Humphrey School Awards its First Doctoral Degrees in Public Affairs

May 30, 2017
PhD recipients Andrew Guthrie and Gregg Colburn in commencement regalia
The Humphrey School's first PhD recipients Andrew Guthrie, left, and Gregg Colburn at commencement on May 13, 2017. Photo: Bruce Silcox

The first students to receive doctoral degrees from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs celebrated their achievements at the school’s commencement this month.

Andrew Guthrie and Gregg Colburn received their PhDs at the May 13 commencement in a traditional hooding ceremony, where their faculty advisors placed doctoral hoods over their heads. The tradition is symbolic of passing the guard from one generation of doctors to the next.  

While they both walked across the stage on the same day, with the same degree, they took very different paths to reach that point.

Andrew Guthrie, originally from the Atlanta area, earned his undergraduate degree in drama from the University of Georgia and intended to pursue a career in acting. But his “day job” at a city bike shop fed his interest in figuring out better ways to move people around in urban areas.

Eventually Guthrie and his wife moved to Minnesota, and in 2007 he enrolled in the Humphrey School’s Master of Urban Planning (MURP) program, finishing his degree in 2009. Guthrie then worked with Associate Professor Yingling Fan as a research fellow until he began the PhD program three years ago.

Guthrie’s dissertation, "Favorable Conditions for and Active Promotion of Transit-Oriented Development and Economic Development,” examines how communities are encouraging transit-oriented development as an equitable and sustainable regional growth strategy.

Now that he has his PhD, Guthrie is applying for post-doctoral fellowships with the ultimate goal of finding a permanent faculty position.

Gregg Colburn, a Minnesota native, initially went the business route, earning his undergraduate degree in economics from Albion College in Michigan and his MBA from Northwestern University in Chicago. Colburn worked in the financial industry in New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis for 17 years before making the switch to academia.

Colburn began working on a PhD in Social Work at the University in 2012, but transferred to the Humphrey School when the school launched its PhD in Public Affairs in 2014, because it better aligned with his interests. His area of concentration is housing policy and social policy.

Colburn’s dissertation, "The Use of Markets in Social Policy: Welfare Recipients as Market Participants,” focuses on the experiences of welfare recipients who enter the private sector to receive public services—for example, using a housing voucher to pay rent to a private landlord—as opposed to those who receive benefits directly from the government, such as a recipient who lives in public housing.

Colburn has accepted a faculty position at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he will teach urban planning and affordable housing.

Why the Humphrey School’s Doctoral Program?

“The PhD program is a huge addition to the Humphrey School,” said Guthrie, who described the interdisciplinary structure of the program as an important advantage. “That’s the direction a lot of programs are going. The fact that we’ve built this from the ground up is really positive for our students’ prospects.”

Colburn said another asset of the program is the Humphrey School faculty.

“They are very experienced and skilled, and were good mentors,” said Colburn. “I worked closely with Joe Soss, Jodi Sandfort, Ryan Allen, Ed Goetz, and others. I wanted to find really smart people who would challenge me, and they did that.”

As for preparing him for the world of academia, Colburn said the opportunities he had to conduct research, both on his own and with faculty members, put him in a good position. The teaching experience he had was also a plus.

Guthrie said he and Colburn had a few benefits to being the first to complete their degrees. “The students get to play an important role in shaping the program, and the expectations and requirements,” he said.  

Since it launched with an inaugural cohort of seven students, the PhD program continues to attract more students each year. Thirty students will be in the program this fall.

Find more information about the Humphrey School’s PhD program.