When William Lester decamps from his home in Jacksonville, Alabama, to Moscow in March 2013 to lecture and do research on Russian civil society as a Fulbright Scholar, he and his wife, Sharon, will bring their entire family — including seven children ages 3 to 20 — along for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He will also continue to teach at Northwestern. Being 5,000 miles from campus will not be problem, says Lester, who teaches in Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) online program.
Distance learning attracts students from around the world and connects them with the best and brightest faculty, like Lester. An organizational theorist with a PhD in political science from Texas Tech University, Lester focuses his research on leadership, public administration, and public policy. After Hurricane Katrina he added disaster response to his areas of interest. “Katrina was followed by a colossal failure of systems,” says the Gulf Coast native. “When I didn’t see some of the research I wanted being published, I jumped into the fray myself.” The author of dozens of publications and a 2008 presenter at Minnowbrook III — the elite gathering of public administration scholars is held only once every 20 years — Lester says that his theoretical work is practice-oriented. “I enjoy working on theories and developing new insights that bring the theories into real world application,” he says. “I want to see meaningful systemic change.”
At Northwestern Lester teaches Foundations of Leadership and Strategic Policy Implementation. Even in the remote format, Lester says he really gets to know his students: “Online learning can be superior to the classroom in some ways. You can’t hide in the back of the class. Everyone has to participate.” Lester interacts with students around the world. His MPPA students have logged in from Israel, Afghanistan, and Mexico and have included an aide to a U.S. Senator and executives of nonprofit organizations. “Teaching energizes me and keeps me fresh,” says Lester. “I apply my research and experience to my teaching, and my teaching gives me ideas for my research.”