Staci Zavattaro

Staci Zavattaro, Associate Professor, School of Public Administration, College of Health and Public Affairs 2017 Women's History Month

What is your current job title and responsibilities?
Associate Professor of Public Administration and Research Associate with the Center for Public and Nonprofit Management, School of Public Administration, COHPA
Interim editor, Administrative Theory & Praxis

What is your history at UCF and before UCF?
I have been at UCF in my role since August 2015. Prior to joining the faculty at UCF, I was an assistant professor at Mississippi State University and the University of Texas at Brownsville.

What is your academic background?
I have two undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida. I dual majored in journalism and political science. I earned my Ph.D. in 2010 from Florida Atlantic University. I have taught at two universities prior to joining UCF.

What is your favorite UCF memory?
My favorite UCF memory is meeting Knightro for the first time. It’s a bit of a funny story. When we started at the university, one thing all new faculty and staff are told is you must meet Knightro. It wasn’t until Spring 2016 when it finally happened. I was actually attending a color run with my colleague Dr. Claire Knox. This is a fun run where you leave covered in colored powder. We decided to go to a store beforehand to purchase tutus, white wigs so the color would show, and lots of neon accessories. After the run, when we were both covered in green, blue, orange and purple hues, we finally go to meet Knightro who was also there with the UCF cheerleaders. We have a picture with Knightro all covered in colored dust!

If you could change one thing at UCF, what would it be?
If I could change one thing, I would enjoy seeing a faculty and staff activity group. There are plenty of professional development opportunities, so I envision this to be a social group that attends campus and community events. Sometimes it is hard when you move to a place not knowing anyone, and there might be some things you do not want to try alone. A faculty activity group could help people meet each other in social settings, see the community, and make new friends along the way.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with your colleagues?
One piece of advice I want to share is to remember we are also human. Empathy goes a long way in this field, which is often highly competitive. If we stop to breathe, take care of ourselves, and be honest with ourselves and those around us this job becomes more much enjoyable. Our students, too, benefit because they tend to appreciate honesty, at least that has been my experience in my classes here at UCF.

If UCF was going to name something in your honor, what would you like it to be and why?
I would like it to be a mentoring program that UCF named in my honor. I realized that my ideal legacy as an academic should be as an excellent mentor. I love the research I do and getting to share that with the world, but, let’s face it, my books aren’t going to celebrate my retirement! I would be honored if, when I retire in many years, that students who I influenced in some way came back to celebrate that. I have dedicated much of my service recently, and professional development, to becoming a better mentor.

If you could have lunch with anyone at UCF (who you do not normally eat lunch with), who would you choose and why?
If I could have lunch with one person at UCF it would be the football coach, Scott Frost – but the reason might surprise you. One of the things I am still not great at as an individual is taking harsh criticism. Now, I can take rejection as that is part of the job. But sometimes reviewers and even colleagues can be downright mean. I tend to lose my cool quite quickly, so I would pick Coach Frost’s brain about staying cool under pressure, handling tough situations, and learning from past mistakes.

Who at UCF would you like to thank for your success?
I would like to thank Dr. Walters, Dr. Bowdon, and Dr. Knox for my success here at UCF. Dr. Walters and her efforts to bring equality to this campus is meaningful ways are nothing short of awe inspiring. Dr. Bowdon at the FCTL has helped me become a better teacher through the Center’s workshops, her one-on-one counseling, and, frankly, her friendship. Dr. Knox in my department is generous to always share her past knowledge, what worked and what did not. That is extremely helpful for someone new to the UCF environment. I am proud to have these strong women here with me at UCF.

Name and describe a teacher or researcher from your past who truly inspired you and why.
Easily my dissertation chair, Dr. Art Sementelli. He was the first one at FAU who told me I could actually earn my Ph.D. I am a bit odd in that I do not have a master’s degree. I went straight to the Ph.D. after the faculty at FAU asked me to apply based on my application to the MPA program. I looked good on paper! My first year there was really hard given that I was assigned as a research assistant to a professor who spent the year telling me how dumb I was because I did not have that MPA degree. It was not until I took a class with Art that I found an ally, someone who encouraged me to press on. He eventually became my dissertation chair and to this day remains my biggest champion.

What undergraduate or graduate class/program/experience inspired you the most and why?
My favorite class was one that Art taught called “Images of Public Administration.” We watched a lot of movies and TV shows to analyze how public administrators are portrayed. The class opened my eyes to other ways of thinking about the world. I also greatly benefitted from my time working for The Alligator at UF while an undergrad. The college newspaper gave me a way to tell stories, to meet new people, and it gave me many lifelong friends. Overall, I have been extremely lucky to have great professors and mentors along the way, and I hope I can pay it forward to my students today.

What is your favorite restaurant or food?
I will never say no to chips and queso. I and DEFINITELY never say no to chocolate!

What is your favorite movie, book or music?
Any book by Michael Connelly is my favorite. He writes incredible mystery novels. I remember one of my professors from UF was (and is) a close personal friend of Connelly’s, who also graduated from UF. My professor, Dr. Bill McKeen, invited Michael to guest speak in our class one day, and I about lost my mind! I got him to sign a book for me, and you would have thought I met the world’s biggest rock star. To me, he IS the world’s biggest rock star! Bill and I still to this day talk about every new Connelly book after we’ve read them.

What is your favorite vacation destination?
Disney – so it’s a good thing I live close by! When I moved back to Florida, I joked that I was going to get my annual pass before getting real furniture, and that is exactly what happened. I go when I need an escape from reality. I also will treat myself to their krispie cereal desserts while I am there. I have no idea why, but they just taste amazing at Disney!

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