Professor Mary Bruce Inspires Students to Excel
On a chilly, late winter day in 2016, Dr. Mary Bruce and five members of Governors State University's chapter of Pi Alpha Alpha — the national honors society for public affairs students — trekked from University Park to the far north side of the city of Chicago. Their destination? Sarah's Circle, a comprehensive help organization and transitional shelter for homeless women.
"That was a student's idea, to volunteer at Sarah's Circle," Dr. Bruce said. "We brought food and prepared a luncheon for the women. We sang karaoke — it was very special."
The students brought salads, warmed up rolls, reheated chicken, and sat with the women of the shelter — approximately 60 in total — and ate together. Then they sang and danced with the women, who, according to Dr. Bruce, ranged in age "from 20 to 70."
"I'm not educating students who want to be average. These students want to achieve more than a high-grade point average," she said.
Dr. Bruce, who is a full professor of Public Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences at GSU, has used her grassroots ethos and infectious motivation to bring a new honor to Governors State University. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), a global organization for graduate education programs in public policy, public affairs, public administration, and public and nonprofit management, has named GSU’s chapter of Pi Alpha Alpha its 2016 Chapter Award winner, and Dr. Bruce has been given the Chapter Advisor Award for the year.
David Marshall, Director of Membership for NASPAA, said that Dr. Bruce and her chapter were selected because of the community work and proactive culture of GSU’s Pi Alpha Alpha chapter.
“What made [GSU and Dr. Bruce’s] nomination distinctive was that Dr. Bruce not only identifies and recognizes exemplary public affairs students, but she takes them into the community to do some positive things,” Marshall said.
In the past year, aside from volunteering at Sarah's Circle, Pi Alpha Alpha members have hosted roundtable discussions with state and local administrators, held symposiums with the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, and organized forums with law enforcement and judicial representatives at local high schools to address racial profiling in their communities.
“Seeing our students and faculty work together to bring this kind of excellence into our communities and honor to our university exemplifies the Jaguar spirit,” said GSU President Elaine P. Maimon. “We are extremely proud of Dr. Bruce, her students, and their shared achievement.”
Induction into Pi Alpha Alpha extends beyond the student years — membership lasts a lifetime — and over half of the GSU chapter members are alumni.
“What this does is offer a really rich networking opportunity to members. GSU graduates are village managers, directors in the public sector, and this allows students and alumni to network within our own GSU community,” Bruce said.
Tosha Baker, GSU graduate and Pi Alpha Alpha member since 2014, nominated both Dr. Bruce and the chapter for the awards. As an alumna, she remains engaged with the organization while fulfilling her professional role as village administrator for the Village of Robbins.
“Having alumni and current students work together, going out into the community to work with elected officials, gives members an opportunity for first-hand learning that provides a different kind of education than the classroom,” Baker said.
Membership in Pi Alpha Alpha is bound by high standards: students must have completed at least 22 credit hours of work in the public administration program and carry a cumulative 3.75-grade point average.
"I am a part of educating leaders who will work in the public sector, and Pi Alpha Alpha is leadership training ground," Dr. Bruce said of her role with the organization. "I like to help foster academic excellence because I believe education is the key that unlocks the door to unlimited possibilities."
In addition to awarding the chapter and Dr. Bruce's work, NASPAA has invited Dr. Bruce to serve on the Pi Alpha Alpha Special Ad Hoc Committee , the PAA governing body. She has accepted their invitation.
Based in Washington, D.C., NASPAA is an international society with over 300 chapters in 14 countries. Dr. Bruce and the GSU chapter will receive their awards on Friday, October 21 in Columbus, Ohio at the 2016 NASPAA Annual Conference.