Jennifer BachnerWith six graduate degree programs that prepare students for leadership in the public and private sectors, Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Data Analytics, Policy, and Government is home to academic and extracurricular offerings that cover everything from innovations in public policy, to cutting-edge data analytics, to best practices in security and intelligence analysis, and more.

At the center’s helm is Director Jennifer Bachner, who has spent more than 12 years helping to shape and develop the JHU Advanced Academic Programs division’s government programs. Bachner, who is also a senior lecturer for Johns Hopkins, has co-authored three books and edited a textbook on topics related to policy and governance. She also has published research on online learning and teaching research methods and has been quoted in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and other consumer publications and outlets.

Read on for Bachner’s insight into the center’s mission, its role in the community, and trends affecting the way it prepares students for success.

What are the primary objectives of the Center for Data Analytics, Policy, and Government, and what does it seek to provide for students?

Individually, the center’s six master’s degree programs provide students with not only knowledge and expertise in their field of interest, but also the research, writing, and analytics skills that will help them advance their careers in government and industry.

More broadly, the vision for the center is to offer a variety of opportunities for students to engage in applied learning experiences. In addition to classroom learning, we offer enrichment opportunities that help students deepen their knowledge, gain real-world experience, and make professional and personal connections. For example, we host several vibrant speaker series, an annual security simulation, and a residency course here in Washington, D.C.

The other way the center benefits students is that it allows them to take courses from across programs so that they can tailor their degree to fit their needs, academic interests, and career goals. For example, an MA in Government student who wants to learn more about conducting surveys for public opinion research can take courses in that area offered by the MS in Data Analytics and Policy program.

So, the way we think about the center is that it goes beyond just being a collection of master’s programs—it provides students with networking opportunities and learning experiences that speak to all areas of government, policy, analytics, security, intelligence, and the nonprofit sector.

When was the center established and how has it changed in recent years?

My predecessor, Kathy Hill, and the center’s current chair, Benjamin Ginsberg, established what was originally called the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies in 2010. The purpose in creating the center was to provide an academic focus and structure for the growing suite of related degree programs that were being developed. It included the MA in Government program, which was the first program to be established, in 1993, and the MA in Global Security Studies program, established in 2009. In 2011, the center added the MA in Public Management program, and in 2014 it added the MS in Data Analytics and Policy program—originally called Government Analytics. More recently, we have added the MS in Intelligence Analysis and the MA in Nonprofit Management programs.

In thinking about the evolution of the center, I would say that when it was first created, it had a narrower focus on preparing students to be leaders in government. Today, as the center has grown, its scope has expanded to cover fields that aren’t squarely within the public sector, but are adjacent to or interact with government, such as the contracting and consulting sectors, the nonprofit sector and, of course, the data analytics sector.

Today, the mission of the center is to provide students with skills and knowledge that prepare them for decision-making and leadership positions in both government and industry.

Can you talk a little about the center’s role in promoting dialogue and public engagement?

It is important to all of us that we offer opportunities for students as well as the public to engage in scholarly discussions about timely issues. So, we provide a rich array of opportunities for students to have networking and academic experiences outside of the classroom. For example, we host the Inside Intelligence series sponsored by the Intelligence Analysis program under Program Director Michael Ard’s leadership, and the Data Dimensions speaker series sponsored by the Data Analytics and Policy program under Program Director Collin Paschall’s leadership. These series feature prominent leaders in the field discussing the latest trends, offering expertise, and engaging students in discussion about important topics.

We also host an annual security simulation sponsored by the Global Security Studies program, which is under Program Director Stephen Grenier’s leadership. This is a great opportunity for students to engage in hands-on learning about national security issues that mirror real-world events. It combines aspects of data analytics, intelligence, communication, and organizational leadership, so it really appeals to students from across AAP programs.

In addition, we host substantive and social events throughout the year for students to interact with each other and leaders in the field.

This fall, AAP moved to the new Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., and we are very much looking forward to leveraging the new space to host events that are accessible to both in-person and online students and that facilitate scholarly exchange about relevant issues.

What is your role and what experiences in your background inform the work you do today?

As director of the center, I provide direction for new course development and the use of instructional technology with the goal to deliver both academic excellence and a student-centric experience to our diverse community. I lead a team of program directors and other faculty to provide a suite of master’s programs that serve over 800 students.

The entirety of my 12 years at Johns Hopkins has been dedicated to helping adult learners pursue their professional passions and develop skills to advance their career goals. I love teaching, and I also love bringing ideas to fruition in the area of curriculum and program development.

In 2014, I helped develop and then launch what is now the MS in Data Analytics and Policy program, which prepares students to draw actionable insights from data in government and industry. We have over 150 students around the world and we’re very proud of this cutting-edge program.

I’m also engaged in the field as a scholar, doing research on government responsiveness, political factions, state governments, and the use of analytics in government. That research informs my teaching and curriculum development in a way that has helped our programs to be successful in providing students with the skills and knowledge they need for career advancement.

What trends are affecting the center’s programs or the way the center prepares students for their careers?

There is an increased reliance on data for decision-making in all areas of government. This is a trend that is supported by law—for example, through the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act—and also through the culture of a data-driven mindset that has taken hold across government and industry. This trend is reflected in all of our degrees, in core courses as well as electives. Our electives provide opportunities for deep dives into specific topics like cloud computing, text analysis, and survey methodology.

The growth of AI and machine learning is also reflected in our current course offerings and programming. There has been an exponential rise in the use of these tools, and this is really a paradigm shift beyond traditional data analysis. The Data Analytics and Policy program has increased its offerings in this area, and the Intelligence Analysis and Global Security Studies programs are giving specific consideration to the impacts of AI tools in these areas of study.

What types of students come into the center’s programs and where do they usually go after obtaining their master’s degrees? What traits or objectives do these students share?

We have more than 800 students across the center and it is a broad and very diverse community of adult learners. They tend to work in public service or in a field that interacts with federal, state, or global governing organizations, including the nonprofit sector and the government contracting space. They tend to be extremely passionate about their area of work and they are pursuing their degrees because they are interested in professional growth.

Our students frequently advance in leadership positions either during or following the program. They are often able to leverage their new skills and degree toward greater decision-making responsibility or to pivot their careers owing to their experience in the program. Sometimes they move from the public sector to the private sector (or vice versa), or they shift from one policy area to another. We are here to help students successfully navigate these transitions.

We also have a great group of alumni, some of whom serve on advisory boards for our programs. Our alumni pass along job opportunities, serve as guest speakers, provide mentorship, and connect with our current and prospective students. We are very appreciative of our engaged alumni, and we seek to cultivate and maintain those relationships.

Looking ahead, are there changes on the horizon in terms of the way the center’s programs prepare students or the skills and knowledge students will need to acquire?

It is an exciting time here at the center, particularly with our recent move to the new location and the opportunities that will provide our students. For example, we are developing a new student research showcase in both an onsite and virtual format. This will be a way to feature the impressive research that our students conduct in both their core and their elective courses, helping them share their work with the broader JHU community and the public.

We are constantly refining our course offerings to ensure that our programs address emerging issues and trends. Whatever the future holds for government, analytics, security studies, intelligence analysis, public administration, and nonprofit management, we will ensure our students are well prepared to advance their professional goals and contribute to society.

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