Photo of Eric Stern and Dean Gossett

Alumnus, Eric Stern, awarded the SSIS Dean's Award for a Graduate Student.

Below is Eric's nomination letter to the Dean from Dr. Wassmer.

Dear Dean Gossett:

Please accept this nomination of graduating masters of public policy student Eric Stern for the SSIS Dean’s Award for a graduate student.  The PPA faculty are unanimous in supporting the nomination on the basis of Eric’s superb academic performance, his contributions to the Sacramento State public policy and administration program and its students, and his exemplary professional service.

Academic Excellence

 Eric began our graduate program in Fall, 2008 and has progressed seamlessly through our curriculum while holding a highly influential position with the state’s Little Hoover Commission (more on that later).  His GPA, reflecting all of the core courses and electives, is 3.97.  He has been a pleasure to our faculty to have in class – except for the fact that he keeps us on our toes more than the typical student.  One of our faculty reports that Eric suggested that rather than read about some of the classic works of public administration in a textbook, the students should be required to read some classics in the original.  The faculty member revised her syllabus as a result of the worthwhile, and constructively made, suggestion.

Another example of Eric’s search for excellence, again manifested in a professional and constructive way, is evident in another PPA faculty member’s recounting of an experience with Eric:

I've received some of that constructive criticism, including one zinger that made for the most uncomfortable 5 minutes of my teaching career.  In 220B two years ago, I was teaching a complex technique for finding the most efficient combination of projects subject to a budget constraint.  Unbeknown to me, the technique is really a rule of thumb that doesn't always work.  And after completing an elaborate example on the white board during class, Eric pointed out that the technique produced the wrong answer.  How could that be??!!  After class I reread the text book, and the books I had read in grad school.  I was exonerated by the fact that each of the texts was less than clear about the technique being an approximate rule of thumb.  I explained this to the class the following week, and because the technique didn't have a name, I christened it "Stern's Rule."  I've taught Stern Rule ever since.   For the curious, Stern's rule says "Sort the projects in descending order by their ratio of net benefits to initial costs, then select projects from the top of the list until the budget runs out, but beware that this technique doesn't always maximize net benefits, so you may need to use trial and error to find the best solution."

Eric has just completed his thesis (a copy of the abstract is attached and the full thesis is available upon request) and it was masterfully done.  He selected an extremely salient policy topic – the impact of community college tuition on course completion rates and related it squarely to the policy choices facing California today.  The research question was whether the very low tuition charged to community college students in California depresses course completion rates because of the low cost to the student of dropping and repeating courses once enrolled and the lack of incentive for students to choose courses carefully in the process of enrolling in them.  Given the growing pressures to raise tuition, perhaps significantly in that system, he was looking for a “silver lining” in what is otherwise seen as a troublesome, if necessary, policy decision. 

A former newspaper reporter, Eric is a fine writer, which makes it a pleasure to read his work.  Beyond the mere writing (not so “mere” these days), his grasp of logical thinking and presentation is also exemplary.  His literature review will serve as a model for PPA students for years to come, as it very clearly laid out a sequence of research findings that then became the basis for his selection of control variables in his statistical research design.  This is no small feat as PPA faculty find too often that students do not know how to perform a literature review in a way that informs the subsequent research design and implementation.

Even more impressively, he dove headlong into the statistical components of the research, taking all of his advisors suggestions to heart even if they meant altering his statistical approaches.  He was by no means highly skilled in statistical methods going in, but he took responsibility for learning what he needed to do, sought advice from us and others, and then took things from there. 

Contributions to PPA Students and Department

Eric has taken the lead among his classmates in talking to alumni and current students about ways to increase the visibility of the program in the short and long run.  This is extremely important to PPA faculty as we are continually looking to draw on PPA’s presence in the state and local government communities to help us recruit strong students, to locate internship opportunities for current students, and to generally raise the profile of the program.  In addition, Eric has long been an advocate of us achieving NASPA accreditation and trying to think of ways to raise revenue to do this.  He also has never hesitated to offer constructive criticism to instructors that helped to improve the pedagogy of our classes, as the above two examples have already illustrated.

Professional service

Eric has worked for the Little Hoover Commission (LHC) for the past few years. Perhaps the most visible study the LHC has done in recent years was the study and recommendations for reforming public pensions that were released a few months ago.  Somewhat unbelievably, in view of the progress he was making on his thesis, Eric was the lead researcher for that study and lead author of the report.  There may not be a better example of the “speaking truth to power” aphorism that is often used to describe policy analysis. 

The PPA faculty have enjoyed pointing to, and bragging about, high achieving alumni who occupy positions of importance in the policy sector, like the director of California Forward and the CSU Associate Vice Chancellor for Governmental Relations.  It is abundantly clear that we will have a new entrant into that club who will not only allow us to point to our quality and successes but who will work to help us sustain and improve the quality of our program in the future.

For all of the above reasons, the faculty of Public Policy and Administration heartily endorse the candidacy of Eric Stern for the Dean’s Graduate Student Award.

We thank you for your consideration of our nomination.


Rob Wassmer

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