CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Dr. Sam Workman, a Mountain State native and WVU Tech alumnus, has pursued a successful career in academia and research both nationally and internationally. In December, Dr. Workman followed Mountain Mama’s call to Morgantown, accepting a position as Director of the Institute for Policy and Public Affairs at the Rockefeller School of Policy and Politics at West Virginia University.
The decision was not originally planned, but it was fueled by homesickness — a tale that rings true to John Denver’s famous lyrics, “I hear her voice in the morning hour, she calls me.”
“ … Deep inside my chest there was a little burning fire that I knew that’s where I was going to end up,” Dr. Workman said. “I’ve lived from one end of the country to the other. But I have a deep devotion to the state and the people of this state, so to be able to come back here and serve is the highlight of my career.”
The Fayette County native graduated from Midland Trail High School in 1997 and graduated from Tech in 2001 with a degree in industrial relations and human resources. Dr. Workman said his experiences at Tech helped launch his career.
“The reason Tech was so influential was that it was a campus where I sat in classes with everyone — from physicists who were building hydrogen cars to psychologists talking about human cognition,” Dr. Workman said. “That was a big deal for my intellectual development and helped me learn from and borrow ideas from other fields.”
A Tech professor encouraged Dr. Workman to apply to graduate school at WVU, where he earned a master’s in political science. Dr. Workman always had an interest in politics and how people make decisions. He grew up listening to his father and grandfather talk about politics when Sen. Rockefeller and Sen. Byrd were in office.
“What’s really special about this job is that I have come back home to lead the Rockefeller Institute of Policy Research and Public Affairs,” Dr. Workman said. “The little boy that was five listening to these conversations now heads the institute with the senator’s name on it.”
After earning a master’s, Dr. Workman pursued a doctorate in political science alongside prominent scholars at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Workman then worked as a professor at the University of Texas-Austin and University of Oklahoma before working at WVU.
Dr. Workman’s current position involves grant writing, researching, meeting with officials, informing the public, and helping solve problems. As part of a National Science Foundation grant, Dr. Workman and his colleagues examine arguments on education policy.
“A lot of what I do is travel around the state, hearing about what challenges [people] face and what opportunities are out there,” Dr. Workman said. “It is translational work, turning science into something usable for our officials, but also going out and interacting with those state and local officials on the ground.”
Dr. Workman has stepped away from teaching since starting his current position. Dr. Workman still works with a few students while researching, but he misses teaching in a classroom setting.
“We all go to school to improve our lives, but when you get a student who sits in your classroom because they care; because they want to understand how government works or how people make decisions, it’s really special to interact with those students. … If I was ever in a position where I no longer got to be around students at all, I don’t think I would like it very much. In fact, I think my quality of life would be a little less because I really enjoy that aspect of my job.”Dr. Sam Workman