College Celebrates Opening of Fishlinger Center for Public Policy Research
President Charles L. Flynn, Jr. galvanized the Board of Trustees when he announced plans to build a center for public policy research to be housed on the College of Mount Saint Vincent campus. At the time, the Center existed solely in the hearts and minds of those who envisioned a way to engage students, faculty, alumnae/i, and the community in matters of significant social import. Among these visionaries was William J. Fishlinger, a trustee of the College, who immediately understood the vision and the Center’s potential impact. He and his family committed to realizing that potential. James Donius, Ph.D., a seasoned marketing industry executive and founder of an award-winning global marketing intelligence agency was hired to direct the new Center and shepherd its development and planning. The project picked up momentum last winter after the appointment of an Advisory Board composed of educators, market data experts, and media and communications wizards who offer deep and broad experience in academia, public service, and industry.
Now, in what seems like record time, the vision has become a reality. The new Fishlinger Center for Public Policy Research at the College of Mount Saint Vincent is up and running, and was formally dedicated on October 17— just one year after President Flynn’s announcement to the Board. The dedication ceremony took place in the Center’s newly refurbished location on the third floor of Founders Hall during Reunion/Homecoming and Family Weekend.
The Center’s footprint consists of two former classrooms outfitted for academic research and market data analysis. The laboratory space comprises 25 computer work stations where students and faculty can collect and analyze data, using highly sophisticated software for data mining and predictive analytics. The software was provided by IBM through its Academic Initiative for Cloud, a new program that utilizes the latest educational materials and methodologies to introduce students to emerging cloud technologies.
The second classroom boasts a state-of-the-art focus group setup, fully equipped with audio and video recording, projection screen, and both wired and wireless Internet access. To ensure the two rooms remain multipurpose and cost-effective, the laboratory can be called into service as a computer lab, while the focus group area can be used to hold small conferences and meetings, or configured for market research, psychology experiments, and other academic uses, thus pairing state-of-the-art function with total utilization.
Concurrent with the opening of the new Center is the introduction of two new majors that will better prepare students for careers in public policy and the private sector. Launching next spring are Communication in a Digital World, a gateway course for the Market Data Analytics major, and Public Service as a Career, which goes toward the Public Policy major. As President Flynn told the Board of Trustees in 2014, “The Fishlinger Center for Public Policy Research has allowed us to create an important interdisciplinary academic major in public policy. Much more than a major in political science, an interdisciplinary major in public policy can build on and deepen our strengths in economics, communication, public policy, mathematics, and philosophy.”
Already, students are stepping forward to declare their interest in the new majors, and are eagerly awaiting the start of those classes in January. Meanwhile, students have organized the Mount’s first Public Policy Club, which began meeting in the fall. Other student clubs in the planning stages include a Digital Focus Club, which will explore social media, data mining, and other topics pertaining to the Market Data Analytics major.
A Landmark Approach
Perhaps most exciting is the announcement of the results of the first study conducted by the Center. Dr. Donius presented a report on the study at the Human Trafficking symposium on September 25, and delivered a special presentation to alumnae/i during Reunion/Homecoming and Family Weekend, on Saturday, October 17.
The Fishlinger Center’s Advisory Board, in collaboration with the faculty and administration, chose carefully when deciding on human migration as the subject of the first study. Designed to probe multiple social issues, the study preserves a special focus on human trafficking in the U.S. According to Dr. Donius, the quality and quantity of the data collected was so wide-ranging and complex that he expects multiple reports to emerge from the first survey, with subjects ranging from domestic violence and poverty to environmental issues and affordable education.
“Not only will we be able to learn more about how the public perceives human migration, but we will also gather more perspective on how people view social issues in general,” he says. “By looking at human migration in context, instead of in isolation, we will discover the extent to which social issues compete with one another. This is a landmark approach, one that we believe has never been done before.”
The seeds of the project first began to germinate when the Fishlinger family, led by William Fishlinger and his wife, Joan, made a decision to give $1 million to the College to underwrite startup costs for a center devoted to public opinion and responsible debate. In conversations with President Flynn, Mr. Fishlinger conveyed his vision of a place where great minds, great intention, and great commitment could be brought together in a central hub. “I envisioned a research center where serious, important issues—what I call transcendent issues, the compelling problems of social justice that apply to people all over the world—could be addressed in a serious way by serious people,” said Mr. Fishlinger.
Promoting Real Change
The Center’s main activity will be to conduct public policy research on carefully selected social justice issues for the purpose of creating meaningful dialog—and change. “The purpose was not merely to establish another polling organization,” Mr. Fishlinger said. “There are other agencies doing that, and doing it well. At the Fishlinger Center, the goal is to gather and present information about critical social issues to multiple constituencies. We are creating an instrument that can be placed in the hands of the academic community, and ultimately with legislators who can promote real change.”
And why here? Why did the Fishlinger family invest in the College of Mount Saint Vincent as the setting for an innovative center for public policy? “When I look at this institution’s history of addressing society’s most serious and pressing issues, it’s clear that the Mount has a moral, ethical backbone, and a deep commitment to positive social change,” says Mr. Fishlinger. “The missions of the Center and the College are wholly compatible.”
This multi-pronged benefit to the College is a driving factor for Mr. Fishlinger. “The Center not only adds value by allowing students to engage in a deeply important area of study,” he says. “As the Center’s reputation grows and more studies are released, it’s entirely feasible that we’ll begin hearing the Mount cited in the media, the way you now hear mentions of Marist or Quinnipiac. To have a Center that applies serious study to transcending issues, both here and globally, and that offers great value to the institution by enhancing both the student experience and the College’s visibility—that’s how our gift becomes enduring and more meaningful. It fulfills our family’s mission to make a positive impact in the world. We are happy to devote ourselves to the Mount, and we look forward to a long relationship.”