Contact Information

Name: Thomas A. Birkland
Email: tabirkla@ncsu.edu
Office: 919-513-1834
Welcome to my web page at NC State University. I am a Professor of Public Policy in the Department of Public Administration in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) at NC State University. I joined the faculty in 2007 after 12 years on the faculty in the Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany. While there I served, from 2001-2005 as director of the Center for Policy Research. I spent 2006 on leave from the university at the National Science Foundation in suburban Washington, DC. I was the program director for the Infrastructure Management and Hazard Response Program in the Engineering Directorate

My research is generally on the public policy process. In particular, I study the role of significant events in creating the conditions for policy change. 

I am also the Associate Dean for Research and Engagement in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences here at NC State. More information about my office can be found here

My research interests have centered on the politics of natural hazards and industrial accidents. I approach my work from two angles--as a subject matter expert in this field, and as a contributor to public policy theory. In particular, my main interests are What causes some events to get on the agenda, while others do not? and Do we learn anything from sudden "focusing events" to prevent disastrous events from recurring or from being as damaging as their precursors? More details on my work are on the research page.

I am a native of Seattle, and lived there until I was nine, whereupon my family moved to Anchorage, Alaska. I graduated from Robert Service High School in Anchorage, then attended the University of Oregon, earning my B.A. (cum laude) in political science. Through good luck and excellent mentoring from Jim Klonoski at the University of Oregon, I was able to attend Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics, where I earned my M.A. in political science, focusing on public policy. I then worked for state government in New Jersey, including a one-year stint in the office of Governor Thomas Kean--a fascinating experience for anyone interested in policy making, and a formative experience working for a governor who cared deeply about doing the best he possibly good for the people of his state. The other four years included two tours of duty at the New Jersey Department of Transportation, where I worked for and with some of the finest public managers I've ever known.

After five years of state employment, I decided that I needed to decide if I wanted to remain a public manager, or become an academic. Since I really enjoyed colleges and love being on campus, wherever that campus is, I applied to and was accepted to the University of Washington, where I spent five years under the mentorship of Dr. Peter May. My dissertation became my book, After Disaster