSt), who oversees lawyer assignments in the Onondaga County criminal justice system. Beyond those are dozens of guest lectures, career panels, and other visits from Syracuse leaders (such as frequent speaker Joanie Mahoney, Onondaga County executive, SU alumna, and good friend of Maxwell); and cases where Maxwell students (such as visiting government administrators in Executive Education) visit or intern in the workplaces of local civic leaders. In this way, Syracuse, the city, provides an on-site lab for public affairs education at Syracuse University.

—Dana Cooke
Dana Cooke is publications manager for the Maxwell School and editor of Maxwell Perspective. 
This article appeared in the spring 2011 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2011 Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail