New Faculty
Robin Phinney Lecturer in Public Policy Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Robin Phinney
Lecturer in Public Policy

By Sarah Kidwell  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

As an undergraduate at the University of California–Los Angeles, Robin Phinney was both surprised and troubled by the extent and visibility of homelessness in Los Angeles. She wanted to lend a hand, so she volunteered as director of the UCLA Hunger Project, a community service organization serving the hungry and homeless population of the city. She worked at soup kitchens, helped write resumes, taught computer classes at women’s shelters, and participated in a range of community events related to hunger and homelessness.

While Phinney enjoyed this work, she says that the underlying questions nagged her. “Why were so many people homeless? What were the personal and institutional causes of homelessness? How did current policy address the problem, and why did it appear so ineffective?”

After graduation, she pursued research positions at social service agencies in Los Angeles, which further strengthened her interest in studying disadvantaged populations, while also exposing her to social welfare policy research and analysis in real-world settings. This eventually led her to a graduate program at the University of Michigan, where she could immerse herself further in public policy questions.

In May, Phinney received her Ph.D. in public policy and political science.

Phinney comes to Brown as a lecturer in public policy at the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, where her first course will be “Introduction to Public Policy.” I’m so excited to be a part of the Brown community. I attended enormous public universities - which I enjoyed - but I’m looking forward to learning more about teaching and learning in a smaller academic environment - especially being able to interact with students more.

“I love teaching,” she adds. “Who wouldn’t love getting to talk all day about subjects they care so much about?”

In her free time, the native Californian anticipates what the East Coast has to offer, especially outdoors. “I love to camp, hike and ski. New England is a new landscape for me, and I’m very eager to explore it.”

Through her research, Phinney will also keep trying to answer the questions she first confronted as an undergraduate. “I am particularly interested in how political institutions — particularly legislatures — and social welfare policies interact; how interest groups represent the needs of underprivileged populations in legislative settings; and the substantive policy areas of housing, substance abuse, and mental health among the poor. There is still so much do.”