Oct. 8, 2015

Student Profile: James Cathro

Hometown: Charlottesville, VA
Batten graduation year: 2016
Undergraduate school/major: U.S. Naval Academy, English, 2005
Extracurricular involvements: Family, church

Talk about an involvement or experience—internship, job, volunteer position or otherwise—that’s deeply shaped you.

In 2008, I was the senior Special Operations officer working with the local police in a small town in the desert of Iraq. We were training their personnel how to safely handle munitions and explosives in preparation for the impending withdrawal of American troops. After working with them for a few months, I felt comfortable that I had imparted what technical expertise I could and done my best to prepare them for operations without us. But the hand-off never took place.

No matter how competent the individual members we trained became, they lacked the infrastructure and support to successfully keep their town safe. This experience drove home to me the need for strong, capable governance. Public policy is all about providing a framework to enable communal success.

What brought you to Batten?

I wanted the opportunity to kick the ceiling off my future growth. I was working as a defense consultant prior to coming to Batten and felt constrained by bureaucracy in affecting the change I feel is necessary for more efficient governance. The promise of the Batten school was not only to help me find a career in which I could deliver more impact, but to help me navigate that bureaucracy more successfully.

How has your experience at Batten changed or shaped your perspective?

Batten has given me the analytical tools to test and prove facts that were previously only hunches—and disprove many more. The critical thinking we’re steeped in daily can’t help but carry over into the way we view the world. After a year at Batten, I’m more inclined than ever to challenge “the way it’s always been done.”

What kind of public servant do you think the world needs today?

Our society will benefit from an attitude of servant leadership: Public servants need to have the integrity and strength of character to put the best interests of their constituents foremost and the unbiased perspective and analytical chops to figure out what action that requires.

Talk about your life and interests outside of school.

My life outside of school revolves around my family. My wife, Lindsay, is an amazing woman, and I’m fortunate to share many interests with her. We like being entrepreneurial: We’re experimenting with short-term rentals and Uber driving. We’re active in our church. We love running and the outdoors. Lindsay has beaten me in one race ever and still gives me a hard time about it. She set a course record. We’re both in the Naval reserves and spend at least a few days a month in Norfolk, VA, training U.S. warships on anti-terrorism tactics.

In 10 years, how do you hope the policy landscape has changed at large? And at the community level?

I hope the political landscape becomes less ideologically charged at all levels of policy design and implementation. Hoping is insufficient, though. Batten has equipped us with the understanding of why we’re becoming a more partisan society and given us the tools to make the necessary course changes.

Which issues do you think the 21st-century policymaker needs to pay special attention to?

As information becomes more and more broadly available, including information about the personal lives of our leaders, policymakers need to be more aware than ever that their actions back up their rhetoric. It’s no longer sufficient to speak about lofty goals or strength of character; our leaders must demonstrate those qualities in their daily lives.