For a woman who speaks seven languages, it makes sense that Dr. Irina Khmelko, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Political Science, Public Administration, and Nonprofit Management, is interested in international politics. She’s putting her expertise to good use by serving on a committee for World Bank, a United Nations international financial institution focused on ending global poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
The five-member committee includes Khmelko, another university professor, senior staff members from World Bank, and representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The committee has been tasked with how to bridge the gap between the worlds of academia and public administration.
“The main question we’re trying to answer is, ‘How can we help academics and administrators at government agencies, non-profits and other organizations work together better?’ Academics are regularly generating ideas that can be overlooked by administration. They do a lot of good research that could help people, but it can be hard for these organizations to translate it into action,” Khmelko said.
For Khmelko, the gap is often because academicians and administrators have two separate ways of thinking.
“Academics need to understand that administrators don’t have time to sift through academic papers. They need summaries of real, actionable advice they can put into practice. And administrators need to understand that academic work can be useful. It’s not just pages and pages of text about theories, it’s research that’s backed up by statistics and data,” she said.
Khmelko will continue her work with the committee when she returns to Washington D.C. this spring to work with the committee on planning a panel consisting of academicians and administrators at a conference in the United Kingdom for international legislators. In her classrooms in Chattanooga, Khmelko will continue to emphasize a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving.
“I tell my students that in the modern world, you can’t place yourself into one box. You need a multidisciplinary education. You need to be exposed to different ideas,” she said. “So when my students majoring in nonprofit management ask me why they have to take classes in public administration, I tell them that in their careers, they’ll be working with public administrators. As a nonprofit manager, they need to know how administrators think, what their needs are, and how they do their jobs. Having a multidisciplinary education makes you more successful in your future career field because it’s how the real world works.”