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Faculty Spotlight: Jonathan Fisk and his research on environmental policies

Jon Fisk

Jonathan Fisk is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science where he teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses. He began his career in environmental policy while working at the municipal league for the state of Kansas. Since then, Fisk has conducted a range of research projects alongside both colleagues and students. Student writer Elizabeth Phillips speaks with Fisk about how his background and experiences have allowed him to discover a passion for local government.

Jonathan Fisk received a bachelor’s degree in business and political science from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. Following graduation, he was unsure of what career to pursue. Fisk explained, “I was one of those students who got a degree in political science and did not quite know what to do with myself. So, I explored different options. I spent a year in law school and shortly found out that law school is not for everyone.” Deciding to leave law school led Fisk to the Master in Public Administration program at the University of Kansas and the opportunity to intern for the League of Kansas Municipalities.

During his internship, Fisk engaged with public officials from both urban centers and very rural communities. He realized he enjoyed helping these officials solve local problems by presenting relevant information to them. One of his primary job responsibilities was to research policy topics of interest to League members (cities). He would then either make a presentation or author an article on his findings.

Fisk said, “That was a really great experience for me because one of the things I have come to appreciate about public service is the many topics that there are to deal with. There’s something for everybody out there, whether you are fascinated by social media or land use, there’s some public service position waiting for you.”

He further explained that when he was studying for his undergraduate degree, he did not think he would focus on environmental policy, but his internship allowed him to explore the field further. He said, “I fell into the work when I got to the municipal league. They told me that this was what they needed so I was going to become the expert.” As he continued with the internship, he became fascinated with the exchange of ideas involved in making environmental and energy decisions.

He continued with the Municipal League for over two years before deciding to pursue a PhD at Colorado State University. Here, he researched topics surrounding understanding intergovernmental conflict and local decision-making as it relates to unconventional oil and gas. For example, he would ask why one community would welcome oil and natural gas extraction and another community would not.

In 2015, he came to Auburn, where he teaches classes in the Master of Public Administration Program (MPA), works with the student chapter of the International City and County Management Association, and collaborates with the Alabama City and County Management Association.

Currently, Fisk has three primary research interests all related broadly to state and local policy-making. The first is energy policy. Within this field, he looks at state and local decision-making. He has recently researched extraction-site closure policies with the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety, Steve Nelson. This research consisted of the unpacking the tools and costs associated with closing the sites safely and in an responsible way. Fisk said, “Since about the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. has had about 4 million extraction sites. Only around a million of these sites are considered still producing, so we have a lot of abandoned sites. That’s what we are really looking at, what are states doing with these sites.”

Secondly, he is interested in water policy. He has worked with colleagues from the Department of Political Science, John Morris and Ryan Williamson, on projects related to the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. They looked at state decision-making and why some states were implementing certain policies and others were not. For example, why are some states investing more money on clean water and others are not? Their paper will be published in the American Review of Public Administration, one of the leading journals in their field.

Morris said, “What I enjoy most about working with Dr. Fisk is his breadth of knowledge and interests. I strongly suspect we will continue to collaborate for many years. We like to joke that he has pulled me into the messy world of oil and gas policy, and I‘ve pulled him into the messier world of wastewater policy.”

Fisk’s third interest is looking at local decision-making as it relates to diversity and inclusion. This research includes why some local governments are doing more than others within this space and what can be learned from these communities about what works and what doesn’t.

Fisk’s primary focus lies within the MPA program here at Auburn. The MPA program is a generalist degree designed to be professional preparation for students interested in public service. Fisk believes this degree is a great opportunity for students not only because of the doors it opens, but also because it can count toward years of service.

Fisk explained, “One of the challenges I think a lot of students face when they hit the job market is that organizations want years of experience, but they are not willing to give recent graduates that experience. So, students are stuck. This program can provide students with these much-needed years of experience alongside a professional degree."

The MPA program has allowed students to transition into communities where they are doing amazing things. From working in coastal planning commissions to receiving fellowships in cities and towns across the U.S., graduates of the MPA program have been able to jump-start their careers into public service.

“Seeing students reach those milestones and taking the next steps, whatever they may be, it’s really rewarding to help folks get there," Fisk said. "Most of the time I’m helping them on the margins, it’s their work, but I am fortunate that I can share some of those moments with them.”

To any students who are interested in local government or public service, Fisk says students are always welcome to email him or stop by his office. “It is a passion of mine to engage with students and find out what some of their career goals are. It may be that an MPA is a viable and good option for them, or it may be it is not, but the one way to figure that out is to talk to people. If you know you are interested or think you may be interested in local government, reach out to me.”

Students interested in the program can reach Jonathan Fisk at


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