Meet School of Public Policy Chair Cassidy Sugimoto

Sugimoto Family

Posted June 21, 2021

By Madeline Shepard

On June 1, 2021, Cassidy Sugimoto began her new role as Tom and Marie Patton School Chair in the School of Public Policy. She previously was informatics professor and the director of graduate studies in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University, Bloomington. 

What were some of the driving factors in your decision to join Georgia Tech? 

“I have been watching the School of Public Policy for a long time, I am very well aware of the research that is happening here, I have met several of the graduates, and I have been continually excited by the kind of work that is going on here. I am also in love with Atlanta, so I definitely wanted to move to Atlanta. When this job came up, it just became the perfect opportunity. The synergy of research and teaching in a city that is vibrant and growing appealed to me. I was just really excited about the opportunity.”

How do you think your background in teaching and directing prepared you for the role as chair of the School of Public Policy? 

“I’ve always had an interest in academic administration. When I was a master’s student, I shadowed the dean of my school, and when I went to IU I was president of the faculty and did academic leadership programs. Most recently I was at the National Science Foundation directing the Science of Science policy and innovation program. 

That is one of the places I really came into contact with the research that was being done at SPP; a very concentrated part of that research was coming out of Georgia Tech. All of those things gave me a keen understanding of what was going on here, but also experience guiding a really heterogeneous field. 

At the NSF, in any given year, the proposals were coming from people across the disciplinary field. There were economists, computer scientists, physicists, historians, and sociologists. And I had to really work on understanding how all of those different disciplines worked – the reward cycle, the evaluation cycle, the scholarly communications cycle of those disciplines, to be able to do what was best to help everyone thrive. That’s what I love, I love service work. I love making decisions that make everyone’s life a little better. For me, I feel like all those service positions have really oriented me for this position. 

What excites me about the SPP is just how many interesting areas there are. We have philosophy and physics in the same department, and that is an amazing range of faculty, background, and interests. It is an incredible opportunity for me to act as a catalyst for a lot of the interdisciplinary research that excites me.”

Jumping off of your NSF story here. You’ve authored several books, have an extensive publication record, and recently completed a two-year rotation at the National Science Foundation as a program director – what would you say has been the proudest moment of your career?

“Serving as a doctoral advisor, actually. Out of everything I have done, putting my first doctoral student through was one of the proudest moments of my life. Just being able to know that you made a difference in someone’s life, that’s why we are here, that’s what education is all about, that’s why we are in higher ed institutions. Every time I get to work with students and see them succeed and become independent scholars, that makes me really proud.

This year I had another proud moment. I had one of my “academic grandchildren” attending my team meetings. So my doctoral students have graduated, become faculty members, and now I get to meet their doctoral students. And that is just an incredible feeling, knowing you have this sort of academic family that is growing.”

Do you have any immediate plans for the School of Public Policy?

“There are some things that are immediate and some things that are long-term. I think coming back out of the pandemic, there needs to be a re-emphasis on team building and creating a sense of community in the school. Given how broad the interests of the school are, I think it takes extra work to remind the faculty, the students, and the staff that we are one community. I think that is particularly tough after this year of isolation, so one of my short-term goals is just to invigorate that community. 

I am also very interested in creating connective tissues across campus. I come from a school of computing, informatics, and engineering, and I am very excited to be at a tech-centered institution, and I think there are incredible synergies that can happen at the intersections of technology and society. I think our school has a very interesting role to play with the policy piece.”

What advice do you have for not just public policy students, but Georgia Tech students overall, for college and their careers?

“I would encourage them to take advantage of everything that Georgia Tech has to offer as an institution and to not focus too much, too early. This is an amazing time to learn and explore and to push beyond what they’ve experienced or known in the past. 

I, of course, also have to give a plug for the School of Public Policy. When I look at the incoming freshmen, their interests are so driven by issues of change. They are looking at issues of social justice, they are looking at the environment, they are looking at the inequities that they see – whether in housing, or education, or finance. I don’t think that everyone in high school is thinking about public policy. They are thinking about a teacher, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer, and I don’t think that they realize how much they can do with a policy degree, especially combined with their other interests.

So much of life is navigating all of these different kinds of formal and informal structures that set up the way in which we live. So I, of course, want to put in a plug that I hope all students will think about taking a class or two, or a minor, or a double major with us if they aren’t already associated with us. Public policy gives them the tools to enact some of the changes they like to see in the world.”

You just moved to Atlanta. What are you most excited about, living in a new city?

“We moved here four weeks ago, and our goal is to do something specific to Georgia or Atlanta every week. Due to the pandemic, we’ve been focusing on outdoor things – we’ve gone kayaking and hiking. I am continually impressed with how green it is, so we have just been enjoying as many of the outdoor activities as we can. The kids are excited to go to the aquarium, and we are just trying to hit all the Atlanta spots.

I hope that anyone who meets me on campus gives me advice on things to do because I am at the point of taking all the advice I can on places that are must-sees for Georgia.” 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Are there any new hobbies you plan to pick up at Georgia Tech or in Atlanta? 

“We have an 11-month old puppy, so we want to explore every park with her. We started a goal that by the end of this year, we are going to bike the whole Silver Comet Trail, all the way to Alabama and back. Not in one fell swoop, because my kids are only 11 and 13. We are doing about a 10k a week right now, and we’re working through it. That’s our fun thing – we didn’t do a lot of biking before we moved here.”