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Andrea Whitsett has been named director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. She has served as interim director since August.
“After a national search, Andrea emerged as the best candidate to continue the important work of Morrison Institute,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the ASU College of Public Service and Community Solutions. “Her experience, leadership and connection with the community — visible in the overwhelming support expressed by a diverse group of Arizona leaders — made this key appointment a clear choice.”
Whitsett, 37, fills the top position vacated by Thom Reilly, who become chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education. Whitsett joined Morrison Institute in 2007 and served as associate director, management research analyst senior and special projects manager prior to her interim appointment.
“I am excited that Andrea has been selected as director,” said Richard Morrison, a co-founder of the public policy center launched in 1982. “She has twinned a passion for public policy with a dynamic personality. With her great team, the institute will continue to offer important service for the benefit of Arizonans throughout the state.”
Betsey Bayless, chair of the Morrison Institute Advisory Board and a member of the search committee, said Whitsett’s longtime ties to Arizona benefit both Morrison Institute and Arizona.
“Too often we look outside Arizona for people with ideas and solutions for Arizona when there are many talented individuals here already,” Bayless said. “Andrea being a native Arizonan is a real plus. She understands the state’s challenges and culture, along with its tremendous potential. She has great leadership instinct. Her collaborative spirit draws diverse constituents to the table for meaningful conversations that will shape Arizona for generations to come.”
During her tenure at Morrison Institute, Whitsett has guided the publication of numerous policy briefs, led Morrison Institute’s flagship State of Our State Conference and launched the first Citizens’ Initiative Review in Arizona — a multi-day, intensive citizen engagement project.
Whitsett assumes leadership of a research organization that has produced several recent high-profile reports: "Finding & Keeping Educators for Arizona’s Classrooms," which examined teacher recruitment and retention challenges; the "Spotlight on Arizona’s Kids" series, which provided original data on subtypes of child neglect; and "Gamechangers? Independent Voters May Rewrite the Political Playbook," which explored disruption of the two-party system. An upcoming report, "Arizona’s Voter Crisis," is part of a voter education and engagement project via Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
“I am honored to serve at the helm of an enduring Arizona institution that works to inform sound public policy across a broad range of issues,” Whitsett said. “Whether the focus of our policy work is water, education, human services or economic development, we impact Arizona by bringing facts and nonpartisan analysis to further the conversation.”
She also noted her appreciation of its previous directors — Reilly, Sue Clark-Johnson and Rob Melnick — all of whom she worked under at Morrison Institute.
“I’ve benefitted greatly by learning from all three, including their distinct styles, shared vision and collaborative approaches to examining public policy,” Whitsett said.
Whitsett is a member of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s DATOS Research Committee and has co-edited multiple background reports for Arizona Town Hall. Whitsett previously served on the board of directors for the Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence and as board secretary for Florence Crittenton. She is currently a member of the Collective Impact Group for Child Safety and Well-Being.
Whitsett’s passion for service traces back to her grandmother, Julieta Bencomo, who was the first Latina to serve on the Arizona State Board of Education.
“My grandmother was a tireless community leader who held herself and her community to the highest standard of excellence. I have always been inspired by her fierce spirit and her commitment to the principles of access, equity and public service — values that I am fortunate to carry forward under the ASU charter,” she said.
She graduated from Arizona State University with a master’s degree in nonprofit studies and has been a faculty associate in ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development. She holds a bachelor of arts in American studies from Yale University, where she was awarded an Amy Rossborough Fellowship through the Yale Women’s Center.
Whitsett and her husband, Timothy Whitsett Jr., reside in north Phoenix with their two young children, Ben and Jack.
Morrison Institute is commemorating its 36th year as Arizona’s premier think tank for public policy. Its motto of “policy, not politics” is a mantra for nonpartisan research, analysis and public outreach on such issues as education, the economy, water, changing demographics, criminal justice reform, social policies, and governance and elections. In addition to its general policy operations, Morrison Institute features two centers — the Kyl Center for Water Policy and the Latino Public Policy Center. Morrison Institute also oversees the Arizona Legislative Academy, which launched in 2016 to provide new lawmakers with a stronger base of knowledge about Arizona governance and policy. The Arizona Capitol Times named Morrison Institute as one of its Leaders of the Year in Public Policy for contributions to education in 2016 and to government in 2017.