David Rosenberg MC/MPA 1986 is committed to giving back. It is an ethos he gained as a youth in Dayton, Ohio, with parents who were both public servants—his mother coordinated public school volunteers and his father, a physician, served in the U.S. Navy and the Veterans Administration.
“I grew up with the assumption that we should help our neighbors, our community, and our country,” he says. As a teenager and college student, he volunteered in community service organizations, including teaching English to prisoners, and became active in political and social justice movements. After graduating from Harvard College with honors in social studies in 1975, Rosenberg spent a decade organizing unions as well as parents in Boston’s desegregating schools. He also worked on grassroots political campaigns and as a community health center administrator in Boston’s Chinatown before coming to Harvard Kennedy School.
“I wanted to get more skills in building and leading public-interest organizations. And I wanted to learn from real practitioners who combined their own experience with research on what works.” Several friends and community-service colleagues enthusiastically shared their experiences attending HKS and encouraged him to apply. “Their excitement about the faculty, their courses, their classmates, and the overall spirit of learning and serving seemed exactly what I was looking for,” says Rosenberg.
“Given the jobs I had, I did not have a big salary. But I didn’t ask for financial aid. I decided I would invest in myself. Luckily, because I had undergraduate scholarships, I didn’t have student debt, so I figured I would quit my job and, if I needed money, I’d get a part-time position.”
He did end up getting a job, one that turned into a labor of love that dovetailed with his MPA studies. “A former health center colleague asked if I would staff a commission the governor was creating on refugee resettlement in Massachusetts, for a day a week. This soon became a full time job, establishing and then managing a new state agency for refugees and immigrants—the first in the country. I did a paper at HKS that turned into a career. I had a real, living case study to apply what I was learning,” he says.
He went on to work on immigration issues at the federal level, then left the government to advise agencies and nonprofits on strategy and change. Today, he is senior director of the strategy and performance group at General Dynamics Information Technology, where he consults with federal agencies on public-sector innovation and management initiatives.
Although Rosenberg now lives in the Washington, DC area, his ties to Cambridge and the HKS alumni community remain deep. “There are many ways to be involved. Some are organizational, some are individual, and what is right for you at any given time will change during your life. HKS alumni are a lifelong community,” he says.
A consistent annual donor over the past 21 years, Rosenberg also volunteers his time as a member of the HKS Alumni Board, on the HKS Washington, DC Alumni Council, and as a director of the Harvard Alumni Association. “You can be as involved as you want to be. Talk to prospective students. Help recent grads make a connection. Have dinner with classmates and other local HKS alumni—find their names in the HKS Alumni Directory—it doesn’t have to be a formal thing. What is important is for alumni to participate in whatever way and level their circumstances and priorities allow.