Personality: Dr. Susan T. Gooden

Spotlight on president of American Society for Public Administration

5/20/2016, 1:21 p.m.
Being in leadership is not always an easy thing. Leaders must tackle the tough decisions and issues for their organization. ...

Being in leadership is not always an easy thing.

Leaders must tackle the tough decisions and issues for their organization.

But Dr. Susan T. Gooden, professor of public administration and policy at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, is up to the challenge.

Dr. Gooden was inducted as president of the 8,000-member American Society for Public Administration during its annual conference in March in Seattle.

She is the first African-American woman and first person from VCU to hold the organization’s highest office in its 77-year history.

The ASPA is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration, and is dedicated to advancing the practice, art, science and teaching of public and nonprofit administration.

It recognizes core values of accountability, performance, professionalism, ethics and social equity. The top issues facing public administration today, she says, are providing equity in public services and ensuring the public sector workforce has necessary resources.

The theme of her keynote address at the ASPA conference: “Race and Social Equity: A Nervous Area of Government.” It’s also the theme of a book she has written.

Dr. Gooden believes that discussions of race and equity within policy and government remain an issue that many leaders are reluctant to engage in, even when it is clear that policies play a role in various social pathologies that disparately impact communities of color.

“I say ‘the nervous area of government’ because government organizations have a footprint relative to many of these inequities,” Dr. Gooden says. Because government policies are a part of the problem, they “also have to be a huge part of the solution.”

Connecting the dots between racial equity and policy has been a regular and committed part of Dr. Gooden’s career. Prior to teaching at VCU, Dr. Gooden served as an associate professor at Virginia Tech, where she was founder and director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center.

This week’s Personality, Dr. Susan T. Gooden, is leading the way:

Date and place of birth: May 30 in Franklin County.

Current residence: Short Pump in Henrico County.

Alma maters: Associate degree in natural science, Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville; bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in political science, Virginia Tech; master’s degree in political science, and Ph.D. in political science, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.

Family: Husband, Dr. Basil I. Gooden, and daughter, Caper C. Gooden.

How long I’ve been involved with American Society for Public Administration: Since 1995.

Reason: It is the primary professional association for my field and it is a very inclusive organization comprised of academics, practitioners and students. When I originally joined ASPA as a doctoral student, I was impressed that such a large organization was so accessible and welcoming of new members.

Why is this organization important: It promotes public service values and good governance in the United States and internationally. ASPA is recognized and respected worldwide as a leader in the promotion of public service and offers access to a rich network of public administration professionals.

How your presidency will differ from the presidencies of your predecessors: This is a difficult question because I greatly admire and respect the presidencies of my predecessors. I am working hard to develop ASPA chapters in all 50 states and to develop more international chapters. I am very excited about increasing ASPA international chapters in places such as Mexico, India and Rwanda.

Strategy for implementation: Provide chapterbuilding tools and resources to individuals domestically and internationally — and then get out of their way so they can establish chapters that are responsive to local needs and goals.

ASPA’s No. 1 goal today: To actively engage new and existing members in promoting pride in public service at the local, state, federal and international levels.

Number of chapters in Virginia: 3.

Number of chapters nationwide: 57.

Public administration is: The constant, vital executor of public services.

Why I entered public administration: Because it is an essential game-changer for promoting social equity.

What makes a good public administrator: Strong public service values, technical skills and empathy.

Why women need to be involved in public administration: Women and minorities need to be involved in public administration because the entire public needs to be visible and represented in the development and administration of public services.

Estimated percentage of women in the industry: 57 percent.

Why I became a teacher: To help train future public sector leaders about the importance of social equity and to promote a seat at the table for under-represented minorities in higher education.

Teaching philosophy: Talent and intelligence appear in many forms, and should be cultivated.

Young people need to consider this field because: There are complex public policy issues that require myriad minds to be effectively addressed.

Advice to aspiring students interested in public administration: Public administration touches every policy topic you can imagine — transportation, environment, health, education, agriculture, criminal justice, homeland security, youths, the elderly, the disabled. If you’re looking for a rewarding challenge, this is the field!

What make me tick: Social equity — as Nelson Mandela stated, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Outlook at start of day: Ready to roll with optimism! Let’s do it!

End of day: Time to reflect and recharge for tomorrow.

I place top value on: Authenticity.

How I unwind: Pilates.

Hobby: Unique international travel experiences — crossing U.N. borders, visiting interesting places like Saudi Arabia, Cyprus and Rwanda.

Prized possession: My spirituality and my family.

Nobody knows: I can drive a tractor and feed cattle.

The best thing my parents ever taught me was: To always be an independent thinker.

Best late-night snack: Brownie Obsession from TGIFridays.

Person who influences me the most: My husband, Basil. We’ve known each other for 28 years. When he reaches out to me for a heart-to-heart talk, I listen and respect his advice.

Person who influenced me the most: My grandmother, Kate Tinsley. She taught me so many important, practical things about life. She passed earlier this year at age 93. She was very active and sharp all of her life. I was blessed to have her in my life for so long.

Book that influenced me the most: “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes.

What I’m reading now: “Son of Virginia: A Life in America’s Political Arena” by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it is: There is a window of opportunity to accomplish anything.

Next goal: To contribute to the understanding of social equity in public administration and policy from a comparative, international perspective.