Professor Spotlight: Andy Pennock

Andy Pennock is not your typical breed of professor. The father of four young boys (two sets of fraternal twin boys, aged three and five), teaches five courses per year and yet somehow finds the time and energy to publish a leading textbook on writing for public policy and an op-ed on education policy.

Pennock, who joined the Batten faculty in 2015, has made an impact in his four-year tenure—spearheading the schools’ first state-led policy course as well as a personal finance workshop which he taught during his time at Brown University.

“I tell my students that policymaking is a contact sport,” said Pennock. “That’s why we have the trip to Richmond—so we can rub elbows with the General Assembly and see who is who and where policymaking happens.”

The Richmond trip is part of his Virginia Politics and Policies course, which he conceived upon joining Batten. It’s an open-inquiry course which means that the students pick the projects and set the syllabus.

“At the beginning of the semester, the weekly schedule in the syllabus is blank. It’s up to the students to identify the issues facing Virginia that we want to focus on—and then to decide how we can best learn about them.”

This kind of self-determination was instilled in Pennock as a sophomore at Clemson University, where he realized he wanted to be a professor. Under the direction of his professor Lee Morrissey, he realized that he, himself, could create knowledge.

“That realization fundamentally shifted the way I viewed the world,” said Pennock. “The idea that I could create knowledge was completely new to me and it made me thirsty for more.”

That same thirst still guides his work, particularly when it comes to studying student learning and growth. On top of a heavy course load, Pennock also works on designing curricula and helping Batten instructors apply the best tools for creating student learning—in other words, what’s working for Batten students and what isn’t.

“When I think about that particular aspect of my job, I really can’t believe it. It’s an incredible honor to help so many people learn.” said Pennock.

Pennock says his new book, The CQ Press Writing Guide for Public Policy, was born out of frustration. “I did not really learn how to write until I got to graduate school. It’s one thing to be able to study and master public policy knowledge, but writing plays an important part in policymaking and in any career, really.”

A week after a party celebrating the publication of his book, Pennock published an op-ed in Richmond Times-Dispatch about the perks of co-op preschools. As the father of four young boys, he values playing an active role in their early education. But that role has been threatened by new rules passed by the Virginia Department of Social Services dramatically increasing requiring parents like Pennock to be a co-op assistant. Pennock is passionate about his involvement in early education—and like his role of professor, he enjoys shaping that curriculum so students, even five-year-old students, like his sons, can benefit from their parents participating in the early stages of learning.

On his time at Batten, he says the community plays an important role in the day-to-day grind of professor life. “Batten is unique in the way it gives space for different kinds of professors. We’re all able to structure our work around interests—which is not something commonly found in other schools.”

Keeping that in mind, Pennock has been able to continue his personal finance workshop.

“I still receive thank you notes regarding the workshop. It’s important to have a strong academic foundation, and in addition, entering the working-world requires some life skills, like developing a personal budget that reflects your values while acknowledging your budget’s limitations,” said Pennock. “And sometimes if you want to take a job you love but doesn’t pay a lot, it’s good to know how to juggle your finances in a way that allows you to pursue that job, pay your loans, and somehow still manage to support your family.”

He points to a wall of thank you notes, one of which came from a student during his time at Brown, where he first taught the personal finance workshop. “She made smart decisions about managing her money that helped her to pay her student loans off quickly while supporting her family,” said Pennock. “So, when she found her dream job, she could pursue it without the financial constraint, which is really something.”