Senior Lecturer Pierre Atlas’ work bridges O’Neill’s two worlds. He teaches in the school’s Public Affairs program as well as in its Criminal Justice program. His courses focus on everything from terrorism and gun culture to community structure and urban policy.
“Most people think of public policy as working in government at some level, but public policy is so much broader than being a government official,” he explains.
Atlas points to the nonprofit and private sectors. He says the two play major roles in shaping policy because they’re the advocates and interest groups that help form policy for everyone.
“Government can’t do it alone,” he stresses. “Some of the most effective public policy involves cross-sector collaboration between the public, private, and third—or nonprofit and civil society—sectors. Some of the big problems facing society—what are known as ‘wicked problems’—often require input and even joint decision-making and implementation from all three sectors. I teach a graduate seminar in our MPA program on collaborative governance, which deals exactly with this.”
He points out that public policy is not only happening in every sector but also at every level of decision making: community, local, state, and national. He adds the broad range of sectors and levels means O’Neill students have endless opportunities to work in policy.
That’s where he comes in. He says his role in the classroom is to help students understand what public policy is, what it’s trying to achieve, and where and why policy decisions originated.
“You have to be able to teach the history of something, warts and all,” he says. “You can’t understand your present unless you understand what happened in the past. We have to have those conversations with eyes open and do it sensitively but honestly. Because our history is what has shaped current public policy and our present is what will shape it into the future. This understanding is incredibly relevant for O’Neill students because we’re dealing with real-world issues that they will have to address in their future careers, whether that be in public affairs or in criminal justice.”
What do you like about teaching?
“I like interacting with the students. I like being able to introduce concepts and theories they can then use to help them understand what they’re seeing happen around them. A lot of students might have been aware of the dots but didn’t know how they were connected or they never thought they were connected in any particular way. I enjoy that a lot.”
“Student participation is really important to me in the classroom. Even if I’m in lecture mode, I stop because I want students to ask questions. I want to address what they’re interested in. I really like seeing students involved. Our classes at O’Neill are relatively small so I can really get to know my students. I have found that to be really rewarding in my career.”
Why should students choose to attend O’Neill Indianapolis?
“O’Neill is more intentional than other schools and O’Neill students’ focus is more intentional. Students here get the elements of a broad liberal arts education combined with a very specific focus that gives them the knowledge, the skill set, and even the credibility to go out and make a difference. Coming out of O’Neill, you’ll be one step ahead of someone with the same level of passion who is coming out of just a liberal arts school.”