Professor of Health and Public Policy
As Professor of Health and Public Policy and Director of Doctoral Studies, Dr. Beth Weitzman enjoys her work at NYU Wagner. She points out that as a professor, “you get to stay in your role but reinvent the exact nature of that role” all the time. In any given week she fills the shoes of a teacher, advisor, researcher and administrator. Weitzman got her MPA at Wagner in 1980, when the school was a very different place than it is today. After working in Research and Evaluation at the NYC Board of Education’s Office of Educational Assessment as a Planning Associate, she soon returned to Wagner to pursue her Ph.D. She joined the faculty at the school upon completing her doctorate in 1987. Weitzman explains that when she first came to Wagner, she was a bit atypical as a student because she was young and attended on a full-time basis. At that time, Wagner was a regional school and had a mostly part-time student body. Most of her fellow classmates were in their 30s and had a bit of experience under their belt. Weitzman had taken only one year between her undergraduate and graduate studies, and although she applied to schools all over the country, she was won over by Roy Sparrow, who was Associate Dean at the time. He reached out to her during the application process and that was when she knew she would receive individual attention at Wagner. As a student she felt lucky because she had faculty who took a real interest in her and supported her endeavors. One faculty member, James Knickman, hired her as a research assistant when she was getting her MPA, advised her as a doctoral candidate and eventually became a funder of her research after he moved to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Since having joined the faculty at Wagner herself, many of the professors Weitzman had as a student have become her colleagues and close friends. Weitzman’s research focuses on urban policies affecting poor families. Throughout her career, she says, she has gotten to take on various research topics. For a period she concentrated her work around homeless families. Over the past 12 years, she has been leading the national evaluation of RWJF’s Urban Health Initiative, aimed at improving health and safety outcomes for children and youth in five of America’s most distressed cities. She appreciates being at Wagner, a broadly focused institution, where her research objectives can shift over time. Weitzman takes interest in the changes that Wagner has undergone. She found the school to be a lonely place as a full-time student in the 80s, but she enjoys observing how the students – who now come from all over the country and the world, and comprise a more even mix of full- and part-time candidates – have created a strong sense of community at the school. She points out that while most of the changes at Wagner have been improvements, dealing with change can pose a challenge. She has continually rethought how she approaches teaching in the classroom and how she advises her students in the shifting academic environment. Weitzman stays in touch with many alumni who used to be her students. She has collaborated on articles with former doctoral candidates and she enjoys it when former master’s students write with questions about concepts they learned in her classroom that they now have to apply in the real world at their jobs. For alumni who are considering returning to school for a Ph.D., she offers good advice, stating that one must be certain that research is central to one’s professional aspirations. “I came to realize I wanted to do a Ph.D. because of the work I saw people doing at the Board of Education,” she says. “You really have to know that it’s what you want to do,” since pursuing a Ph.D. is a much longer, arduous process than getting a master’s and comes with more uncertainty. As Weitzman approaches the end of her evaluation for RWJF, she is considering new research possibilities. “I don’t have to look for a new career to do something really different,” she says. “I get to stay here with the title of professor and do something entirely fresh.” As Weitzman explores what she’ll do next, the Wagner community looks forward to finding out exactly what the next reinvention of her role will be.