On Directions: New and Old

            The traditional rationale for creating a research outfit, such as the Institute for Policy and Governance (VTIPG) at a major university such as Virginia Tech, has long been that these entities provide a locus for faculty and students to address compelling concerns in their fields of interest. Land Grant higher education institutions, of which Virginia Tech is one, have sought to produce new or basic knowledge through research and to provide findings and understanding that citizens may use in their everyday pursuits. VTIPG was created for these purposes as well, and in our nearly decade-long existence our associated faculty, students and staff have offered findings and insights to researchers and policy-makers at all scales, while also working with government agencies and nonprofit organizations dealing with the challenges of public policy implementation. That is, we are daily involved in inquiry concerning policy and governance issues internationally, nationally and locally, and we are engaged each day in working with individuals wishing to apply that knowledge in their professional settings.

            As a part of our commitment to engage with all interested stakeholders across the university and beyond, the Institute began in January 2013 to offer graduate students the opportunity to share the fruits of their ongoing investigations into policy and governance-related concerns in an online essay series dubbed, RE: Reflections and Explorations. That effort, which continues as I write, publishes students’ articles each week of the semester across the academic year.

            Late last year, as I considered the growing corpus of thoughtful essays produced for the initiative, I hit on the idea of editing a series of volumes based on those efforts, both to highlight the excellent work of the University’s graduate students in multiple programs across six colleges in the policy and governance domain, and as a way of showcasing the vitality of the VTIPG intellectual community. As I mused, I contacted Lyusyena Kirakosyan, now an affiliated research faculty member of the Institute, who first proposed the series as a PhD student, and asked if she would help me co-edit the first volume. She kindly agreed and we organized and edited a collection of 56 Reflections essays entitled, RE: Reflections and Explorations: Essays on Politics, Public Policy and Governance. The Institute published the volume in early August and it is available electronically through the Virginia Tech libraries and the VTIPG website to anyone anywhere in the world.

            As I wrote in the introduction for the book, I believe this collection and series serve participating students and the Institute in multiple ways. First, I hope that they give each author opportunities to develop their capacities as well as to obtain insights into their own strengths, weaknesses and proclivities as writers:

As writing of virtually any sort is at once a demanding, exhaustive and exhilarating enterprise, one of my goals for Reflections at its inception was that its participants could gain a glimpse of the ardor, discipline and labor it takes to produce and polish writing for public consumption, and begin to develop their own voices. As editor, I have challenged those who have written for the series to produce clear, concise prose in their own mode of expression. When successful, this process of editorial give-and-take can result in important opportunities for intellectual growth and learning. In a way, this to-and-fro between editor and authors can be viewed as an important mentoring opportunity as students work to realize or refine their own authorial identities. As such, this process surely embodies the educational mission of the Institute and university.[1]

            Second, I argued in the introduction that the Reflections articles have treated a dizzying array of topics germane to VTIPG’s mission and to students’ evolving research interests:

That fact reflects the ongoing realization of a central founding aspiration of this initiative, that students would take ownership of it and use it to share their evolving views and research on pertinent matters. To date they have surely done so, and we sample only the first fruits—the 2013-2014 year—of their work here. To the extent that the series reflects student curiosity and zeal for sharing their discoveries, it may be said to have grown naturally from and reflect the research mission of the Institute and the university. Perhaps more deeply, it also suggests the most basic rationale for creating and sustaining higher education institutions in free societies: to open possibilities for vigorous minds to quest for deeper understanding of phenomena that engage them, irrespective of their domain or expected utilitarian portent.[2]

            Finally, I suggested the volume and series represent opportunities for participating students to learn to write for broader audiences and to view their involvement and contributions as

… an organic metaphor of the sometimes messy, sometimes fretful and sometimes uneasy process of the gestation of ideas at universities. In truth, ideas know no boundaries of department or discipline and they recognize no sovereign as their lone owners or claimants. Rather, they are the product of fertile minds in conversation encouraged to consider possibilities freely and openly. In this sense, this series revels in and represents the catholicity of perspective characteristic of the university of which it is a small part. To the extent it has played this role, it mirrors and encourages the essence of free inquiry in a modest but notable way.[3]

            In these ways then, this new series embodies the aims of the Institute and of Virginia Tech, and of major research universities of which our own is an exemplar. The series also provides an example of how higher education institutions endeavor to serve their communities by encouraging students to exercise their imaginations on behalf of inquiry aimed at the betterment of society. This aim is surely as old as the idea of the university, but it is refreshed daily by the minds and energy of those privileged so to serve. The Institute is proud to continue to play a role in furthering this ideal in this way. Our Reflections book series is new, but the aspirations for universities and their students it embodies are as old as those institutions themselves. We are, I think, in very good company.


[1] Max Stephenson Jr. “Musing on RE: Reflections and Explorations: The Passionate Quest for Discovery Also Demands Responsibility,” in RE: Reflections and Explorations: Essays on Politics, Public Policy and Governance, Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech Institute for Policy and Governance, 2015, xiv. Available at: http://www.ipg.vt.edu/Reflections/Documents/RE_Ebook_PDF.pdf  Accessed September 6, 2015.

[2] Stephenson, RE: Reflections, 2015, xiv.

[3] Stephenson, RE: Reflections, 2015, xvii.