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Scholar studies growing digital opportunity, divide

September 26, 2013

Technology is transforming how cities and towns communicate with their citizens, potentially making government more accountable and increasing people’s knowledge about local issues. It also is creating a digital divide, however, leaving behind about 30 percent of the U.S. population who lack broadband access to the internet, says Karen Mossberger, newly appointed director of the School of Public Affairs in the ASU College of Public Programs.

A highly-regarded scholar who comes to ASU from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Mossberger sees the study of technology and government moving into the mainstream of public administration scholarship. With support from the MacArthur Foundation, she is currently evaluating the Smart Communities Program, a digital inclusion initiative in five Chicago neighborhoods.

Author of five books, including last year’s “Digital Cities: The Internet and the Geography of Opportunity,” she has been invited to speak recently at the Federal Communications Commission Broadband Summit in Washington, D.C. and the European Urban Research Association conference in the Netherlands.

She also has been active in the American Political Science Association, serving as president of the group’s urban politics section.  

Yet Mossberger’s road to academia was anything but traditional. As a first-generation college student who grew up in an auto worker’s family in Detroit, Mossberger dropped out of college after her freshman year to contribute to her family’s income. She married and had two children, did full-time clerical work for the City of Detroit and returned to college years later to get her degree in political science before moving into policy planning for the city.

Her family and her professors encouraged and supported her, and today she hopes to make a difference for others. She earned her doctorate, taught at Kent State and later became an associate dean for faculty affairs and then head of the Department of Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“I came to ASU because I was so impressed by the energy and enthusiasm I could see at the School of Public Affairs, with the students and the faculty who are working at the forefront of important issues for governance,” she says. “There’s a growing undergraduate program, and I could see all these exciting developments I could contribute to.

“I also was impressed by the values at ASU, the commitment to empower students to be changemakers. Social impact is not valued at all universities. Here at the School of Public Affairs, it’s at the heart of what we do. I wanted to be part of that.”