Meet Thomas Bryer: Teaching Students About Their Role in Democracy

Meet Thomas Bryer: Teaching Students About Their Role in Democracy

Associate professor Thomas Bryer spends his days teaching students how to analyze government policy and its implementation, also known as public administration. Bryer calls it the very fabric that keeps our democracy healthy.

He also involves himself to show how government policy makes a difference. Bryer volunteered to facilitate two Orlando community meetings requested by the Obama administration to gather input regarding health-care reform and job creation, and then report those findings to the White House. He’s also worked with local nonprofit organizations to come up with innovative ways government and nonprofits can work together to address homelessness. And working in partnership with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections he created a course on civic engagement that included poll-worker training. He’s frequently invited to give talks around the world about how citizens can become an active part of government in action.

He has been part of the College of Health and Public Affairs at UCF since 2007, and his research focuses on the various roles citizens have played and can play in all stages of the policy process. The New York native shares why he’s so passionate about his job and his other inspiration – family.

What inspired you to pursue your area of research? 

I have long been interested in civic engagement, dating back to when I was a teenager volunteering on my first political campaign. This interest evolved in college when I engaged in issue advocacy while studying at American University and evolved further when I got involved in movements to promote third or alternative political parties. Once I started studying public administration, my interest become more focused on civic engagement with government bureaucracy, and here I am now.

What do you most love about your job?

The opportunity to be creative all the time – in teaching, in research, in writing, in service.

Why is the study of public administration important to democracy?

The study of public administration is essential to understand the complex relationships between government, nonprofit, private, faith-based, and voluntary organizations in meeting the challenging needs of our communities, and to do so in a way that is inclusive of the diversity of our communities. Our governments require leaders and procedures for engaging citizens in more than the role of customer; civic engagement with government bureaucracy is vital to the responsiveness of government programs to the people.

How do you keep motivated to continue with your research especially when funding becomes tight?

This is where creativity is so vitally important. Funding will come once the impact of the research is demonstrated, so there needs to be some “paying it forward” to prove the value of your insights, experience, and expertise. That said, research is not about the money. It’s about service and making a difference in our communities. The ability and opportunity to do good and do well is wonderful motivation.

What do you do for fun? 

I read historical fiction and biographies and also try to disappear in the woods every so often.

Is your current job/research what you initially thought you would be doing?

That would be nice – to be doing exactly what I planned. Alas, it only makes sense what I am doing in hindsight. How could I predict that I would be globetrotting to give invited remarks to both academic and practitioner audiences? How could I predict that my research is playing even a small part to transform communities? How could I predict that my teaching is so deeply inspiring to at least a few students? I couldn’t predict any of this or plan any of this precisely, which is what makes the job so invigorating.

What is something few people know about you?

My wife and I adopted a 13-year-old son this month from within the foster system. This is perhaps the most important thing I have ever done…I welcome suggestions from anyone for parenting a teenager!

If you had only three words to describe yourself, what would they be?

Passionate, driven, curious.

Tell us about your family.

Aside from my wife and son, I live in a house that includes: two dogs, two cats, four birds, two horses, two goats, and two chickens. My contribution to the lot is one of the birds, a parakeet. I am so proud to be my parents’ son; they are terrific role models, and I can only hope to achieve the success they did as parents.

What is your dream job?

I’m not sure this isn’t it…with perhaps an unlimited research and scholarship budget to support more students and strengthen our communities in more ways.

What is your ideal vacation?

I love to travel. The ideal vacation would be to drop me in a random place for a week to explore and find my way. No tour books, no guides…just space to explore.

Who was your childhood hero?

Besides Batman or Macho Man Randy Savage, I’d say the first person who really inspired me, after my parents, was my AP U.S. history teacher, Charlie Backfish. He inspired a passion in me for politics, for people, for art, for culture.

Who is your hero today?

There isn’t just one. My “heroes” are all public servants who give back every single day, sacrificing their time, sometimes time with family, potential income, and oftentimes recognition, in order to help make our communities stronger and our people more successful. I meet a new hero on a regular basis; they are our neighbors who work for government, in nonprofit organizations, and as volunteers.