Energy policy advisor remembers encounter that set him on path to public service
Grad tells School of Public Affairs students to identify their personal ‘why’
Blaise Caudill’s turn toward public service came nearly a decade ago, after he saw a face he said he won’t ever forget.
Caudill, energy policy advisor to Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, earned a Master of Public Administration with an urban management concentration from Arizona State University in spring 2017. He is also a School of Public Affairs faculty associate.
“In some of my classes, we talk about identifying your personal ‘why,’ which most of the time is informed by an ‘aha’ moment,” he said. “It’s what keeps you going, even when the work is challenging. For me, that moment was soon after I completed my undergraduate degree.”
Caudill was working for the Flagstaff office of St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance. The alliance was hosting a mobile food pantry, which Caudill likened to a sort of food bank drive-through, in Winslow, about an hour’s drive east of Flagstaff.
Like the more well-known tale, this Winslow story involves a girl and a truck, but that’s where Caudill’s experience and the Eagles’ hit “Take it Easy” part ways.
Caudill was helping near the checkout area.
“A truck came through with a woman and a young girl, who I assume was her daughter. I happened to have an apple in my hand that I was just tossing up and down. As I was checking them out, I could tell the girl was looking at the apple, so I offered it to her. She smiled and happily took it.
“A little later, the same truck came through the line again, but wasn’t picking up any food. They asked to see me, so I went to the truck, thinking they had forgotten something or needed to fill out another form. Instead, the young girl gave me a folded up paper,” Caudill said. “She had drawn a picture for me to thank me for the apple. I can so clearly see her smile still, and that is what drives me to give back every day.”
Read on to find out more about Caudill’s ASU journey.
Note: Answers may have been edited for length or clarity.
Question: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
Answer: Arizona is my home. I’m a third-generation Arizonan, with family roots in Bisbee. My family moved to Tucson when I was 5, so I really grew up there. I moved to Flagstaff in August 2009 to attend Northern Arizona University for my undergraduate work. I loved the mountain air, so I stayed in Flagstaff until August 2014, when I moved to Phoenix to advance my work with St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and to prepare to attend ASU for my MPA.
Q: You work in Gov. Katie Hobbs’ office. Tell us about what you do, and a bit about what you formerly did for Southwest Gas.
A: During her State of the State Address, Gov. Hobbs established the Governor’s Office of Resiliency, focused on the nexus of energy, land use and water in long-term sustainability and economic vitality. I am so thankful to be able to serve as the governor’s energy policy advisor, providing energy policy perspective to that nexus. Prior to starting with the Governor’s Office, I worked on the public affairs team at Southwest Gas, specifically helping to connect East Valley cities with the company. Moreover, I focused on promoting molecular energy sources like renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen in the larger energy conversation, complementing solar and wind energy in the complex energy system.
Q: What’s the outlook for molecular energy sources? How soon might they be a part of Arizona’s energy future?
A: RNG is available right now, and there are multiple RNG projects throughout the state. For example, in Pima County at a wastewater treatment plant, they are harvesting RNG from it for reuse.
The future is very much in making sure that we are making clean renewable electricity that is powering our homes and vehicles. It’s a huge tool we can use. And we have to have molecular energy as well. What I really love about different forms of energy is that it’s so complementary to each other. They all stack together to create a beautiful ecosystem. We’re powering our communities, but making sure we’re not closing out power to those who are most vulnerable. Electricity can be expensive, but multiple energy sources can help make energy affordable for families. I’m excited about this nexus, as it allows for us to look at many opportunities instead of saying we’re only going to use solar or only going to use wind power.
Q: What kinds of areas are you advising the governor about?
A: Energy ends up taking a lot of sustainability policy as well as air quality policy. A lot of work I do is not only looking at the grid and energy system as a whole, but looking at improving our air quality as a whole. ... I didn’t know how much I’d be working on economic development as well, discussing which businesses want to come to Arizona.
Q: How did your time at Watts College prepare you for life after college?
A: The Watts College helped to build connections with such a wide network of movers and shakers in the Valley and across the state. I am very thankful that I was able to attend Watts through the Marvin Andrews Fellowship in Urban Management, focused on local government service. The supportive network that was automatically available because of the Marvin Andrews Fellowship, and the Watts College writ large, has been invaluable to my career growth.
Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? Are you still in touch?
A: George Pettit, who was the director of the Marvin Andrews program at the time; Jim Thompson, who was the then-city manager of Casa Grande, Arizona, and current city manager of Scottsdale; and Margaretha Bentley all had tremendous impacts on my career and taught me so many lessons beyond even career lessons.
The program helped me understand at a deeper level what it means to be a public servant. I am truly forever thankful for the opportunity they gave to me. I was able to grow as a person and learn about the complexities of government. At the end of the day, all these agencies are here for one reason: to make government stronger and more resilient.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: Although I knew it was important, I didn’t fully understand the importance of being able to appreciate the different lenses through which people see the world, and moreover, the ways in which those different perspectives work together in the workplace and in life.
Q: If you had college to experience all over again, what would you do differently? The same?
A: I have always tended to hold back or to play small. I’m still working on that to a large extent, but I would encourage myself not to play small and instead learn just how incredible it is to be fully committed and present.
Q: What are your top-three favorite music artists right now?
A: It’s hard to list a top-three favorite music artists, but ... (naming) current music artists helps to narrow it down a little bit: Rosalia, Trevor Hall and the Headspace podcast (because I’m going to call that an artist right now).
Q: What is your life motto in one sentence?
A: The longest way ‘round is the shortest way home.
The School of Public Affairs is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.