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An ‘Existential Challenge’

News Type Public Address

Glenn College MPA-DC 2022 students (from left) Carynne Jarrell, Matthew Fisher and Sarah Pol celebrate their graduation from the program in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Credit: Majesti Brown)

By Joan Slattery Wall

Vivian Witkind Davis served at the forefront of change during her public policy career.

The 1982 John Glenn College of Public Affairs PhD graduate worked for the nascent Ohio Environmental Protection Agency just after the passage of the Water Pollution Control Act of 1972.

Vivian Witkind Davis, PhD, public policy and management, 1982

“We had this new agency and new funding, and we were figuring out what this big new law meant for our state. It was a heck of a good time,” she said. 

Later, she moved on to a research position during the early years of the National Regulatory Research Institute, based at The Ohio State University, to help state public utility commissions make better policy. In the massively complicated and unsettled period of telecommunications deregulation in the 1990s, she looked into ways to protect customers while leveling the playing field among existing providers and new competitors. She advanced to the rank of associate director in charge of the electricity, telecommunications, natural gas and water projects that the institute conducted for the commissions. 

Now retired, Witkind Davis learned more about the Glenn College Master of Public Administration program in Washington, D.C., celebrating its fifth year, and saw another opportunity for creating positive change in public service.

She recently endowed the Vivian Witkind Scholarship Fund, which will begin providing support to MPA-DC students this fall.

“I think the program can be really valuable in Washington for the college in terms of having a presence there and giving students the opportunity to look at national issues up close,” she said. “I looked at what it’s trying to do and said, OK, we can recruit more students that have smarts and dedication and interest in big public policy problems.”

A Capital Opportunity

See how students in the Glenn College MPA-DC program blend first-rate curriculum with internship experience to pursue federal nonprofit or public service careers.

Her fund and the Charles R. Wise Washington, D.C., Graduate Endowed Scholarship Fund, established by Charles Wise, professor emeritus and founding director of the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, support the college’s goals to attract and retain more students in the program since their internships are not always in paid positions.

Witkind Davis established her endowment with the preference that the scholarship be given to candidates interning at public or nonprofit organizations and who are dedicated to research and public service on mitigation of or adaptation to climate change, which she calls the “existential challenge to the human race.”

“My generation somehow was unable to do what was needed to mitigate the impending climate change,” she said. “We had Al Gore telling us the right things to do, and we had excellent Republican policymakers get together and propose carbon taxes that would have been a good idea, but that didn’t make it. Here we are with problems that are beyond mitigation at this point. We have to adapt, because we’re talking about food supply, mass migration, higher ocean levels and other dramatic changes. We need bigger solutions.”

Witkind Davis also has generously supported the Robert W. Backoff Scholarship, established in honor of one of her professors, who passed away last year.

“Bob was always available, very self-effacing to the nth degree and absolutely brilliant and fascinating,” she said. “He encouraged me to be a good thinker.”

The Master of Public Administration Washington, D.C. (MPA-DC) Program Support Fund provides program and financial support for students completing the degree while gaining professional experience in the nation’s capital. Support this and the Vivian Witkind Scholarship Fund by contacting Stephanie Mohr, senior development officer, at or 614-292-8758. 

Explore other ways to give. 

She decided to use long-term appreciated stock to establish her endowment fund so its annual distribution will be used for scholarships in perpetuity.

“If someone has highly appreciated stock with small dividends, and they don’t need the money for income or other matters of their estate,” she said, “appreciated stock can result in a large tax break for a donor.”

There is no capital gains tax on the transfer because the university is a tax-exempt organization, so 100% of the gift will support the Glenn College.

“This would be an option for people who have that opportunity,” she said, “which I’m extremely lucky to have.”

She remembers her time at Ohio State when the Glenn College was still the School of Public Administration.

“It was fantastic. I needed to go on with my career, satisfy my curiosity and satisfy my need to serve. I’ve always been very curious and had more to learn. I needed to go broader and deeper,” she said, noting her interest in public policy. “Ohio State was it, and it gave me everything I wanted. Not that politics doesn’t eventually come into it, but I like the idea of making a difference by getting answers based on facts and analysis that policymakers can base their arguments on.”

The Glenn College, she noted, has grown enormously since she was a doctoral student.

“It’s terrific to look at what’s happened,” she said. “I look at how many students there are and how many professors and how truly active it is. It’s beautiful. It’s a cynosure.”


Read the latest edition of Public Address, the Glenn College magazine.