The LBJ School of Public Affairs and the LBJ School Alumni Board are pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Distinguished Public Service Award and Rising Leader Award. The winners will be honored at the Outstanding Alumni Awards on Friday, Sept. 14, at the LBJ School in conjunction with the LBJ Alumni Weekend.
Distinguished Public Service Award Winner Nancy La Vigne (MPAff ’91)
Nancy La Vigne is vice president for justice policy at the Urban Institute, where she directs the Justice Policy Center. She publishes research on prisoner re-entry, criminal justice technologies, crime prevention, policing and the spatial analysis of crime and criminal behavior. Her work appears in scholarly journals and practitioner publications and has made her a sought-after spokesperson on related subjects.
Before being appointed vice president, La Vigne was a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, directing groundbreaking research on prisoner re-entry. Prior to that, she was founding director of the Crime Mapping Research Center at the National Institute of Justice. La Vigne later served as special assistant to the assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice. She has also been a research director for the Texas sentencing commission, research fellow at the Police Executive Research Forum and consultant to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
La Vigne was executive director for the bipartisan Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections Reform and was founding chair of the Crime and Justice Research Alliance. She served on the board of directors for the Consortium of Social Science Associations from 2015 through 2018. She has testified before Congress and has been featured on NPR and in The Atlantic, New York Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.
In addition to a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in government and economics from Smith College and a doctoral degree in criminal justice from Rutgers University.
Rising Leader Award Winner Rachel Hoff (MGPS ’14)
Rachel Hoff serves as communications director and policy adviser for the Senate Armed Services Committee. She previously worked in the U.S. House of Representatives for Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). She has conducted research and outreach for a number of think tanks in Washington, DC, including the American Action Forum, the American Enterprise Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative, a think tank she helped found. She has worked and volunteered for numerous Republican campaigns and organizations and twice served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. In 2016, she was the first openly gay member of the GOP Platform Committee.
Hoff received a Master in Global Policy Studies from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tufts University. She was born and raised on U.S. military bases in Tokyo, Japan.
The DPSA, established by the LBJ Alumni Board in 1989, is presented each year to an LBJ alumnus whose career and public service record best represent the values on which the school was founded. The Rising Leader Award was established in 2017 and recognizes a younger LBJ alumnus who has stood out as a leader and catalyst for change and who has made a meaningful difference to individuals, organizations or governments.
We asked both award winners to reflect on their time at the LBJ School and share some of the lessons they’ve learned throughout their careers. Here is what they had to say.
What experience(s) in your life made you want to pursue a career in public policy?
LA VIGNE: I became interested in public policy when I had the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in my junior year of college. I worked in the office of New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley and learned about the legislative process, which I found to be fascinating. By the time I returned to college for my senior year, I was determined to work in public policy in some capacity.
My first job after graduating college was working as a legislative assistant at a nonprofit gun control organization. I interacted with people who had experienced the loss of loved ones to gun violence, coordinated advocacy efforts with law enforcement officers, and took calls from members of the public, all of whom cared deeply about public safety and had a strong case to make for policy change. I recognized that criminal justice policy at that time (in the late 1980s) was driven largely by emotions and politics. I saw a field where I could make a big difference by generating empirical research evidence to elevate the policy conversation to a level of discourse guided by facts, rather than opinions and biases.
"The LBJ School sharpened the tools I needed to build a career in public policy. ... More than anything, though, it was the spirit of service that inspired both faculty and students alike that I carry with me – the desire to change the world, and the belief that you actually can." —Rachel Hoff (MGPS ’14)
HOFF: My parents, my brother and my sister-in-law are all public school teachers, so public service is the family business. The idea of standing in front of a room full of children every day terrified me, so I chose policy and politics as my path to service, and I've found it endlessly fulfilling. I was born and raised on U.S. military bases abroad, surrounded by our men and women serving in uniform. Throughout my career in defense policy, both on Capitol Hill and at think tanks, it has been an honor to help make sure these service members have what they need to keep us safe.
What role did the LBJ School play in preparing you for your career?
LA VIGNE: The mix of coursework at the LBJ School exposed me to all the different facets of public policy. I particularly enjoyed the quantitative and research-based classes and the hands-on Policy Research Projects. The latter provided real-world experience in how public policy can be informed by data and evidence.
HOFF: The LBJ School sharpened the tools I needed to build a career in public policy. From developing analytical skills, to refining effective communication, to studying the lessons history, I have called upon what I learned at LBJ in every job I've had since graduation. More than anything, though, it was the spirit of service that inspired both faculty and students alike that I carry with me – the desire to change the world, and the belief that you actually can.
What is something you didn't expect to learn at the LBJ School? Why?
LA VIGNE: When seeking out a graduate school, people often focus on the course offerings and the caliber of the professors. While both were outstanding in my LBJ experience, what I hadn't expected to learn about — or benefit from — was the value of the friendships and networks that were born from my time at LBJ. My first job after graduating from LBJ was working for an alumna in Austin, and LBJ networks opened up opportunities for me in DC as well. And my friendships from LBJ have lasted almost 30 years and are a tremendous source of support to me, both professionally and personally.
"When seeking out a graduate school, people often focus on the course offerings and the caliber of the professors. While both were outstanding in my LBJ experience, what I hadn't expected to learn about — or benefit from — was the value of the friendships and networks that were born from my time at LBJ. " —Nancy La Vigne (MPAff ’91)
HOFF: Before I got to LBJ, I didn't expect to spend so much time studying history. When I thought about policy school, I imagined taking some skill-building classes and others that focused on current events. What I found far more useful than studying anything contemporary was diving deep on history. There is so much to learn from studying the challenges of the past, from examining the decision-making of leaders and policymakers, from gleaning the perspective of history. I've found these lessons – the wisdom of the past – some of the most useful in my career since LBJ when considering how to approach our present challenges.
What motivates you?
LA VIGNE: On topics of criminal justice, opinions about crime and punishment are both polarized and politicized. I've always been motivated by the importance of facts and evidence. In my current role as director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, I lead and conduct research designed to bring evidence to bare to improve justice systems operations and efficiencies. But what motives me most of all is the pursuit of equity in the criminal justice system. My recent research has aspired to elevate the voices and experiences of people most often impacted by the justice system but typically least likely to be heard. This includes a project in Austin to document the experiences and perceptions of people living in one of Austin's most heavily policed ZIP codes — evidence that is currently being used by the Austin Justice Coalition to advocate for more transparency and accountability on the part of the Austin Police Department. This act of bridging research evidence and advocacy in pursuit of greater equity is something I care deeply about, and one that I am passionate about continuing to pursue.
HOFF: Ultimately, my motivation comes from serving a cause greater than myself. I'll always remember this quote from President Johnson that I heard during orientation: "The greatest known satisfaction to human beings is that which comes from knowing you've made life more just and more equal and more opportune for your fellow man. And that's what this school is all about." I can think of no greater motivation than that.