Matthew Randazzo (MPAff '03) hails from Detroit and is the first in his family to attend college. During his undergraduate studies at Albion College in Michigan (B.A., political science and Latin American studies), he spent a semester at The University of Texas at El Paso studying border relations. It was in El Paso that he really became interested in public policy. His boss connected him to LBJ School Professor Dave Warner as he worked on the county judge's executive staff managing children and family policy.
Randazzo came to the LBJ School with an interest in education and social policy. He appreciates that while he was able to study education policy, LBJ gave him a breadth of knowledge and tools for his career, especially his ability to learn. He attributes this to tough classes and demanding professors—specifically mentioning Robert Auerbach, Bill Spelman and Lodis Rhodes. Randazzo wrote his Professional Report on school choice before graduating in 2003 and launching his career.
Fresh out of LBJ, he worked as a program director for The Junior Statesmen Foundation, a civic education and leadership program for high school students. He served as the director for Texas and was then promoted to nationwide director of enrichment programs, then director of development.
Fourteen years after crossing the Lady Bird Auditorium stage, Randazzo is now CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), headquartered in Dallas.
"I graduated with a toolbox—critical thinking, analytical skills, budget and financial management—and those tools helped me be an effective manager and critical thinker in organizations where I’ve worked. While I've refined those skills with regards to policy, LBJ helped me learn how to learn, which ensured continual career progression." —Matthew Randazzo (MPAff '03)
NMSI's proven programs support teachers and equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the 21st-century economy. NMSI College Readiness Program and Laying the Foundation teacher training programs are dramatically increasing student achievement, shattering stereotypes about who can succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and setting up students, teachers and schools for better success. Ultimately, NMSI works to produce stronger STEM teachers to improve K-12 educational outcomes for low-income students and students of color.
Randazzo says he loves his job, where he gets to lead the organization's strategy and help focus the education policy agenda at the state and national levels. In the last two years, his team raised nearly $200 million in new investments and diversified the organization's revenue strategy. NMSI turns 10 years old this year and we can't help but think that LBJ alumnus, he helped make that a reality.
We asked Randazzo to reflect on his time at the LBJ School, and here is what he had to say:
How did LBJ help you in your career / after graduation?
I graduated with a toolbox—critical thinking, analytical skills, budget and financial management—and those tools helped me be an effective manager and critical thinker in organizations where I've worked. While I've refined those skills with regards to policy, LBJ helped me learn how to learn, which ensured continual career progression.
What is the greatest lesson you've learned professionally?
First, always meet the commitments you make to internal and external stakeholders. I think about this as my own brand as an executive in the nonprofit space. Meeting my commitments has meant I can grow my brand and take on more challenging work with bigger impact. It's important to always deliver.
Second, prioritize your team—the executive leadership team [which he manages] ensures the organization's mission. I coach those leaders to be more effective and deliver on results. When your team succeeds, you succeed as a leader.
What would you like to share with other alumni?
You'll never know where the degree will take you or the doors it will open. It gives you the ability to challenge yourself, step out of your comfort zone, seek new opportunities and grow your impact. I attribute my abilities to a liberal arts upbringing along with the writing, communications and management skills from LBJ.
That said, I also caution graduates from going too deep within a specific field early on. Be conscious about the choices you're making—whether you want to be in a highly specialized niche or want to be a broader leader with broader impact. At LBJ, students can choose to go deeper/ specialize in one area based on the courses they take and the faculty they work with. LBJ struck the right balance—a broad toolset applicable in any setting.
Can you share a fun fact with us?
I checked two things off my bucket list through my job. I met President Obama in the Blue Room of the White House and in 2015 [photo at left], I shared the stage with Joe Biden, a personal political hero of mine [photo at top]. Biden actually introduced me at his home during a reception where I spoke about NMSI's College Readiness Program.
Anything else you want to share?
Sometimes it's hard to understand the impact of the opportunities we have today. Had I not been introduced to Dave Warner in 2000, I would have gone down a different career path. He helped me navigate the admissions process. I didn't know anyone else who went to graduate school. Lodis Rhodes took me under his wing and the faculty demanded that my fellow students and I think more critically and work harder. Finally, Stephanie Hill, the graduate coordinator at the time, was the heart of the OSAA office. She invited me into her home for Thanksgiving because I couldn’t afford to go home. I hope that the LBJ experience is similarly powerful for others.